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Sunday, October 31, 2010



            Last year about this time I bought a new (to me anyway…) tractor.  After many years of faithful service the old one had finally bitten the dust.  It really wasn’t much of a surprise considering how many things I’d run over with it or how often it had slipped into the pond and had to be towed out of the muddy drink.  I promised myself that I’d be a lot more careful with the new one and I’ve kept that promise, but today the tractor and I had our first mishap.

            In spite of the ominous skies and brisk wind it seemed like a good day to mulch the blanket of leaves and to mow down remaining garden plants.  The job was almost finished when somehow the tractor got hung up on a big clump of Japanese Iris.  The drive wheel wasn’t touching the ground and no amount of pushing or swearing did a bit of good.  It was stuck high and dry.

            I got the truck and edged up to the rear of the Cub.  Lo and behold it moved free from its mooring, but when I tried to return it to the tractor shed it refused to clear the little curb from the ramp into the building.  The right mower deck wheel is now pointing off at an awkward angle. It looks like a wall-eyed person.  After several futile attempts I backed it up, gave it full throttle and roared over the curb and into the shed, but in its wake was a torn piece of metal that looked as if it could be important.  I’m not going to think about this issue until spring.

8:43 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Givers & Takers.

            Manual labor is a good way to work off anger.  It's not even 3:00 PM, but already today I've cleaned and stocked the woodstove, hauled firewood and filled the woodbox on the porch.  I dug up dozens of unwanted Rose of Sharon plants and replanted them as part of my vegetative barrier.  I also got all of the remaining dahlias and canna lilies taken up and hauled into winter storage.  The weeks laundry is finished and I've turned the soil in a couple of the gardens.  Do you think maybe I’m angry?  Let me explain.

            My daughter works harder than any person I know and it’s all to pay for the endless stream of animals that she rescues.  All of the twenty three cats in her care were rescued from situations directly resulting from the irresponsibility, cruelty and/or neglect of other humans.  It should be noted that these cats are in addition to her dogs, horses, goat and duck.  She never ignores or refuses to help any animal in distress.  Incredibly neither does she complain about the life she has chosen.  It costs her a lot of money, so she just works harder so she can give whatever and whenever there is a need.

            Recently someone who has a couple of cats called upon my daughter to report a “stray” near her work place (which is in the next city).  Jill advised this person what needed to be done, loaned a live-trap and even offered to transport the cat to a veterinarian when caught.  The individual was quick to accept all of Jill’s help, but posted the story on her Facebook page about how she was rescuing a poor homeless cat and requested donations.  Money poured in; over $250.00!

            Thanks to Jill the cat was trapped.  The person says it is very tame and possibly spayed/neutered.  Updating her Facebook page she did mention that she was grateful to Jill, but is continuing to solicit donations.  Incredible!!!  My daughter is a much nicer, more tolerant and forgiving person than I am.  Jill has not expressed the anger that I can’t help but feel over the fact that someone who has done very little is cashing in on the generosity of naïve donors.  Has she offered Jill one penny?  No, and I seriously doubt that she will.

            And so while my kind-hearted daughter is just happy that the cat (that may have belonged to someone) is out of harm’s way, I am disgusted that someone else is asking for and taking donations.  It’s an all too common practice; soliciting money under the guise of helping those who cannot help themselves, such as animals, mentally challenged or the elderly.  I’m a firm believer in Karma.  Everyone ultimately reaps what they sow, but sometimes Karma takes a very long while….

            On the other hand, maybe I should thank the taker for inciting such fury in me today.  It’s not likely I would have gotten so much accomplished in a less-agitated state of mind.

            BTW:  My daughter’s non-profit (boy, is that an understatement!) cat rescue is:

2:54 pm edt          Comments

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tis a gift to be simple.

            I called my friend Daniel this morning to set up an interview.  A British magazine for which I write wants a story about his carriage restoration work.  I’ve written articles in the past about A & D Buggy Shop, but this one will be different and I always look forward to spending time in the toasty old barn heated by a behemoth wood-burning furnace, watching as Daniel painstakingly transforms some decrepit carriage back to its original beauty.  Daniel is a master. 

            Earlier this year he told me his mother had cancer, but she wouldn’t consider surgery to remove the huge tumor under her arm. She was treating it with herbs.  I’m all for alternative medicines, but this didn’t sound like a good idea.  The last time I was there Daniel said, “She’s so weak now she can hardly make it to the sink to do the dishes.”  When we spoke this morning he told me that she died three weeks ago and that he and his four siblings have been in the process of dividing up her things for the past week. 

            “We put all her books on a pile and then each of us takes one.  Then we start all over again.  We’re doing this with all of her stuff, so it’s taking us a long time,” he said.  I was struck by how very different Amish estate closing is from the English (non-Amish) way of doing things and I told him so, noting the legal haggling, the sibling bickering and messy costs.  He laughed, “Oh, we’ve got none of that.”

            While much of the Amish ways of life is unique to their sect and wouldn’t be possible to incorporate into our lives, such civility and family cooperation is unlike anything I’ve witnessed in our culture.  As an only child I was spared the familial discord that I’ve often seen all around me.

            For a society (ours) that thinks itself so advanced, so sophisticated and perfect that the rest of the world should emulate us (I do not agree!), I think a great deal could be said for the Amish ways of keeping things simple.

5:05 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Looks like it might snow.


Boy, did I take this many pictures of my own kid when she was a baby?  Not a day passes that Tiny doesn’t seem posed for some Kodak moment.  Here she is looking out the office window at the ominous sky.  Never mind that plant.

            What began as a mild sunny day quickly turned winter-like.  This time of year there is so much to do.  Although I’ve got writing projects underway I had to make time this morning to work in the gardens.  To ignore this now would mean no lovely dahlias or canna lilies next year.  Each of these flowers requires winter storage in the cellar to prevent freezing, so it’s a job that can’t be postponed for much longer.  Every tuber or rhizome that was planted in the spring yielded at least six this morning.  I now have about a hundred of each, plus many gladiolas.  I still have to plant the daffodil bulbs that wait in the garden shed.  Oh, so much to do!

            I’m always sad to pull up and discard plants that are still blooming, but it has to be done.  The small consolation is that now every room sports a lavish bouquet of dahlias.  As cut flowers they don’t last long, but as I trudged back from the barn this evening, a cold wind on my face and fierce clouds above that look like they could be “snow clouds” I was cheered when I came inside by the pretty yellow flowers on the kitchen table, on my desk, on the mantel and on the end table.  They’re beautiful, but….

            All summer I had planned to buy some cement and make a ridged ramp outside the donkey stall.  Now it’s too cold for cement work and the job never even got started.  There are so many intended, but never completed projects that it’s almost worrisome.  Are projects multiplying or am I getting lazy? 

7:12 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Politics; a dead end.

            The current political situation infuriates me.  The mailbox is stuffed with glossy photos of some “family” man or woman promising to “create jobs” and “fix healthcare,” blah, blah, blah.  The phone rings and it’s a recording from one of same people whose crap is clogging my post box with ridiculous claims.  It doesn’t matter if they are running for Senator or the local auditor.  Like a roomful of parrots, they all spout the same message.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if one of them doesn’t soon claim that if elected he/she will cure cancer.  I’m only sorry the caller can’t hear my angry response.

            So disgusting do I find these universal claims/lies that I vowed to drop completely out of the political arena and decided that I would no longer vote. It’s pretty obvious to me that it actually doesn’t matter who wins because the motives for running are all the same;  ego, self-enhancement, celebrity and greed.  Politics committed to working for the common good seem to have become an outdated, discarded concept.

            My decision to not appear at the polls next month felt right, but now I find that I must renege.  Not surprisingly this is animal-related.  Rarely does any politician take animal welfare seriously enough to get involved and to listen to the concerns of his constituents.  We’ve been lucky to have Commissioner Todd Bosley.  He has done so and is now running for state representative, so how can I not support him?  Right now the animals in this county need all the help they can get.

            Today I attended the Commissioners’ Meeting.  It was very disturbing to hear so many comments about the problems at our county dog pound.  As I sat watching the new gum-chewing warden squirming in her seat, avoiding giving definitive answers to  any and all questions from those in attendance as well as from the commissioners my blood began to boil and before I knew it I was one of those commenting.  Now, much to my dismay I find myself being quoted in the media.

            I stand behind my comments, but selfishly I would prefer to remain isolated from this ugly mess.  So why did I go?  Why did I comment?  Why did I open myself up to unwanted publicity?  Simply because I cannot stand idly by while animals suffer.  I had to speak up, just as so many others did.  I’m hopeful the commissioners will take the necessary steps, but as we all know, the wheels of “justice” (does such a thing really exist anymore?) turn ever so slowly.

            Meanwhile dogs are in jeopardy and for any animal lover this is unacceptable.  For anyone who may be thinking as I did/do, that my vote won’t really count, doesn’t mean a hill of beans, etc., I would urge them to call their candidates to task in areas of concern.  I really want to believe that it will make a difference, but only time will tell. 

6:56 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dreary times.

            It’s raining and the balmy morning temperatures have plummeted dramatically.  It’s cold and dreary and I’m wishing I’d thought to bring in some firewood.  I’m wishing I didn’t have to do evening barn chores.  I’m wishing the gurgling pot of soup were ready to eat.  I’m wishing my head were not throbbing behind my eyes. 

            A ribbon crawling across the bottom of the telly screen is warning that the worst is yet to come, so I’m using this tornado threat as an excuse to postpone my work project until tomorrow.  It’s the part of writing that’s most difficult; sending a query to a new publication.  Regardless of the subject, composing that compelling teaser is nothing to attempt with a headache, so I’m going to don rain gear, go to the barn, pick up some firewood on the way back to the house and hunker down for the evening.
           My weekend houseguest planted a worrisome thought in my head.  She thinks my blog could make me vulnerable to some sicko, an idea that I'd never considered, and choose not to think about.  What I can't deny is that I am still a very naive woman.  My friend says she worries about my safety.  Should I buy into the paranoia that seems epidemic these days?  I think not.  This blog has introduced me to some lovely people, so I'm going to continue believing that only nice people would care to read about what makes up my small country life.

            It's always something....

5:53 pm edt          Comments

Monday, October 25, 2010

A girls' weekend.

It's been a whirlwind weekend.  My houseguest just left a couple of hours ago and I really hated to see her go.  Now I’ll really now have to buckle down and get to work.  No more excuses.  As we bade one another farewell it dawned upon us that our friendship spans more than three decades!  I think it’s true that old friends are the best friends. 

            My friend lives in an elegant city house, so she thinks this place is “tranquil and peaceful.”  That’s a nice compliment, but it's not always true.  She says we should find a big plot of land to buy where we can grow old in a mutually-agreeable environment.  It’s an absurd idea that will never happen since we actually both like living alone, but we play the ‘what-if’ game.

            I suggest Canada.  She suggests the south.  I don’t care for the heat.  She doesn’t care for the cold.  Okay, how about New Mexico?  No, she’s not familiar with the southwest.  She suggests Indiana.  No for any number of reasons!  And so our fantasy quest for vast acres of inexpensive land continues.  We are as different as night and day which is probably why our friendship has endured.

            This is the friend who adopted Jim, the pup our police chief rescued about a year ago.  Jim and my dogs played non-stop all weekend, but he also had great fun with Tiny, so now with a bit of luck my pal will consider getting Jim a kitty friend.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  God knows there is no shortage of cats!

            I returned home this afternoon to find a message from a stranger requesting “help” with “stray cats ranging from six weeks to six months….”  I haven’t called her back yet.  Her story is old and way too familiar.  If the first “stray” female cat had been spayed there wouldn’t be so many homeless kitties now.  

            Theoretically one unspayed female cat and her progeny can produce 420,000 animals in a seven year period.   The problem of irresponsible owners, too many animals and not enough homes is overwhelming.  I’m not sure why this woman called me or what she thinks I can do to help.  It’s a full house here!  I’ll call her later and suggest she contact one of the well-funded agencies whose job it is to deal with such situations.  One person can only do so much.

7:49 pm edt          Comments

Friday, October 22, 2010

Victims of mans' indifference to suffering..

            No, this opossum has nothing to do with todays blog other than the fact that it too was a victim of uncaring humankind.  I did not sleep much at all last night and while animals were indeed the cause of my insomnia, the animals at issue were not my own.  I had gone to a meeting concerning our local dog pound and what I heard and what I witnessed gnawed at my very being just as it still does.

            Dog pounds are notoriously unpleasant places and this county pound like so many others used to be a hell hole.  Then we were fortunate to get a dog warden who genuinely cared about the welfare of the animals that for whatever reason wound up there.  Unlike his predecessors E. cooperated with rescue groups, improved the physical facility, enhanced the pound’s image and soon a wonderful volunteer group called Friends of the Stark Pound was born.  Adoptions went up.  Euthanasias went down.  The public and the animals were treated with respect with the exception of those unlucky enough to come into contact with some of the Unionized deputies who had been there for decades, doing nothing, or worse imposing sadistic acts upon the helpless dogs as allegedly witnessed by many.  No, things were not perfect by a long shot, but they were vastly improved and better than anything this county had ever known.

             Ultimately, there were some personality clashes and to make a long story short, after several years of improvement the warden was fired by the county commissioners.  I stuck up for E. through it all, but to no avail.  Ultimately a new warden was hired; a woman—a very young woman.  In the five months since her installation the situation at the pound has deteriorated dramatically.

            I have kept a distance, only helping out remotely.  I just don’t have what it takes to go to the pound to walk and cuddle dogs that may or may not live to find another home.  The people who do these jobs are saints. They work very hard.  They genuinely care.  They are the volunteers, the Friends of the Stark Pound.

            What I observed last night was a pretty young woman who is all chummy with the thugs responsible for the existing problems that she was hired to fix.  Her attitude was cavalier and arrogant.  Things have not improved under her watch and not only dogs are suffering.  It is nothing short of heartbreaking.

            Thankfully an astute reporter is covering this situation.  I urge any reader in Stark County to read Martin Olsen’s Stark County Political Report.  Watch the poignant video of the couple whose dog was mauled and killed in their own yard.  Listen to their concerns and then note the patronizing response from the warden.  Watch Martin’s site because I think the proverbial crap is soon going to hit the fan.  

8:41 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, October 21, 2010

This mornings surprise.

            Some plants just seem to be ubiquitous; burdock, nettles and pokeweed are just a few.  Since eradicating any of them is next to impossible I remind myself that everything has a purpose.  Consequently the plants thrive, the dogs get those annoying burrs stuck in their fur, I end up touching those nasty nettle leaves and suffer the burning itch for hours, but until this morning I didn’t consider pokeweed much of a problem.  In fact, I have always found the plant quite beautiful.  No wonder some are even grown commercially as ornamentals for the colorful berries.  The plant can grow up to ten feet tall, although those around here tend to only reach about half that size.

            All parts of pokeweed are poisonous to mammals if eaten, but since animals are generally smarter than humans, they don’t bother it.  Some Lepidoptera like the beautiful Luna moth feed on pokeweed and birds can and do eat the berries, but the toxic seeds pass through them intact.       

            Various parts of the plant have been used medicinally for centuries and more recently science has been looking at pokeweed derivatives for treating cancer and AIDS patients.  The berries make a rich dye that used to be used by Native Americans to decorate their horses.  The juice was even used as ink during the Civil War to write  letters home.  As if all of this (and there is a lot more that I have not included here) isn’t quite enough one can hollow out a pumpkin, dump in some poke berries and allow them to ferment and then use the juice to dye fabrics.  Wow, what a plant!

            I didn’t know any of this until about an hour ago.  I just let the plants grow because they are so darned pretty and because digging them up never made it to my priority list.  Hence Julie had no trouble finding an abundant supply of very mature berries in which to roll at 6:30 AM. 

            I had just sat down to watch World News, enjoy that first wonderful mug of morning coffee after feeding the troupes and reached down to pet my almost-perfect puppy who had just come in from her morning duties.  Suddenly my hand and arm were covered in what looked like blood.  So much for enjoying that mug of coffee….  Of course I panicked thinking she was injured.

            One thing about Julie, she always comes when called, so I rushed to the kitchen while urging her to follow, turned on the hot water and grabbed a cloth to scrub my cross-eyed happy girl who stood patiently waiting to see what I wanted.  I expected to find some major injury that would require an emergency trip to the vet, so it was a huge relief to discover she was fine other than a “decorated” face, neck and chest. 

            Admittedly I sometimes use a “color enhancer” on my own hair, so maybe this was Julie’s thinking too.  She just wanted to be pretty?  Lest she think about doing this again the ‘to do’ list now includes collecting the most obvious poke plants and putting them somewhere less accessible to any and all dogs although Ted has told me he wouldn’t dream of rolling in pokeberries or anything else for that matter.  Ernie, however would not dismiss this alternative to rolling in donkey poop.

8:43 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don't be afraid of life!

            Country life is usually quiet, or at least the sounds are familiar and easily identified.  Right now the combines roar from dawn often way past dusk as the farmers work to get corn off the fields before it rains.  There is also the hardly-noticeable pop, pop, pop from the skeet club and often rapid-fire from the pistol range located off to the west.  Each night, regular as clockwork comes the bark, pause, bark, pause of a distant bored dog.  Many nights the songs of passing coyotes waken me.  I listen and mentally gauge their location.  Hooting or screeching owls are comforting night noises.  The only sounds that concern me are cars.

            Even in sleep it’s easy to tell the sound of a vehicle that slows down or worse, one that stops before reaching either the stop sign at the south end of the road or one that fails to crest the hill to the north.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of the day or night, this sound is slightly alarming. 

            This afternoon as I sat on the porch reading and enjoying the sunshine both I and the dogs were aware of the car that slowed as it approached the gate.  The dogs were on alert and soon ran to the edge of the porch to see if we were about to have a visitor.  It appeared that we were.  Since I try to open the gate for guests I closed my book and headed off the porch just in time to see a barely-moving blue car driven by someone wearing a baseball cap.  Neither the car nor the driver looked familiar.          

            Probably just someone looking for an address, I told myself.  I went back to reading, then went to the barn to do evening chores and finally returned to the house, so it was quite a surprise when two strangers appeared at my back door.  Somehow I just knew this man and woman were nothing to fear.  As it turned out, they are blog readers who have wanted to meet the donkeys in particular and of course the donkeys love to meet new people.  What a nice surprise!  We had a lovely visit and I hope they stop by again.

            As I’ve previously mentioned I started this blog as a self discipline; a way of forcing myself to write something spontaneously on a daily basis rather than just working on magazine assignments.  I’m amazed that anyone really bothers to read some of my ramblings, but more than anything I am honored.  Since this blogs inception I have met some very interesting folks. 

            Paranoia runs deep in our society.  People seem to actually enjoy being afraid.  They are suspicious of everything and everyone, but I have found that being open to making new acquaintances enriches life.  The world is a much nicer place when you open up to the unknown.

8:13 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In the still of the night....

            ‘The still of the night?  Not here!  Not last night!  That's the moom peeking through that tree.  Yes, it was lovely, but it would have been lovlier to have been asleep.  I got very little rest last night and so it’s no wonder I’m exhausted now.  

             While each dog has its own bed and the cats can sleep just about anywhere they wish, Ivy insisted on curling up with Ernie on his doggie bed.  This provoked half-hearted protesting growls which in turn provoked me to order, “Stop that right now!”  Quiet ensued—for a while.

            Tiny decided that she liked Ted’s bed and plunked herself right in the center which made Ted very unhappy.  Where was he supposed to sleep?  He stumbled around, sighing loudly, stopping next to the sleeping kitty, then stared at me as I pretended to be asleep.  “Go lie down!”  More loud sighs followed by a resigned, even- louder thump as 100+ pounds of dog collapsed on the floor.

            In the middle of the night Ernie decided it would be a good time for everyone to be up and about.  His normal morning wake up begins with a very vocal yawn that sounds like a singer gearing up for a song.  Next comes the neck scratching.  Not because he has an itch, but because it rattles all the identification tags on his collar (as if he would even think about running away from home or getting lost…).  Another partial song.  This routine is fine when it's actually morning.

            “No!  Go lie down.  We’re not getting up!” I command.  Click, click, click…. Toenails on the wood floor.  He wandered over to his bed, but Ivy had repositioned herself and there was no room for him now.  Click, click, click to the top of the stairs.  Hmm, Maybe I’ll have some water…, he seemed to suggest before making  as much noise as possible thumping down the wooden stairs, clicking through the dining room into the kitchen where his unnecessarily long slurping drink echoed through the house.

            Click, click, click back up the stairs.  More thumping, sighing, and every other distraction he could think of.  Finally I threw back the covers (why not? I was not asleep!) and trudged downstairs to send him outside.  Julie wanted to go along.  After shivering by the door waiting for them to do whatever needed to be done, I was pretty unhappy, and I was still tired.  At last the happy pair trotted up on the porch, into the house and up the stairs to resume their sleep.

            By the time dawn broke I felt like I had not been to bed at all.  I’m very hopeful tonight will be better. 

7:21 pm edt          Comments

Monday, October 18, 2010

The week is off to a busy start.


Monday mornings are the best time to hit the flea market for fresh produce and this time of year the visit is especially colorful.  Beautiful pots of mums for just $3.00 (I didn’t buy any because I’ve got too much garden clean up to do already. I don’t need to plant more stuff), pumpkins and gourds of all shapes, sizes and colors and of course locally-grown seasonal vegetables.  The day was cool and overcast, so there were few vendors hawking other junk, but enough to pass an hour perusing tables of things I don’t need.

            Eggplant for dinner tonight and sweet potato soup later this week, maybe for my weekend houseguest.  Knowing a visitor is coming forces one to take a critical look at things.  Suddenly the house that seemed perfectly comfortable pre-visitation announcement looks a mess.  If I clean one room a day the place might be guest-worthy by the weekend.  But what about those gardens???  Today I threw the garden clean up into high gear. 

            Spading and digging and pulling weeds whose roots reach half way to China made me reconsider grass-only yards like neighbor ET's.  Of course I could no more live without gardens than I could live without animals.  As I heaped the garden cart high with weeds the donkeys watched from the gate. 

            They looked bored, so I pulled the cart that looked like a loaded hay wagon into their paddock and left it for the boys to investigate.  They have been having a great time picking through the dried plants and grasses that are really no different from those in their pasture.  This meal on wheels has been the highlight of their day.  By the time I went to the barn for evening chores the cart was almost empty.  So, you see donkeys can actually be very helpful.  
           Donkeys can also be hitched to a small cart and driven for pleasure or show.  They can pull logs and turn a garden if one has the proper equipment, not to mention the time.  They can even act as guard animals.  Mine do none of the aforementioned, but they have inspired some of my artist friends.  Lynn was so enchanted that she did a wonderful portrait of Corky whose immortalized image hangs in the dining room.  Recently Rose did a terrific drawing of the bad asses (for sale at Second April Gallery) and then she had note cards made.  This photo of the card is not true to color, but as you can see she certainly captured their personalities.

            So when people ask me why I have them I simply answer that they make me smile—and they do. 

7:41 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, October 17, 2010


            What a weekend!  Leaf mold allergies made life pretty miserable. My head ached, but nevertheless there was work to be done at the barn. I like working up there.  It's peaceful and pleasant.   The job du jour was simply to attach a long board to the header above the big barn doors where a gap allowed the north winds to whip through and sometimes deposit unwanted snow inside the barn.  I had the board (salvaged from a demolition site), but as with so many chores, I needed an extra pair of hands to hold it in place while I drilled holes and secured the cumbersome thing.  Friend Rose to the rescue.  She’s such a good pal and always makes time wheneverI need help.

            Rose arrived with her five dogs, two of which are Ernie’s brothers.  With their arrival the tranquility of a golden autumn day ended.  Since Dottie, Rose’s old dog chases chickens she had to be tied.  Dottie, being more than a little spoiled barked non-stop.  Meanwhile Ernie’s brothers decided to chase the donkeys which was not a good idea.  Corky protested loudly and I briefly worried that the city dogs might have bitten off more than they should have, but that game was aborted when Rose’s favorite dog squeezed himself under the gate and ran into the road.  Not surprisingly panic ensued!  He was retrieved and all was well—for a while.

            We got the board in place with little trouble and decided to relax on the porch.  I should say that only Rose and I had decided to relax.  Dottie maintained her relentless barking regardless of location, but three of her other dogs decided to cool off in the pond that isn’t really a pond this time of the year.  There is almost no water in it, so they all sank up to their bellies in a rancid black muck.  Oh, and did I mention that prior to their waterless swim they rolled in donkey poop?  Obviously Rose couldn’t put them in her truck in that condition, so this meant baths for all.

            Herded into the basement the three fouled canines knew what was in store.  I think they were eager to get rid of the goo, so they behaved well, but getting the vile mess out of their fur was nearly impossible.  We managed to wash away the worst of it and finally my always-willing-to-help friend loaded the gang into her truck as my own pristine dogs watched their rowdy relatives depart.  The headache I’d had all day pounded harder than ever.

            When another friend called to invite me over to enjoy her new nature trail I went. Spontaneous events are usually the best.  It was lovely and a reminder to make time for friends.  We had such a nice visit (she'll hate this picture of herself, I'm sure...) and while I was gone T. came over and cleaned out all of the gutters on the house.  What a wonderful surprise that was.
             Tonight T. and Rose are coming for dinner.  Weekends like this make me aware of the nice people in my life.  I feel very blessed.

3:34 pm edt          Comments

Friday, October 15, 2010

Will bake for pumpkins..

            Besides growing the 82 pound monster pumpkin that won first prize at the county fair neighbor Sandy grew (white) Lumina pumpkins just as a whimsical alternative to the traditional orange variety.  In exchange for pies, Sandy keeps me supplied with the main ingredient.  She didn’t know if the Luminas were good for baking, so I did a little research and found them to be excellent. I think they taste better than the orange ones.

            Pumpkins are a main stay here.  I love to make pies, soup and muffins.  Sadly, my own pumpkin crop was a complete and utter failure, producing hundreds of pretty blossoms, but not one pumpkin.  I am optimistic about next summer, so I've saved Sandy’s orange and white pumpkin seeds.  Meanwhile the barter system will keep both of us happy.

            It’s rutting season and the Division of Wildlife has advised motorists to be aware of the 750,000 deer that are currently on the move.  The dogs and I encountered a few of these travelers on our walk today, one of which was a spectacular buck. 

            The sun was bright and warm when we set out, but just half way through the woods a ferocious north wind whipped the trees into a frenzy and a cold pelting rain soon made its way through the skimpy foliage.  Ernie was terrified.  Julie was confused, but Ted just kept plodding along without a care. 

            We were all soaking wet by the time we got back out to the road, but before we were home the rain stopped and the sun came out brighter than before.  We were just cresting the hill when I saw the red truck pulling away from my gate.  It was Kenny. 
             He didn’t see us heading towards home and drove on down the road, but on the bench he’d left a gallon of cider and the jar that had contained the soup I gave him.  Unlike the cider he left while I was in Alabama, the stuff Sandy said looked like mud, this gallon is clear and fresh-looking.  Personally, I don’t like cider, but friends are coming over later this evening, so I think I’ll serve some hot with cinnamon sticks.  I love autumn!

5:03 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A ;lost day.

           Allergies have always been a problem, but since discovering the magic of local bee pollen taken daily it seemed this nemesis was under control.  It’s been a relatively symptom-free year—until now!  Sadly the bee pollen has no effect at all on leaf mold and it seems this allergen is worse than any other.  I’m miserable.  My eyes are swollen, my nose runs constantly, I’m sneezing non-stop and my head throbs. 

            Allergy medicines, both OTC and prescription have negative effects, regardless of manufacturers’ claims, but today I took some Benadryl as a last resort.  While my faucet of a nose stopped dripping, the drug has wiped me out.  I’ve accomplished nothing and can barely keep my eyes open to type this post.  Sorry, folks…. Hope to be better tomorrow.

6:48 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Trouble in paradise.

            How many times I have lamented about the shrinking countryside and the rural ways of life.  Today I and all the neighbors on the road discovered just how jeopardized the lives we’ve taken for granted really are.

            When I bought this place from my friend Tom he mentioned that he had received a small monthly royalty from the oil wells located on neighbor Glenn’s adjoining property.  (Back in the 60’s when the wells were put in, neighboring landowners also received a monthly check since the oil reserves were determined in forty acre sections.)  When Tom moved to Florida he took stock in the oil company rather than the small monthly checks.  What this meant when I bought the farm many years later was that I did not get the mineral rights.  I was not alone.  My neighbors are all in the same boat.

            Recently representatives from one of the biggest oil and gas companies in the country visited the folks a couple doors up and told them they were putting a well on their land.  It was not a request nor an inquiry as to whether they wanted a well, it was a notice that a well was going in.  They were informed that the process would make their beautiful gardens look as if a bomb had exploded there.

            Word spreads fast in the country and in a flash the entire road knew something was happening.  It didn’t take long for someone with connections to the industry to find out that this big company owns the leases to 1,500 acres around here.  In other words, we are all vulnerable and there isn’t a thing that can be done about it. 

            The neighbors who received the devastating news were offered “free heat,” but that’s little compensation since they have an all –electric home.  In lieu of the free heat they may (or may not) get a small monthly check. 

            Back by the old manure spreader and corn planter, AKA my sculpture garden is what is classified as an “orphan well.”  A rusty 6” diameter pipe sticks out of the ground about 20”.  If a stone is dropped into the pipe it takes a very long time before the splash echoes to the surface.  I’ve learned this well was put in during the 1930’s and it is over 3,000 feet deep.  Each year the DNR sends a notice telling me I am entitled to $10,000.00 in funding to “cap” this well, but upon calling one of the referred oil companies I learned that the cost is $25,000.00 to fill the pipe with cement.  I would be responsible for the $15,000.00 difference and also for all the damage done to my property in the process.  I have “capped” the well myself with a plate and a concrete block!

            None of us ever guessed our mineral rights were really much of an issue or that they might ever be threatened.  Today we learned differently.  The corporations hold the power and we are little more than squatters, or so it seems.  As you might expect, it’s a worry for all of us. 

7:23 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting in shape.


            Until a few years ago I used to get hay from a farm where I had to personally load the truck, come home and unload the bales and stack them in the barn.  Then I discovered the farmer up the road was selling nice hay for the same price and it included delivery and stacking!  I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!

            While the hay issue has been taken care of, there’s still firewood to get and stack, fifty pound bags of feed to haul and many other tasks that require a fit body.  As one might expect, living alone on an old farm requires a certain amount of stamina and strength, but lately I’ve noticed that those fifty pound sacks feel more like hundred pounders.  There was no more denying the fact that I am not fit enough and doing nothing about this reality was not going to make me fit.

            For many years I practiced yoga with some excellent instructors, but for whatever reason (who can remember?) I stopped going to classes and told myself that a daily mini-practice on my own would be adequate.  Not so.  Today I resumed classes back at the Yoga Place.

            It’s a wonderful peaceful environment and today’s instructor was superb, but I am quite disappointed in myself.  While I knew I was rusty, it felt as if my joints had been welded into place.  This morning reminded me that living an independent life is not for the lazy or weak.  I’m excited about having taken the first step toward regaining a stronger body, but  I’ve got a long way to go. 

            As winter nears many spiders seem to be moving indoors.  I’m all for ‘live and let live,’ but their invasion had reached a point that demanded action.  I know that every living thing has a purpose (although in the case of some humans this is questionable…), so I choose not to kill the spiders.  Instead I have been sucking them up with a small hand vac and setting them free outside, but as I sat at this computer tapping away on the keyboard a brazen fellow marched right before me begging my attention.

            The distinctly-marked spider was most accommodating, posing against a piece of white paper while I looked him up on the internet.  Uh oh, he is without question a wolf spider.  The arachnid was classified as non-aggressive, but poisonous.  In other words, if I don’t mess with him maybe he won’t bite me.  The site went on to advise seeking immediate first aid in the unlikely case of attack.  A photo illustrated what might be involved. When I saw the supine victim being swaddled in lengths of gauze to immobilize him until EMS could arrive my tolerance for this desk mate began to unravel. 

            As if reading my mind he quickly skittered away and remains at large (or small as the case may be since he’s only ½-1” long) somewhere on this desk.  The instant he reappears he will be joining his relatives outside via the vacuum cleaner.

8:26 pm edt          Comments

Monday, October 11, 2010

Remembering Uncle Bill.

            “...And you’ll need to bring whatever you want him to be buried in,” concluded the funeral director as he stood to bid me and my mother goodbye.  Panic struck my mother’s tear-stained face.  She was of the school that believed dead people should go out looking grand, but her bachelor brother, my Uncle Bill had never owned anything remotely grand in all his 78 years. 
           He was an unpretentious man who never believed in fancy airs and cared little about his appearance. He liked to go fishing, work in his garden or walk in the woods and his dull durable wardrobe was suitable for all such activities. Up until his final years he wore that functional nondescript uniform commonly known as ‘work clothes’—heavy cotton khaki or dark green matching pants and shirt, the sort of thing repairmen wear.  His pigeon-toed feet were shod in brown oxfords that never seemed to wear out, but when they did they were replaced with the same style and color.
          Only on the hottest summer day would he be seen—and only in his own back yard wearing a sleeveless undershirt with the aforementioned work pants and oxfords.  With his ginger colored hair his skin was fair and freckled and he burned to a crisp if exposed to the sun for long which may be why the red ball cap was also a wardrobe staple.  Uncle Bill was never without that cap.  Like the shoes, it must have worn out and been replaced over the years, but always with the same style and it was always red.  
          His clothes reflected the simple uncomplicated person he was, but w
hen his health declined and he lost his sight my mother took charge of his life.  Frugal to a fault she began enhancing her brother’s closet with selections from the church rag bag. These were clothes intended for ladies of the congregation to transform into garish lap robes which they presented to the helpless residents of nursing homes. My mother saw those slinky disco shirts and plaid golf pants as her brother’s new wardrobe.
          “This material feels funny,” he’d complain fingering the front of a shirt or rubbing his hand along his thigh. 
          “It doesn’t wrinkle and it looks nice,” my mother assured him and thus colorful new clothes displaced the familiar garb in Uncle Bill’s closet.  During this transition, even though he could no longer see the tired old red cap stayed in place.  He said it soothed his watery eyes and he refused to give it up despite her protests. Given free rein she would have had him in a porkpie or some other sporty chapeau.           
          So there he sat in his wheel chair unknowingly decked out in yellow plaid polyester pants that rode two inches above his shoes, a shiny shirt with lightning bolts all over it and if the weather happened to be chilly, a striped Perry Como sweater. Dear plain old Uncle Bill with his cloudy unseeing eyes quietly morphed into an uncomplaining clown.  It was a blessing when he died.
          “What are we gonna bury Bill in,” my frenzied mother wondered aloud as we drove home from the funeral parlor.  At the very least, going away clothes meant a suit and she hadn’t thought far enough ahead to salvage one from the rag bag.  
          A desperate search in the recesses of my uncle’s closet yielded a vintage brown serge.  He’d had it since returning from the war in 1946, back when he was a fit young man. Now he was a shriveled hint of that person, but since funeral directors are adept at making adjustments, half of the problem was solved.  Although there were plenty in his closet, disco shirts just didn’t seem to go with the brown serge.  Even she had to admit that, but the notion of buying a new shirt that would only be worn once was unthinkable to my parsimonious mother. My friend offered one of his expensive pale blue dress shirts and an elegant silk tie to go with it and the completed going away costume was delivered to the funeral home.  
          The day of the funeral arrived, but who was that person in the quilted- satin lined casket?  Certainly not Uncle Bill.  The art director of the funeral home had parted and pomaded his thin fluff of faded pink hair and asked me if I’d like him to trim the wiry eyebrows that stuck out like awnings.  I said, “No thank you,” and stared at the nicely dressed stranger in the mahogany box.
          Uncle Bill couldn’t have tied that Windsor knot if his life had depended on it.  The old suit with its big lapels had been tucked and pinned to fit, but it still looked like it had been stolen from Edward G. Robinson and I knew that another man’s name was indelibly marked inside the collar of the pale blue shirt.  
          Soon neighbors and friends began to file into the flower-filled room.  As they approached the casket the looks on their faces expressed what they were too polite to say.  This was not the Bill they knew and loved.  Mercifully not one person uttered those absurd remarks about him looking like he “was sleeping” or more ridiculously, that he looked “natural.”
          If anyone noticed when I left the room, it really didn’t matter.  I couldn’t allow my beloved uncle to leave this world looking like he’d soon be meeting Bette Davis for drinks.  I drove back to the house where his faded red cap still lay next to the recliner chair, right where he was sitting when he drew his last breath.  I stuffed the hat in my pocket and returned to the funeral home.
          It’s not easy to lift a dead person’s head.  It’s about like trying to lift a car, but as his friends watched I hoisted my dear uncle’s head from the satin pillow and pulled the cap down to just the angle that he’d always worn it.  It covered the silly hair do the funeral director had given him and shielded his combed bushy eyebrows.    
          “Now that’s our Bill,” said someone. “That’s the Bill we know,” others agreed as they returned to the casket to bid a final goodbye.  My mother feigned shock, but I knew that in spite of her tears she was comforted to see her brother’s familiar face. Who said clothes don’t make the man? 
4:28 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Reduce, reuse, re-purpose!


            Several years ago someone gave me a thigh master as a birthday joke.  En route to the trash can, just on a whim  I tossed the contraption to the donkeys instead, never guessing the weeks of enjoyment it would provide.  Corky and Andy played tug of war with it. They put it on each other’s backs like a saddle.  They raced around holding it high in the air as if it were an Olympic torch.  It was their favorite toy until at last the exercise gadget bit the dust.  The rubber fell off exposing the metal armature and it was just no fun anymore.

            Imagine my surprise when I found another thigh master at a garage sale for a mere $1.00.  I don’t think a donkey toy was what Suzanne Summers had in mind when she was hawking this ridiculous device on television for a lot more than a buck. 

            Although I sat in the paddock waiting to get a photo of the donkey duo performance, the shy boys refused to cooperate, although Andy considered it.  Maybe later.

4:39 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What would you do?

            When a neglected, abused or abandoned animal needs help kind people don’t think twice about intervening, but what do you do when the victim is a child?  This is the dicey situation my daughter finds herself in.  While it’s relatively easy to “acquire” an animal in distress, one can’t simply “acquire” a child in a similar predicament.

            Whether physical abuse is involved is not known, but the effects of emotional and verbal abuse are worse.  Bruises heal, but a savaged ego may never recover.  What saves kids subjected to this sort of abuse is usually the influence or intervention of an outsider.   
            I speak from personal experience.  I grew up believing I was just an inconvenient truth and it took many years and a lot of mistakes before I realized and came to appreciate my own self worth.  Two women in particular were my salvation, but neither of them ever knew it.  One was a teacher, the other was a librarian.  My daughter Jill grew up knowing she was loved.

            So, here’s the problem.  She and several others have witnessed the mental cruelty inflicted upon a small child by his mother, grandmother and aunt.  Although Jill is unmarried and childless (by choice) she has an uncanny rapport with children and mentally-challenged people.  They adore her and instantly respond to her kindness and sensitivity.  Such is the case with the little person who is being emotionally beaten and denied experiencing any love, fun or the ever-so-fleeting joy of being a little kid. 

            She was in tears when she called to tell me the latest incident.  “You do bad things to me,” she heard the little guy say to the ugly “caregivers” in response to the barrage of their hateful words.

            Although she tried to intervene the perpetrators of the detestable behavior of course had/have the upper hand.  So, what can be done?  How does one prove abuse?  Where are the scars from emotional whippings?  It’s a heart-breaking situation.  In today’s society one who reports such events to authorities risks becoming the victim of litigation.  What would you do?

9:29 am edt          Comments

Friday, October 8, 2010

The corn stalker.

            Last night just as darkness was setting in, I came out of the barn and heard a loud rustling sound coming from the corn field across the road.  It was so loud it sounded like a person walking down the rows of dried stalks.  Then one of the stalks closest to the road went from vertical to horizontal in a flash.  Both I and Little Ivy were mesmerized.  She sat on the fence post watching intently and I remained motionless beside her.  More movement, then another stalk fell and I heard the clear sound of the ears being shucked.  I looked at Ivy and she looked at me as if to say, “What the heck is it!”

            “It” was a big old groundhog whose warren of ankle-breaking holes adjoins the corn field.  I think he is also crossing the road to nibble apples and pears at night, fattening up for his winter hibernation.  Ivy hopped off the fence and scurried for the house.

            It’s probably pretty obvious that Kenny is an odd character, eccentric to the extreme, but a nice old fellow.  Just one thing about him is troublesome and that concerns his casual attitude toward animals. 

            In May Cow had a calf.  Since birth the poor young bull has been tethered inside the barn.  The chain around its neck is secured to a length of rope no longer than eight feet.  The calf is still nursing.  While I was photographing Kenny milking Cow I questioned the calf’s imprisonment.  Kenny said if he turned him loose Cow wouldn’t come into the barn to be milked.  My suggestion of cordoning off part of the barn with a small outside access was ignored.

            Now the chain is very tight around the growing calf’s neck.  I’ve been fretting about the poor creature for weeks, so last night I called Chuck, the fellow who is farming Kenny’s land and told him about the calf.  Chuck said, “You went INTO that barn?  I fell down in there!” 

            We laughed about all the junk and what a hazardous obstacle course winds through the barn,. Chuck didn’t even know there was a calf inside, but agrees that he needs to be liberated.  Unfortunately he left the state for a few days, but promised that he’d “take care of it” on Monday.  Thank goodness!

            The utter indifference with which some (too many) people regard animals puzzles and disturbs me.  I don’t understand how one living creature can subject another to such confinement and not see or care that it is not natural.  The calf tries desperately to cavort as young animals instinctively do, but on such a short tether it’s quite impossible.  Chuck is a nice man and a good farmer, so  I trust the poor creature will soon be out of its dark imprisonment and have a chance to run across the sunny fields and to breathe some fresh air.

            Since Chuck has taken the beans off the back fields the dogs and I have been able to resume our old walking route.  Adding the entire perimeter of this field to our daily jaunt adds about a mile.  It’s wonderful. 

            I was at first ambivalent about seeing the land that has lain fallow for decades suddenly under cultivation.  It was sad seeing young trees pulled out, hedgerows burned, the vast acres of goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace being turned under and the higgly-piggly plot transformed into tidy geometric fields, but now I have a lot of respect for Chuck’s care of this land.  Nothing ever stays the same.  I’m trying to see just the good and ignore the rest.  I think this is called tolerance.

6:50 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A productve sunny day.

           Tiny went to the vet again, this time for her first set of shots.  At only one and a half pounds she was too fragile for inoculations on her initial visit, but already her weight has more than doubled.  She is a picture of health and a bundle of energy, much to the chagrin of all the other cats.  Poppy plays with her, but the rest of the feline family merely tolerates her boundless enthusiasm.  The dogs adore her.  There’s nothing to compare with a baby animal to rev up a household.  I too adore her.

            “You’ll be sorry,” said my friend Linda when I took a start of English ivy from the woods behind her house.  She was right!  For anyone who has ever thought the proverbial ivy-covered cottage sounds romantic, I have a bit of advice; FORGET IT! 

            At first it was the perfect thing to soften a new rock wall, but now all these years later this renegade plant has compromised the integrity of that rock wall, invaded the basement, climbed the chimney, completely engulfed a crab apple tree, covered half of the side yard (this is the only good thing it has done) and it is currently attempting to cover the cedar shake-sided garden shed.  Next to multi-flora rose I have never seen such a vigorous plant.

            Fall never seems quite long enough to deal with all that must be done around a farm to ready the place for winter.  Cleaning up the gardens was the project du jour, but I’ve hardly made a dent. The entire morning was spent just cutting away the invasive ivy.   There’s also winterizing to be done both on the house and the barn, straw to get in for donkeys cold weather bedding and it seems a million other tasks that need to be addressed before heading to Canada next month.  Heating oil arrived today and I shudder to think how much this fill-up cost.

            A bit of good news; a thoughtful blog reader responded to my worries regarding the excavation work going on at the skeet club.  This person is on the inside track and called to assure me there are no plans for development.  They are merely cleaning up the lead from decades of shooting.  Whew.  I'd miss the pop, pop, pop of the shotguns.

7:51 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

One good deed deserves another.

            Before I left for Alabama I dropped off some soup and cookies for old Kenny.  I was in a rush, so I just bagged the goodies and left them in his mailbox which is big enough for a five course meal plus the mail.  I knew he’d find it.  During my absence Kenny returned the favor. 

            Rolling her eyes, neighbor Sandy (the critter sitter) said, “Kenny was here.  He brought this and a gallon of some funky-looking cider….”   Sandy said she knew the cider wouldn’t keep, so in spite of its muddy appearance she and her husband drank the unpasteurized brew.  “This” was a footed glass mug with advertisements stamped on it.  No doubt it was something Kenny picked up at a local auction.

            Kenny literally picks things up at auctions; things that buyers leave behind, unwanted stuff ranging from industrial light fixtures to paintings of nude women (that one hangs in Kenny’s living room).  He just adds the swag to the treasure trove of junk already in his barn.  He once offered me some grimy worn out rugs he said he thought I could use (for what?).  I politely declined.  His offerings are always interesting if not always usable, like the antique wagon wheel.  When his sister Ethel was alive she frequently hung bags of her homemade cookies on the gate post.  God only knows what she put in them (or left out) because even the dogs refused to eat them, but it was a lovely gesture.

            One year around the holidays she left me a half-eaten popcorn ball, some of her infamous cookies and one antique salt cellar complete with salt.  A dirty scrap of paper was taped over the top to preserve the seasoning.  She included a note explaining that “in the old days people used to visit their neighbors and sit around eating celery…”  That is one tradition I had never heard of.

            Today is cold and drizzly, so another pot of soup is simmering in the crock pot.  Later I’ll take some up to Kenny.

5:57 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Home sweet home.

            Adjusting from 80+ degree weather to what felt like early winter wasn’t easy, but it still feels good to be back home.  This was my second press trip to Alabama in the past year and once again I was pleasantly surprised.  I think this state is an under-appreciated gem of a destination for snowbirds seeking to escape northern winters.  Based upon media coverage of the BP oil spill impact on the Gulf I was initially somewhat skeptical about going on this trip.

            Words are powerful, but as we all know a picture is worth a thousand words.  The problem comes when both tools are used to present a false impression of a situation.  That was the case regarding the southeastern coast of Alabama.  The images flashed on nightly news would have viewers believe the entire Gulf coastline was ruined.  Since tourism is the engine that drives the Gulf Shore economy, the misleading coverage had a devastating and grossly unfair effect on businesses.  

            This is not to suggest that the area was not affected.  It was to some degree, but cleanup efforts were and still are diligent and efficient.  The white sugar-sand is clean and beautiful and the water is clear, warm and inviting.  But thanks to ambiguous news coverage that suggested otherwise, tourism was off about 40%.  People should have looked at the Gulf Shore tourism “beach facts” web site which continually updates conditions.

            While in general this business downturn was bad, for some eco-tourism operators the reluctance of some visitors to spend days lounging on the beach was a good thing.  Tourists who already had reservations sought other activities which exposed them to not only the beauty of many natural habitats, but also to some remarkable people devoted to preserving it.

            Biking, hiking, kayaking and touring with naturalists who shared their expertise on native flora and fauna was delightful.  Our press group also went on a dolphin cruise with the only NOAA certified operator in the area. He is currently working on a data base that will identify the thirty or so dolphins in the bay by each animal's distinctive fin shape.

            The skipper of our small pontoon-type boat doesn't believe in chasing nor harassing the dolphins and adamantly refuses to impose humans upon their world. Instead he allows the mammals to choose to visit the paparazzi on board and visit they did!  As we slowly motored away from the dock we were quickly joined by many bottle - nosed dolphins who seemed delighted to show off for the camera snapping spectators. He even let some of us drive the boat since there was little harm we could do.  There was nothing to crash into,

            The entire trip was great and I urge anyone who hasn’t visited southern Alabama to plan a trip.  It’s a terrific place with plenty for nature lovers to do and see.  Now it’s back to the reality of my small country life.  I was happy to spend time this evening in the barn; grooming the donkeys, sweeping up and just enjoying the company of my animals.

8:07 pm edt          Comments

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