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 WELCOME TO MY BLOG! REFLECTIONS OF A SINGLE WOMAN'S LIFE ON AN OLD FARM.
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Monday, January 31, 2011

The best things in life are free--sometimes....

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            Over the years I've acquired an impressive skull collection; everything from horse heads on down the mammalian scale, plus a few snake skins from the cellar.  What a treat it was today to find a new addition laying at the bottom of a bucket in the tractor shed.  It's a perfect tiny mouse skull, complete with front incisors! Something I didn't have.  I can't wait to put it with the others on the bookshelves.

            My most challenging find was certainly the big dog skull I found in the woods a few years ago.  Tracks in the snow and the condition of the head told the tale of the dog's demise.  It had been a very big dog, maybe a Labrador Retriever or something similar.  The damaged bone on one side plus some broken teeth indicated that it had been hit by a car.  Coyotes had dragged the head and upper body from the road, through the field and into the woods where they and other scavengers had dined on the dismal remains.  The day I tucked it into a plastic bag and brought it home the skull was relatively clean.

            The plan was to allow Nature to complete the cleaning process.  I put the head in a colander and hoisted it high into a tree to be exposed to the elements and the insects throughout the spring and summer.  When the leaves came down, so did the skull.  I untied the rope and lowered the colander and its cargo to the ground.  It gleamed white and so it seemed the plan had worked, but back in the house it was apparent the skull was not yet museum-ready. 

            Thankfully there are some excellent web sites for skull collectors which offered cleaning and preservation do's and don't's.  For instance, do not use bleach (which had always been my chemical of choice).  The bleach can shred and erode bone.  Armed with new conservation advice the head was placed in an old pot full of water and set to boil.  No one would have thought for a moment that I was making soup.  The aroma was horrible.

            Next came a peroxide bath (for the skull...) and finally the head went out on the porch to air dry.  Thinking it was certainly clean by that time I brought the treasure back into the house, but the smell was not gone, not by a long shot!  It seemed impossible that after all the cleansing attempts by beasts, bugs, chemicals and me that anything rancid could remain on or within that skull, but there it was!  The brain was the gruesome source of the stink.  I'll spare the final cleaning details, but will admit there were moments when I considered abandoning the trophy.  But so much had been invested by that time that I just couldn't force myself to ditch the dog. 

            The whole ordeal was quite a learning experience; one that I hope never to have to repeat.  Fortunately today's treasure only required a quick peroxide bath.  It's ready to join the rest of the collection.  Like I always say, the best things in life are free!  For anyone wondering why I collect skulls, it's because I like things pared to the essential and nothing is more essential than a skull.

 

3:33 pm est          Comments

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday.

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            I recall a smug feeling of preparedness just a couple months ago after I'd filled the rack on the porch with cordwood.  It looked to be more than adequate to ensure warm fires through these long cold days, but that generous and conveniently-located stack of wood had dwindled to a dangerously low level.  It needed to be replenished from the main wood pile, a job more easily accomplished without a thick layer of snow covering everything.  But, it would have been foolish to ignore this mild clear Sunday, so instead of going for a walk I hauled wood.

            With the help of the little snow boat I made trip after trip to the porch and while the rack is far from being full, at least 's now there's plenty of easily accessible firewood that will last for quite a while.  Surely there will be more mild days ahead when I can haul more.  The dogs didn't care what the project du jour was, so long as we were outside, but now Ted isn't feeling well.  His stomach is on the blink, but he's on some meds that will hopefully straighten things out in a hurry.

            Not a day passes that I don't fret about the situation at Kenny's.  I refer to the bull in the barn. Every plea and offer to help Kenny liberate the bull tethered in that dark dreary corner have been futile.  The poor creature which by now must be about a half ton of fury remains imprisoned at the end of a very short rope, but soon it will be free.  Without going into details, Kenny will  receive a visit this week urging him to sell the animal.  If plan A is not successful in convincing him that the current confinement is inhumane at the very least, plan B stands at the ready. It seems there will never be an end to man's indifference to the suffering of others.

 

 

4:42 pm est          Comments

Saturday, January 29, 2011

All work and no play...

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            I'm going away in a couple of weeks and as always a trip /vacation for me must include work.  It makes travel more fun when I know there's an interesting subject waiting at my destination.  But before I go anywhere I must finish up an article for my Country Living Pet Patrol column and this month's subject is donkeys.  This brought to mind an artist I met several years ago in New Mexico whose favorite subject was (and still is) donkeys. 

            Barbara Meikle is co-owner of Pippin-Meikle Gallery in Santa Fe . I just happened to stumble upon it one day while on an art walk and I was wowed by her work.  She is the only artist I've ever known who totally captures the unique spirit, wisdom and mischievousness of these animals.  You can see some of her work and read the article I wrote for New Mexico Magazine by clicking or copying this link.  http://www.artsantafe.us/articles/barbnewmexicoarticle.pdf   Her prices and her status in the art world have escalated since 2007, but she continues to depict donkeys in a joyous manner.  I love her work.

            My own pair of bad asses have piled on far too much weight this winter and much to their dismay they are on involuntary diets.  No more treats other than the occasional carrot or apple.  Being the clever critters they are, they know that there are muck buckets full of ear corn in the feed room.  They love corn, but it's not for them!  It's for the chickens and the wild birds.  Do they care if the wild birds go hungry?  No, they don't care at all!  Unless the doorway is blocked by the wheelbarrow when I muck out their stall they make every effort to sneak in and grab some. 

            Andy is definitely the smarter of the two, so he's usually the first to try nicking an ear, but all I have to say in a long, drawn out, threatening voice is, "Annnn-drooooooo...," and he backs away from the door with a look that says, "What?  I wasn't doing anything."    

            By the way, in scientific studies donkeys have proven to be the smartest in the equine world.  I'll vouch for that.

 

4:50 pm est          Comments

9:29 am est          Comments

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday.

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            Planning a trip is supposed to be fun and easy.  I've planned many and until today there has never been a problem.  I've always used Expedia.com which has proven to be efficient and fast.  So, what the heck was I thinking when I booked through Hotwire.com.  All I can say is NEVER AGAIN!  After literally hours on the phone with an incompetent bozo who should be emptying trash bins instead of booking (and screwing up) anyone's travel I found myself between a rock and a hard place.  Long story short; it was a wretched experience that fried my very last nerve.

            When, at last the airline ticket and car were booked, the credit card charged, credited and recharged, I happened to look out the window only to see Tom (innocent looking in this photo) tossing around a blue jay.  Thinking the bird was alive I raced out the door to rescue it from the cat that was having way too much fun, only to slip and fall in the snow twisting my shoulder in the process.  Oh, and the bird was already dead as a mackerel.  So, now I have a splitting headache and considering that dinner was a disappointing frozen pizza I'll probably soon have an upset stomach to go along with the pounding in my brain.  This has not been a good day, so I think I'll call it quits before anything else happens.

 

6:53 pm est          Comments

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Look back, looking ahead.

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            This year, 2011 marks the 190th birthday of this old house.  It's hard to imagine the storms it has weathered, both climatic and otherwise, yet it stands as solidly as when John Grogg built it in 1821. 

            As I look around at the maintenance issues that must be addressed when the weather breaks it's apparent that changes wrought in the late 20th century in the name of restoration or remodeling have not been as durable nor in my opinion as lovely as those wrought (by hand) in the early 19th century.

            The windows I had installed to replace the rotted wooden ones that were literally falling apart at the seams are not holding up much better.  They came with a "lifetime guarantee," but the seals on all of them have broken, so condensation between the double panes now clouds the glass.  The company has gone out of business.  So much for that "lifetime guarantee." 

            The cedar shakes that my companion and I so painstakingly nailed over the hideous insul-brick that had been installed over the original clapboards in the 1940's still look good, but the cedar board trim around the roofline and windows looks like Swiss cheese.  Woodpeckers love this stuff.  Boards will have to be replaced come spring.

            The joints and dovetails on the handmade door in the kitchen have seen almost two centuries, but they remain as tight as the day the door was made.  The costly, insulated, full glass, vinyl storm door that seemed like a logical energy-saving investment back in 1990 is falling apart.

            I recall the ugly expensive linoleum that covered the beautiful old floor boards in the kitchen.  While removing all those layers of flooring was a lot of work, the beauty of the exposed original floor delights me every time I enter that room.

            The list could go on and on, but the point is that most everything has withstood the test of time, but many of the modern "improvements" have not.  Unlike This Old House where the host says they're working with the homeowner's budget of $100,000.00, this homeowner's budget is a teensy, tiny fraction of that amount, so I face many challenges.  It won't be fun spending money to replace riddled boards that won't look much different when the project is complete, but there is one pending project that is exciting--a new deck!  After twenty years the deck on the south side of the house has deteriorated to the point of no more repair. 

            As soon as the weather breaks that side of the house will become a demolition/reconstruction site.  The new deck will conform to the dimensions of the opposing brick porch.  The area between the two sitting spots will be paved with gauged fieldstone instead of the ankle-breaking stone terrace I made from rock collected from highway outcroppings. Planting pockets will be more generous and the entire side of the house will take on a new look.

            It's going to be beautiful and I'm excited and eager to begin, but looking out at the falling snow and ominous skies it's clear nothing is going to happen for  several months at least.  Oh well, I'll just order more fruit trees because those enticing catalogs are pouring in and I can't resist.

 

3:45 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Life.

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            Imagine having your very favorite meal delivered right to your door.  Oh, what would I choose...?  Fortunately the recipient of my mitzvah meal wasn't terribly picky.  He/she (yet to be determined) was happy with a generous serving of dry dog food.

            As I opened the gate at the end of the driveway a movement in the snow bank across the road caught my eye.  A skinny tail and a furry butt were all that was visible, but I knew at a glance what it was and walked over to where the entire front three quarters of the tail and butt owner were plunged vertically in the snow.

            "Hey, what are you doing in there?" I said.  This prompted a lot of reverse action until the pointy-nosed object of my attention was sitting no more than three feet away from me chewing what I knew to be the remains of the raccoon that had been in the ditch for a very long time.  I'd seen opossum tracks in the driveway earlier in the day and now there I was, standing in the road chatting with the owner of those cute little hands.

            "Geez, I'm really hungry.  All this snow makes it hard to find a good meal," he said.   His well-trod path led directly to a nearby groundhog hole and by the time I'd returned with a cup full of kibble my hungry friend had retreated to his lodging.  I dumped dinner down the chute, got in my truck and headed off to meet my daughter and friend for dinner at a nice restaurant.  ‘Much better than old frozen raccoon.

            There's a mouse in the dining room, but Tiny is aware of the intruder and has organized a hunting party.  From her first day as house cat rather than barn kitty this intrepid feline has made it her job to straighten out bickering amongst the other cats, become the darling of all the dogs and has appointed herself head activity director.  She's like a four-legged, black and white drill sergeant, so at the first hint of rustling behind the corner cupboard she called an emergency meeting of all cats. 

            "You!  Take the south corner!  Buddy, you take the doorway.  Hey!  Sissy, no slacking.  Get in front of that cupboard!"  And so it went until all cats were at their appointed stations patiently (or not so patiently as was the case with Sissy) just waiting for mister mouse to leave the safety of the space between the cupboard back and the wall.  The vigil lasted about an hour, but since the nervous rodent was a no-show Tiny dismissed the entourage until further notice.   She had plenty of other work for herself; plants to prune, curtains to shred, naps to take curled up with Julie.  Tiny is a very busy girl.  Since her arrival there hasn't been a dull moment. 

            How does anyone live without animals!!!

           

 

 

5:05 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On the road to....

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            Harold sits like Buddha in front of a computer.  His corpulent form oozes from the confines of the chair.  He takes another bite of blue-frosted cupcake and complains about his diabetes.   Harold's a very amicable chap with a nice phone voice, so his job is taking the incoming calls.  Like the other guys at my favorite thrift store Harold is supposed to be getting "rehabilitated."  I look at his computer screen and see that he's enjoying some porn with his cupcake.  So much for rehab.

 

2:42 pm est          Comments

Monday, January 24, 2011

A new day.

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             I've set an ambitious agenda for myself today and I've done so out of self-imposed guilt because I wasted yesterday.  While some may find nothing wrong with spending an entire day reading, watching telly and eating, I view this as an utter and absolute wasted day of life and I will not be indulging such indolence again. I was bored and had only myself to blame.  Never again, I vowed and as if the animal kingdom had picked up on this unspoken promise they launched a pre-dawn, get your butt in gear Monday for me. 

            Things began as they usually do; get up around 6:00 a. m., let the dogs outside, feed the cats, let the dogs inside..., but only two dogs were waiting at the door and Ted kept nervously glancing toward the east.  Where was Julie?  Repeated calls went unanswered and worry quickly set in.  Could she have fallen through the ice on the pond?  Had she been abducted as has happened to countless dogs in the area over the years I've lived here?  I pulled on boots, coat, gloves and hat and set off to search for my cross-eyed little girl.    

            The cold morning air was brisk and invigorating and dawn was just breaking as a Great Horned Owl silently swept past me, his majestic form heading east.  Such a close encounter with this elusive creature was enough to make my day, but then a happy Julie bounded across the snow with a furry ball in her mouth.  "Drop it," I ordered and being the obedient dog that she is she dropped the bunny head at my feet.  In those few seconds a story unfolded.  I put the head on a fence post, found the rest of the freshly-killed body and placed it on another fence post in hopes that the owl will return to finish his breakfast.

            All was well at the barn, but the cat food was untouched, suggesting the tortoise cat didn't spend the night here.  I hope it will return.  Finally, back at the house with all dogs accounted for I poured the days first cup of coffee and headed toward the living room to catch up on world news.  That's when the crash echoed through the house sending a hasty exodus of cats from the room. 

            Since Tiny's arrival she has been altering the window dressings. When not pruning the plants she swings on the curtains. I've forced myself to ignore the snagged fabric and the bent curtain rods,  but this morning a bent rodat last  gave way, clattering to the wood floor and taking a few items from the nearby table along with it.

            No gentle awakening this Monday morning, but no boredom either.

 

10:29 am est          Comments

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cold weather comfort food.

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            Winter weather provokes grumpiness in some like Little Ivy, but not me.  Bitter cold outside beckons me to my warm kitchen even when I'm not actually hungry.  I love to cook, and in winter I like to cook comfort foods.  Last night I made a favorite;  polenta, topped with a medley of sautéed vegetables and mushrooms.  Yum, yum.  Polenta is really just a fancy name for corn meal mush, but telling guests you've just served mush is certainly less romantic than confessing the dish they are praising is "...a simple polenta."  Much nicer, don't you think?

            Start with good quality yellow corn meal (I prefer stone ground) with a 1-3 ratio. 

            1 cup of cornmeal

            3 cups of water.

Mix this together with a whisk and add salt to taste.  I use coarse Kosher or sea salt as both are more flavorful than conventional table salt.  Cook this mixture for about 20-30 minutes over low heat, stirring almost constantly.  I like the creamy texture, but some people like it stiffer, which requires a longer cook time.  Add a generous chunk of butter, about ½ cup of cheese (I like parmesan) and some fresh, chopped parsley.  It's ready to serve as a side dish, but it's even better topped with the following.

            Really good quality olive oil in which you sauté

            ½ of a sweet onion sliced

            1 red pepper julienned

            1 zucchini sliced about 1/8 inch thick

            ½ lb. Portabella mushrooms.

Don't overcook this.  It's good when there is just a hint of crunch to the pepper.  Season with Misty Mountain Estate Parmesan Italiano herb blend (about $10.00 a bottle, but a little goes a long way).  http://www.mistymtnestate.com

This dish is colorful, delicious, easy and inexpensive to make.  Why the heck didn't I think to take a picture???

 

12:49 pm est          Comments

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Later.

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            The boys had not set foot outside their stall all day, so as I mucked out the mess they milled around the big part of the barn that's usually off limits to them.  It's always fun to pull down fly masks and halters that hang on pegs, check for any empty feed bags and always make a valiant attempt at sneaking into the feed room to steal an ear of corn from the barrel.  Donkeys can always find something to do.

            This American Life on NPR kept us company while I worked and the donkeys didn't.  Talking to the animals-dogs, cats, chickens and donkeys, seems perfectly natural, so being at the barn is always pleasant, even when it's so cold my fingers freeze inside the Thinsulite gloves.  I was happy to see the chickens had ramped up production today and presented not one, but two eggs.  It was almost too good to be true. 

            Several weeks ago a ‘hidey hole' appeared in the hay room; a snug deep recess between some bales, so I've been keeping a bowl of dry cat food there for whoever had made that comfy retreat.  Tonight as I refilled the bowl, I peered back into the hole and while it was impossible to see anything I "felt" a presence.  Maybe an opossum, I thought....  Oh well, I was just glad that whatever it was had a warm safe place and food, but when I pulled down some hay the mystery guest shot from its hiding spot like a rocket.  It was the tortoise kitty that I had thought long gone. 

            I filled another bowl with warm water and returned to the house, but now that I know the hobo has taken up residence it looks like my work is cut out.  I'll try to trap it, take it to the vet for some "minor surgery" and then release it back in the hay room, hopefully before I find a litter of kittens out there. Wish me luck!

5:26 pm est          Comments

Cold.

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            The temperature was -5 F. when we headed for the barn early this morning.  The silence of such cold is tree splitting.  I stop in my tracks in the quiet to bid the moon goodbye until tonight.  The dogs seem to sense this magical fleeting moment and they too stop.  It seems there is no one else alive in this beautiful stunningly-frigid early hour.

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9:06 am est          Comments

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ernie's big adventure.

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            Ernie went to the vet yesterday, not because he was ill, but because he is fat.  No, not just fat; at 120 pounds he is obese in spite of a modest diet of good quality food.  Ernie'r robust physique was the probable cause of my own painful condition last evening, hence no post.

            Ernie is a timid boy.  Sweet-natured and rather pretty with a noble profile, but when not backed up by big Ted or happy-go-lucky Julie, Ernie is a scaredy cat.  This accounted for the fifteen minute ordeal trying to get him into the truck for his vet visit.  No amount of cajoling could convince him to simply hop into the "back seat" of the truck although space was plentiful (for a dog) and there was a nice blanket intended to look comfy and inviting.  Any of the other dogs would have eagerly hopped on board happy for an adventure.  Not Ernie.

            His reluctance to get into the truck grew as my patience diminished.  Treats were no enticement.  Happy talk wasn't getting me anywhere either, so there was no alternative but to attempt to lift him.  The practical technique is to place his front paws on the floorboards, then lift the rear end with a gentle shove.  Ernie's front paws were attached to legs as stiff as broomsticks and the instant I loosened my hold on the front legs, Ernie replaced his feet on solid ground.  Ultimately I crawled into the small "back seat" and with a disgustingly lilting voice encouraged Ernie to follow.  "Come onnnnn, that's a good boy, let's gooooo for a ride, come on, come on...," I pleaded.  It was cold and we were supposed to be at the vet in fifteen minutes.  At last the black and white Suma wrestler-looking hulk was in the truck, but so was I which meant crawling over him to exit; a dicey endeavor indeed.

            The vet was amazed at how healthy Ernie is, but more amazed that he could pile on so many pounds on such a sensible diet.   Ernie refused to get on the scale and Dr. Costsalot did his best at cajoling too, but alas to no avail and ended up heaving the big boy onto the hydraulic table.  Huffing and puffing after accomplishing the feat he wheezed, "Well, that was my workout for this week!"  Ernie stood frozen in place as the vet examined him.  After doing blood work to rule out any hidden problems it was decided to try the big fella on thyroid pills to see if they might boost his metabolism.  The vet thinks Ern's taste for donkey doo may be responsible for hidden carbohydrates.

            I stuck the bottle of pills in my bag paid the bill and Ernie and I returned to the parking lot to re-enact the get-into-the-truck routine.  I believe this is how I hurt my back which is why I was in bed at 7:30 p.m. and this is the reason there was no blog entry yesterday.  Thanks to Advil, all is well today.  Ernie is happy as a clam to be back home, but has been regaling his dog and cat pals with embellished tales of his big day at the doctor's office.  

 

9:33 am est          Comments

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

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            Donkeys are "easy keepers" which (for non-horsey people) means they are hardy and don't require fancy feed nor pampering.  After all, mine are happy to eat the barn!  Even so, I make sure the hay I buy is good quality and that they have plenty of it.  So why do they prefer the straw that I put in their winter stall for bedding over the plentiful sweet-smelling hay at their disposal?  Given half a chance they sneak into the feed room and grab paper feed sacks or boxes and eat them like snacks unless I intercept the contraband. 

            Neighbor Sandy bought them a big bag of apple-flavored horse treats and although they only get a couple little nuggets, even that small amount causes "digestive issues" AKA the poops.  Paper sacks and cardboard boxes are no problem.  I'm beginning to rethink the maintenance costs of this pair.  Maybe I shouldn't bother with a room stacked to the roofline with good hay.  Maybe I should go to the recycle station and load up on boxes instead.  And maybe I can hire them out as a demolition team.  Removing a condemned house might take a while, but I imagine they'd be happy to work on it (provided it's not brick).

            Tomorrow the farrier is coming, so this will give the double trouble boys a diversion.  They are bored with winter.  As I jot down projects scheduled for spring I'm giving serious thought to putting Andy to work.  I know that he is broke to drive and I have a dried out old harness.  Corky will be happy to tag along if Andy is turning the garden or doing some other useful task.  I may change my mind after tallying up the costs of outfitting a draft donkey, but I know a job would make them happy.  This plan is under consideration....

            The catalogs are coming and already I've ordered more raspberry bushes and some trees.  The days are getting longer and while I can't pretend that spring is just around the corner, it's still fun to plan garden projects. 

 

6:16 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A dreary day.

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            I felt pretty bummed out this morning after listening to the news du jour, both global and local, but indulging depression, especially over things beyond my control was not an option, so the dogs and I set off for our daily walk.  As usual, being out in the natural world no matter how cold and soggy was spirit lifting.  How could anyone remain gloomy while in the midst of the townships' biggest squirrel orgy?  It was almost embarrassing!  We should all be having as much fun as the dozens of "courting" bushy tails.

            The first time I went to England a well-meaning friend trying her best to come up with activities she thought I might enjoy suggested, "Oh, and you must  visit the squirrel sanctuary...."  She was obviously unaware how common and abundant squirrels are in America.  I passed on a visit to that sanctuary. 

            This winter my wildlife rehabilitator friend Fran has seventy (yes, 70!) squirrels in her care until springtime due to unseasonal births coupled with parental deaths (squirrels, that is...).  In just about three weeks the leafy lofty nests witll be filled with litters of tiny hairless babies.  If today were any hint of things to come, squirrels will soon outnumber birds in Ranger Rick's woods. 

            We also caught another flashing glimpse of the elusive Bobcat.  Needless to say this sighting is awesome, but so brief it's almost like a hallucination.  Blink and the cat has vanished.  The walk was invigorating, even under the gloomy winter sky that spat down rain as we headed for home.  I was happy to sit down at this computer to confront the work at hand; an article about shoeing stocks.  Ah, the glamorous life of a writer.  Not quite like Hemmingway, but....

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6:45 pm est          Comments

Monday, January 17, 2011

Going, going....

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Aldo Leopold wrote, "Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left."

            Mr. Leopold was a thoughtful wise man.  Sadly, this is not so with Ohio politicians who think it's a grand idea to drill in our state parks and sanctuaries and "harvest" our "natural resources."  I choose not to use this blog as a forum for my political or religious opinions, but as per the maxim, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything," so I shall say nothing more.

            Today was interrupted by a chipped back tooth which required a trip to the dentist.  Frank is a wonderful dentist and the repaired molar is as good as new.  The fact that it chipped in the first place spurred thoughts about getting older.  I thought about how old cars rattle along the roads, dropping bits and pieces of themselves along the way.  Is this what happens to people too?  A little chip of tooth enamel today, but what might be next!  I shudder to think about the possibilities.

            The dogs aren't happy as we've missed our daily walk for the third day and freezing rain is predicted for tomorrow. That's not conducive to a meditative stroll through the woods and fields either, but I hope we'll go anyway.  I don't think we can afford to miss many days.

            All around I see the natural world I love disappearing:  Trees cut down so passersby can admire ridiculous ostentatious homes posing on former crop fields.  Hedgerows ripped out for no logical reason.  Streams polluted from petrochemicals sprayed on fields to increase productivity.  And self-serving politicians eager to ravage what has been designated as "public lands."  When will it stop?

 

8:11 pm est          Comments

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pay attention to what's in your path.

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            The bright sun on the snow looked so lovely the dogs and I just had to get outside.  We roamed around checking wildlife tracks and found deer tracks in surprising places, fox, squirrel and rabbit tracks galore. Venturing into places un-venturable when the foliage is on was like discovering a whole new property.  The snow is still deep enough that I had to pay attention to where I stepped, but that only made the outing more interesting.  It forced awareness of things that otherwise would have been overlooked.  It's good to go slowly and notice the things in one's path; sort of a metaphor for life, isn't it?

            The multiflora rose that's such a bother in the summer is equally bothersome in winter, but I could tell that this nasty plant is important to rabbits.  The lower sections were girdled, but unlike trees that die when stripped of their bark, it doesn't seem to affect multiflora rose.  With the loppers I was able to sever enormous bushes at ground level; something that will be totally impossible by springtime.  I like to think that some of the fallen tops, still berry-laden will provide bonus nourishment for small mammals.  There are still plenty of the berries aloft for the birds.  Eradicating multiflora rose is impossible, but trying is always a good pastime.  Faggot collection is another good reason to be outside.  I'd used the last of the kindling yesterday, but now we're all set for a little while.  The snow boat proved ever so handy for hauling loads back to the house.

            At the barn I brushed the donkeys and picked out their feet and noticed that it's time to call the farrier.  The bad boys seem to enjoy getting their feet trimmed, unlike a visit from the vet.  Just the sight of that truck sends them flying around the paddock like their tails are on fire.

            I cleaned out their stall, swept the floors and made mental notes of spring projects, like replacing trim (again!) and maybe changing some windows on the east side of the barn.  Then I gathered up the pails and headed for the pump. This is one of the highlights of the day for the dogs for reasons that still puzzle me, but they become wild and ecstatic when I pick up the buckets.

            Filling two five gallon buckets requires 110 up-down thrusts of the pump handle.  It would seem that after all these years of daily pumping I would have arms like Michelle Obama-the left one at least..., but not so.  T. says I should add weight to the pump handle if I want bucket filling to be a body-building exercise.  I say the iron handle is heavy enough as is, and besides, it wouldn't be good to have one firm arm and one flabby.  Better to have matching flabby biceps.

            Having had chickens for a lot of years, I understand their language.  This being said I should have heeded the warning when the big speckled rooster on the overhead perch ordered, "BOMBS AWAY!"  I guess it's better that I didn't look up or the big splat of stinky rooster poo would have hit me in the face instead of my hat.  Imagine the worst smell you can think of, multiply it by ten and it still won't be as rank as poultry poop. 

            After a couple of hours the dogs tired of inspecting new smells, fetching sticks and chasing one another and I was getting cold, so we came in and put some of the nice apple wood kindling to use.  It blazed quickly with a wonderful fragrance.  While the room warmed I made an apple kuchen as cats looked on.  They watched me the way I watch cooking shows, but until the arrival of the new kitchen chairs I wouldn't have had this audience.  Their only interest used to be lying on the floor registers, but now they're on the chairs 24/7.  I hope the novelty soon wears off.  I like them better when they're on the registers.

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5:31 pm est          Comments

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hail Caesar!

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            For some time I've been at work on a collection of short stories entitled Leaving Fifth Street.  The process is sometimes painful, but more often it is fun. This afternoon some of Fifth Street paid a visit in the form of two childhood chums, one of which I haven't seen in decades.  We reminisced and shared surprising revelations and hurts, but most of all we shared a day of laughter and renewed friendship.  We all agreed it was a wonderful day and have decided to look up others from the old neighborhood and have a Fifth Street reunion.  ‘Can't wait!

            This evening I'm entertaining a different set of friends with a simple peasant dinner: Broccoli cheese soup, crusty French bread, a genuine Caesar salad and wine.  I can't think of a better way to spend a really frigid evening than with good food, good friends and a warm fire.

            Few dining experiences irk me more than ordering a Caesar salad only to be presented with a plate of shredded Romaine served with a sorry bottled dressing and topped with a few hard-as-bullets croutons.  That does not constitute a Caesar salad!  Here is the real thing.

Sprinkle the bottom of a wooden salad bowl with a bit of coarse sea salt (be very parsimonious with the salt!).  Rub the bowl with a small clove of garlic cut in half (use both halves).  Add about a teaspoon or so of dry mustard (use prepared if desperate).  Squeeze about a tablespoon or more of fresh lemon juice into the bowl and a dash of Tabasco sauce. Add about three tablespoons of olive oil and stir all of this with a wooden spoon.

Wash and tear three bunches of Romaine lettuce, then toss the dried leaves in the salad bowl.  Now for the good part!  Add a can of drained (or not...) anchovy fillets cut into small pieces.  Using a spoon, lower one egg into boiling water and boil for exactly 60 seconds, then break the egg over the greens.  Add a generous amount of fresh parmesan cheese and good croutons.  Yum yum!

Option:  Sometimes I skip the salt in the bowl and use the oil from the anchovies to add extra flavor (this also adds salt). 

One of the guests is bringing dessert, so this will be a surprise.

 

5:24 pm est          Comments

Friday, January 14, 2011

A day of lovely discoveries!

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            No one loves a surprise discovery more than I do and today was bonanza.  At my favorite thrift store (Funky's) was a set of four wonderful chairs.  Until now I had been content to live with the rather ugly chairs that I grew up with on Fifth Street.  My mother was always quick to remind me that they had been her mother's and that she too had grown up with the very functional, very solid maple plank bottoms.  These seats were never questioned.  They just WERE, until today. 

            It was as if the Funky chairs had my name on them.  I looked, I sat, I bought.  As I type each of these new additions is adorned with a sleeping cat.  I overheard Sissy say to Tiny, "Thank goodness! I thought she'd never replace those uncomfortable old relics!"Sometimes the simplest things make such a big difference. It feels as if the kitchen has been remodeled.  I'm pleased!

            While searching for a particular poetic reference to oxen I discovered (in a very circuitous manner) two wonderful blogs.  The first one was not actually a new discovery for I was vaguely familiar with it, but today I found a new appreciation of it.  I adore people who are passionate about whatever it is they care about.  This blogger does not mince words as indicated by her "description."

Fugly Horse of the Day http://www.fuglyblog.com  Description: Snarky commentary on the breeding of poor quality horses, silly or abusive training techniques, and pretty much anything else that annoys me!

This blog is clever and original, a rare quality these days.  For anyone who loves longears, this one is a treat.  http://www.braysofourlives.com

 

8:22 pm est          Comments

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A day without a walk...

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Is like a day without sunshine, or something like that.

            I opened the back door and was met with three pairs of accusing eyes.

            "And just where have you been?" they seemed to say.  "We've been waiting all day to go for our walk and Ernie really has to pee right now."

            Dogs don't understand when you tell them you've been sitting in an Amish wood shop interviewing a guy who makes shoeing stocks.  The dogs suit up and bolt out the door.  My name is clearly mud!  Aside from their condemnation it's been an interesting day. 

            Amos, the business owner is an affable young man whose enterprise is booming.  Our proverbial "bad economy" has not affected the Amish community much. The incongruity of hi-tech vs. low-tech should be a lesson.  The culture that has remained essentially unchanged (yes, I know there have been some minor changes, but...) is reaping the rewards of English "hard times" as many of their customers are new to working with draft animals. In keeping with the buzz word of the day ("sustainability") a lot of those who once criticized the Amish for their backward ways are coming to appreciate that less really is more.

 

7:02 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hurray for winter!

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            I really doubted the weatherman yesterday.  The forecast was for massive snowfall beginning at noon, so the entire county was in a panic.  Noon came and went and the sky was still calm and dry, but when it did begin to snow it came in buckets and it's still falling.  The animals and I are probably the only ones around here that love this weather.  Even Corky has decided that playing with the dogs in the white stuff is a lot more fun than pouting in the barn.

            How can anyone NOT love winter!!!

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3:27 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The strike is over!

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            I was afraid to get excited yesterday when I actually discovered a freshly-laid egg in the hen house, but today there was yet another one!  I guess at least one of the girls has decided to go back to work.  I have calculated production costs of these two eggs at about $6.95 each.

            Oh, to have had a camera with me today as I was out getting supplies like everyone else preparing for the predicted big snow storm. A magnificent Kingfisher perched at the tip of a branch overhanging the creek.  With the snowy background it would certainly have been a prize-winning shot, but....

            Later I was distracted from the evening barn chores by a distant racket in the sky which I knew to be Canada geese.  I waited as the honking grew ever closer and then as I watched--again without a camera, hundreds of chevron geese passed overhead in the dusky sky.  It too would have been a prize winner, but....

            So now the world is hushed with a fresh blanket of pristine snow.  Looking at this beauty it's hard to believe there is so much turmoil, hatred and ugliness in the world.  My friend Tony is engaged in a peace vigil in Arizona, but from what I see and read in the news I imagine my pacifist pal is an anomaly out there.  This world is a scary place.  I'm grateful for the peace and tranquility in my small country life, but as this photo suggests, Ernie is apprehensive, but Little Ivy doesn't seem to notice.

 

6:26 pm est          Comments

Monday, January 10, 2011

A lovely surprise.

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            Walking is an addiction, but it's one that I think every person should have.  It was really cold this morning and I had a lot of work to do, so I considered skipping our walk today.  The dogs had other ideas and I have to admit I didn't like the idea of not going either.  So, after working in my office all morning, we donned our winter gear and set off for an invigorating jaunt. Part of our daily ritual involves touching the enormous old oak tree shown in this picture.  It is so big that it takes five people with outstretched arms to encircle it at chest height.  I believe a unique energy passes between this tree and my hand and I think of it as greeting an old friend.   As we headed westward along Kenny's pasture a loud bellowing issued from the barn.  I'm wondering if the calf/bull has been moved.

            When I began this blog a little over a year ago I had few expectations.  I was doing it primarily as a self discipline and in that respect the blog has been useful.  I couldn't have guessed the other benefits that have surfaced; not the least of which has been the interesting people who have entered my life as a consequence.

            Yesterday as the dogs and I were trudging down the road after an especially long and frigid outing I saw a vehicle pull over by the gate.  It then drove up the road to greet me.  It was a nice couple whose acquaintance I made a few months ago when they stopped by to see the bad donkeys in person. Yesterday they dropped off a bag of canned cat food which their own cat found inferior.  My cats thought they died and went to heaven this morning.  No cheap Friskees for breakfast today, but instead fancy Fancy Feast.  I did not serve it in crystal dessert goblets as they do on the commercial, but the cats seemed content to eat from their brown plastic kitty bowls.  I've warned them not to get used to this gourmet cuisine.  This nice gesture was appreciated not only by me, but especially from the entire feline family.

 

4:05 pm est          Comments

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lif e is beautiful!

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            The news says it's 12 degrees, but as I prepare to go to the barn I can tell it's colder than that here.  My hat, coat and gloves are warm, so no matter.  It's Sunday and that means the donkeys get a special treat.  Of course they don't know what day it is, but I like this ritual.  This morning they're having carrots, so I stuff a handful in my jacket pocket. 

            I suit up the dogs in their quilted coats, then pull on my hat and gloves.  The trip to the barn is cause for celebration if you happen to be a resident dog here.  The excitement couldn't be wilder as they all push for first place at the back door.  They remind me of those commercials where some hysterical person screams, "We're going to Disneyland!"  Outside they race ahead and vanish in a blur of snow.  I take a deep breath.  The air is so brittle it feels as if my lungs might snap, but it's wonderful.  There's not a sound.

            Inside the barn, which has been closed up all night since the donkeys don't like to go out in this weather anyway, it's warm and cozy.  Soft clucking issues from the chicken coop and the boys welcome me with their morning snuffle.  NPR keeps me company as I dole out feed and muck out the stall before opening the barn up to the frigid morning.  I toss a few flakes of hay outside to force the boys to get some fresh air and head back to the house where the fire in the stove has warmed the room and coffee awaits.

            What a beautiful Sunday morning!

 

8:56 am est          Comments

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Oh, the irony of it.

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            I was headed out the drive to fetch the mail when I saw the brown bag hanging on the gate and I knew that bag contained my holiday gift from Kenny; three books and a giant jar of Grandma's Mincemeat.

            Clearly the books were chosen with great care:  #1) A well-used paperback called the Handbook of Dog Care.  #2) The Vegetarian Alternative; advice on switching to a vegetarian diet.  #3) Fitness Unleased; a dog and owner's guide to losing weight and gaining health together by walking

            What can I say?  I've had dogs most all my life, all of which lived to ripe old ages.  I've been a vegetarian for decades and while I would like to knock off a few pounds, the dogs and I do walk (on Kenny's land) every day.  As for the mincemeat, well I'll give that to neighbor Sandy.

            How can I not like old Kenny even with all his eccentricities?

 

4:10 pm est          Comments

"You can fight without a win, but you can't win without a fight."
11:47 am est          Comments

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            My friend Mike is a very wise and thoughtful person.  While discussing the sorry state of world affairs I remarked, "...It's hopeless."  The above quote was his response and it has gotten me thinking about more personal and local issues that sometimes also seem hopeless.  More liberally interpreted I think the remark is a reminder to never ever giving up on one's passion.  Obviously for me this involves animals.

            Each day my dogs and I walk the woods and fields.  As I watch them racing around, leaping in the snow and just exhibiting the boundless energy that nature instills in healthy animals, knowing that the calf that was born in May remains tethered on a short length of rope in old Kenny's barn sickens and infuriates me. 

            This young animal has never known the joy of racing across a field or even moving beyond its 8' prison.  Imploring Kenny to release this creature has not worked.  Volunteering to assist him with fencing has not worked.  Calling farmer Chuck to intervene has not worked and neither has attempted intervention from neighbor Butch.  For the wellbeing of this helpless creature I dare not give up the fight.

            I've called my friend M. who has gone to Kenny's farm with the intention of buying the calf (who is fast becoming a dangerous bull).  Kenny was not at home, so M. left a note and phone number, but he plans to return to the farm rather than wait for a call that may never come.

            Some may regard this situation as "nobody else's business" and it's true.  It isn't really my business, but ignoring the suffering of an animal because of  Kenny's goofy thinking just isn't an option. ("If I turn him loose Cow won't come in to be milked...") 

             If that calf only gets to know a few days of freedom before it's inevitable transition to a carcass in a meat locker I think it will be a better fate than continued imprisonment in a dark dirty corner of a barn because of a stubborn old man.  Kenny's sister died because he refused to take her to the doctor.  Kenny's dog died because he refused to take it to the vet.  There's little reason to think Kenny will suddenly act wisely.

            

11:43 am est          Comments

Friday, January 7, 2011

For hire.

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           In the barnyard is a huge pitch pine tree.  It's never been what would be described as pretty, but it looks dramatic standing all by itself in the middle of the open field.  It had survived intact many years with my old ponies, but when the donkeys arrived on the scene they made girdling the tree a top priority, and in a single afternoon they had achieved their goal.  Even so, the old behemoth clings to life, but it's fragile. 

            During last week's strong winds a very large limb crashed to the ground.  To the bad asses this was manna from the heavens.  They immediately set about consuming the dry sticky bough and in two days nothing remained but a couple of pine-flavored tooth picks.  While donkeys can be (and should be) useful creatures, this pair is not, but as illustrated by their recent yard waste removal I'm thinking of hiring them out as eco-engineers.  Environmental cleanup with on site fertilizer delivery at no extra charge.  I'll have the market cornered and maybe they'll tire of eating the barn.

            Corky is trying to look remorseful in this photo, but he's not fooling me.

10:12 am est          Comments

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sad news.

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           I feel sad. Today I learned that a wonderful little magazine for which I have written for many years has gone under.  What makes this demise tragic is that it didn't have to happen, for unlike some magazines that fold due to a lack of support, this one has died because of the death of its founder and some ugly legal finagling of the estate.  Regardless of the intricacies of the ending, it's a shame.

            Being a freelance writer is in my mind a wonderful job for many reasons, but it requires vigilance and assertiveness.  One cannot get lazy or one will not get paid!  I'm hopeful a new magazine with a similar focus will rise from the ashes of the dead one, but until that happens I must seek a replacement and that may be challenging.

            Like any other business, publications that survive and flourish do so because their format and subjects evolve with the times.  Atavistic types wither and die, be they magazines, farms, stores or writers.

2:40 pm est          Comments

I sometimes wonder....

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"Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons."
--Robertson Davies

8:25 am est          Comments

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Treasures are found is strange places.

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           My over-sized, red, down-filled barn coat had finally reached the point of no repair.  There were more feathers on the outside than in the lining and the interior of my truck looked like a chicken processing plant.  I needed a warm replacement.

            When I was a kid I was embarrassed by my mother's thrift which  accounted for my wardrobe of cast-off clothing and bedroom full of someone else's unwanted furnishings, but the truth is I'm more frugal than my mother was.  I guess I should thank her.  ‘Waste not, want not.'  I want for nothing, partly because I only shop at the thrift stores, so that's where I headed in search of a ‘new' barn coat.  My favorite store by far is the one I've nicknamed Funky's.  It's more than just a store.

            Like the merchandise within, it's not only a trove of hidden treasures for those who know the difference between cashmere and acrylic, but a reminder of the value of lives that others might consider ruined or useless.  Inside the windowless brick building there's a safe friendly ambiance.  In this ratty old thrift store I've met some special people.  Their stories scream to be told, but most will probably never be heard.  The rare times I've been the confidant of such revelations were more valuable than some of the material treasures I've found there hidden under layers of dust.  As I step from my truck I see him.

            "Hey, how are you," I say drawing out the first and last words. His grimy little face beams with delight.  "It's so good to see you...," I hesitate before adding, "Mike."

            "Steve," he giggles, correcting me.  He's wearing Harry Potter glasses and a stocking cap pulled down over his dark unruly curls.  I'm embarrassed by my mistake as I used to see him every week during the time I volunteered at the mission, back before the most recent changeover.

            The mission is a kind of halfway house for the downtrodden.  Some of the guys, (and they were almost exclusively male) have drinking or drug problems. Some like Steve have medical or mental issues.  Some just have nowhere to go and no one to care.  In return for room and meals the men are obligated to work at the thrift store in some capacity.  One fellow whose tenure was brief was so mentally challenged that his job was separating flatware into appropriate knife, fork, spoon bins.  Finding a spatula or a ladle threw him into a panic as such implements didn't fit the three recognized categories.  Like so many others, one day he simply vanished.

            The men come and go, usually without explanation from anyone else in the store.  Some return after a brief absence.  As part of their "rehabilitation" they are required to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, regardless of any personal religious affiliation and I suspect this dictate may be the reason for the departure of more than a few.  Recently there's scripture written on a whiteboard near the cash register.  More often than not it's something intended to intimidate rather than comfort those who read it.  This came with the current management.

            Management such as it is changes fairly often and when it occurs the work crew also undergoes a change.   The mission operates in a quasi-military fashion with the head honcho designated as "Captain."   Currently the place is a mess and I suspect/hope another change is forthcoming.  Steve and several others who had been there for a long time disappeared during the last transition.

            Steve was a sorter by job definition.  It was a task that suited him well for he is a shy little fellow and his work space was in an isolated corner of the big cold warehouse.  He had a little heater and always seemed merry and content as he separated what he deemed junk from salable merchandise.  In one corner was his secret stash of owl artifacts, most all of which was undeniably junk. "I weely like owls," he blushingly confessed to me.

            "I got some pitt-uws faw you,"he'd proudly announce in his funny quiet manner.  He has a slight speech impediment.  Knowing I was ever hopeful of finding something that actually qualified as art he carefully secreted anything he thought I might like to proudly present when I arrived.  Occasionally I got lucky, but most often I'd say that the treasures he offered were "really pretty...," but maybe the color was wrong or the size or I'd make some other excuse that wouldn't offend his judgment of item. 

            Little Steve.  He was one of the special ones for whom the mission offered safety and a small sense of dignity.

            "So how have you been?  Are you back here?" I say motioning toward the big brick building.

            He frowns and says no, that he has a disability and that his legs are bad.  He says he's just out walking for some exercise.  Little Steve is filthy.  It isn't the dirt from recent labor, but the sort of ground in grime that one sees on the faces of coal mine workers.  Blackness seems imbedded in his pores and the curls that escape from under the cap don't look much like human hair.  I want to ask where he's living now, but I don't want to embarrass him for it looks as if he's living under a bridge.

            And so we chat briefly about nothing in particular.  I say I'm happy to see him and wish him well.  I don't see even a hint of a limp as he jauntily strides down the street, past his former workplace.  I pull open the heavy steel door, enter the cheery, but messy environment and find myself a new Columbia barn coat, but I worry about Steve.

10:53 am est          Comments

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

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

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           It's been going on for several weeks now, but I've tried to ignore the relentless chainsaws roar that begins just after 8:00 a.m. and continues throughout the day.  It is, however impossible to ignore the mutilation and destruction associated with the noise.   

            The power company has hired a "tree service" to clear the area around the lines.  Overkill would be an understatement.  Many trees that have survived and flourished for decades are now ruined and often literally cut in half.  The desecration is senseless and stupid. 

            Dick Drake is a local certified arborist who has offered his professional input to those in charge regarding the consequences of reckless "trimming."  Dick says that removal of more than 40% of a tree is likely to cause its demise, so while the trees that have been reduced to awkward, malformed skeletons may survive a year or two, they will probably die as a result of these madmen with chainsaws.

            Apparently his recommendations have been totally ignored.  The irony of all of this deliberate maiming is that communities deemed desirable because of their beauty, quaintness and high property values have one common denominator; they are all graced with lovely trees.  Maybe this is a planned effort to lower property values in Marlboro Township? 

            One morning we have lovely mature trees.  By evening we have stumps or cripples.  It's one more disturbing example of diminishing rights.  We are also faced with the threat of unwanted gas wells in our immediate area which will involve controversial fracking methods shown to have disastrous environmental effects.  Neighbors just up the road were arrogantly told by the gas company representative who knocked on their front door, "We will be putting a well back in your woods and a road through this part of your garden.  It's going to look like a bomb went off here, but there's nothing you can do to stop us." 

            My own trees thus far have been spared as there are no wires on this side of the road. As for the gas wells, we in a 1,500 acre area are all vulnerable to the potential pollution which will affect everyone.  I find all of this very frightening indeed.

6:11 pm est          Comments

Monday, January 3, 2011

A bad dream!

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            I think one's surroundings are critical to overall contentment, so when rooms aren't pleasing, one should change them.  I'm pretty satisfied with mine right now, especially my bedroom.  It's quite large, quite cold (no heat), but quite pretty by my estimation.  It's a sanctuary that I have made just the way I want it.  And so, the dream from which I awoke with a gasp was disconcerting.  I dreamed that I was in my bedroom on Fifth Street. 

            So vivid was the dream/nightmare that I experienced every tiny nuance; the smell, the feel and most disturbing the utter ugliness of the one room that should have been a  sanctuary.

            I doubt another human was thriftier than my mother which might explain some things about the room that was supposed to be mine, but which in no way reflected the young girl sometimes banished to that dreary place on the second floor.

            The room was once papered in faded gray with ribbons of faded pink flowers, but then the dull wall covering was steamed off and the walls were painted the color of mint ice cream, a color also popular in institutions.  I hated it.  I begged for yellow walls and after what seemed like an eternity my wish was granted-sort of.... 

            It wasn't the buttery yellow I had chosen, but a yellow as pale as buttermilk.  The bed which was so firm it might have been made of stone had a spread with a gray background peppered with rows of green octagons with pink flowers in the center.  It was'thin and worn, not a lofty quilted affair, although my mother had made some beautiful quilts that today are in the bottom of a blanket box at the foot of my bed. I can't recall these quilts ever being on any bed on Fifth Street, nor have they ever been on any of my beds.  One day I'll give them to my daughter.   She's sentimental and she will love them.

            In the dream I saw the two large windows with the dark green window shades just like those on all of the windows in the big house. The one on the west side had some tiny pin holes toward the bottom and in my disturbed sleep those imperfections were important for some reason.  Each spring my mother would lay the unrolled blinds out on the floor and wipe them with some rubbery clay that came in a can labeled "wallpaper cleaner."  The chemical smell was wonderful and probably toxic.

            The windows were further dressed with sheer curtains with ruffled edges, pulled to each side and each tie-back secured with a tack.  In one corner sat a kidney-shaped vanity that had come from someplace other than a furniture store. It had a mirrored top and a shocking pink satin skirt.  The desk my uncle made for me was in another and a dresser my mother had retrieved from the Neiderhouser trash completed the furnishings.  There was only one outlet in the room, so a lamp sat on the desk.  The center of the floor was covered with a section of rose-colored wool living room carpet, salvaged when the new salt and pepper nylon stuff was installed downstairs.  I was allergic to wool.  The woodwork throughout the house was red pine finished with such a hard glaze of varnish it gleamed like glass. 

            My friends had the torn out magazine pictures of our adolescent heart throbs tacked on their bedroom walls and we were allowed to lounge at will on their beds.  They had book shelves and lamps by which they could actually read, and a record player and lots of records that we happily danced to in their uniquely-cluttered bedrooms. 

            In my bedroom sitting on the bed was strictly forbidden.  "You'll break down the edges of the mattress." Taping or tacking anything on the walls was out of the question.  "No, you're not putting holes in the walls!"  Music played above a whisper brought my mother storming into the room like an enraged bull.  "What's the matter with you?  Are you deaf?"  She'd yank the plug from the wall and on the off chance friends were visiting (sitting on the floor of course) they quickly beat feet.  Dancing was out of the question. "It'll crack the plaster."

             I have not one  pleasant memory of my childhood bedroom, but in that dream I was there again.  I can't describe how relieved and happy I was to awaken in my pretty butter-colored room with paintings hung all over the walls.

 

9:08 am est          Comments

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Resolutions and plans.

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            It's really cold, but the dogs and I went for a mind-clearing walk before I went to look at a property with friend R.  It's exciting in a vicarious way to look at a piece of land and some buildings and to imagine how they could be transformed into something more suitable.  To me, it's all about the land, but most people (like my friend) are more concerned with the buildings.  Maybe that's more sensible.

            I just keep remembering what an utter disaster this place was when I decided to make it mine.  It was a journey embarked upon with total naiveté, but in all honesty I can't recall ever feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the undertaking.  The work is never really done. 

            The big project this year will be replacing the deck off the south side of the house.  The south side is what I consider park-like and where I take refuge from the heat, the traffic, the rest of the world.  It's private and becoming more so with each passing year.  Privacy is paramount to me.

            Tearing off the old deck will certainly be the most difficult part and it isn't anything I'm looking forward to.  Stones set as a flagstone terrace between the deck and the brick porch will also have to be taken up and will be replaced with gauged fieldstone properly set (unlike the current ankle-breaking terrace stones).  The mental image of this renovation pleases me, but perhaps after hearing estimates I will experience the stress heretofore unknown in previous venures.

            But, for now, the project du jour is just getting a roaring fire going and trying to thaw out.  I'm glad the holidays are over and I'm looking forward to really buckling down to work, eating healthier (no more cookies!) and planning some adventures beginning tomorrow.  Sissy is happy with her life just as it is; sleep on the bed, eat, run around outside until she gets cold, then repeat the routine.  She needs no New Year's resolutions.  Life is good.

 

6:04 pm est          Comments

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Death and destruction.

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            The thermometer registered a balmy fifty-three degrees and although it was windy, gray and spitting rain, the dogs and I set off for our first walk of the new year.  In the field north of the barn I spotted a form lying motionless about twenty feet back from the roadway.  We crawled up the embankment and sank into the muddy field to where the black and white cat lay dead.  The dogs were concerned and nudged the lifeless animal that has been seen by many over the past few weeks, but which was unapproachable and wild.  There were no outward signs to indicate the cause of death, but I suspect it had been hit by a car and had made it off the roadway to die a lonely death.  It saddens me to think of it lying there, possibly suffering, so close yet so far from anyone's notice.  I'm sure the vultures will soon find it.

            As we continued our brisk trek up the road there was no sign of life anywhere.  Horses usually in their paddocks were absent, kept inside, safe from the blustery weather by their nervous owners.  The windows of the houses we passed were dark on this gloomy day, but the lack of all road traffic was a welcomed oddity.  It was as if the entire neighborhood was as lifeless as the cat in the field.

            As we entered the woods the skies became more ominous and the wind gathered momentum.  It was soon apparent that a lot of damage had taken place in the past 48 hours.  Trees and great limbs littered the forest like pick-up sticks.  Most were only eight-ten inches in diameter; not huge, but big enough to inflict injury or death upon anything unlucky enough to be under the windfall.  I paused to consider if it was wise to continue, but the dogs unbridled joy urged me on.

            Our path was nearly entirely underwater and the little creek that intersects the woods was swollen to a torrent.  All three dogs splashed around in the muddy stream with wild abandon.  How could I interrupt such fun?  We pushed onward, but I kept a skyward watch on the swaying branches.  We slogged along the muddy trail at record speed and by the time we'd again reached the roadway the winds were roaring.  I think it was the first time I've ever been happy to leave the forest.

            It seems a good day to finish the History of Death book before going to dinner with friends this evening.

 

1:13 pm est          Comments

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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The first day of 2011 feels more like the first day of spring.  It's downright balmy and wet.  The brown and gray world revealed by the vanished snow also revealed a lot of junk previously concealed under the blanket of white!  Ted sneaks his toys out the door every chance he gets, thus I found various bits of gutted stuffed animals and shards of broken Frisbees.  It's all cleaned up now, but I hope it soon snows again.  The gray skies, the mud, the naked trees and empty gardens are gloomy.

Food set out for the invisible tortie cat was gone this morning, but since I'd left the hay room door open last evening it's quite possible that a coon or opossum feasted on Friskees.  There is no sign of the dumped cat.  Does he/she realize the missed opportunity for regular meals and a health checks?  Perhaps.  I worry about it's fate.

Yesterday I had phone calls from people not seen or heard from in years.  It was bizarre to say the least.  No sooner did I hang up from one surprising call and the phone would ring again.  One call was from a fellow I haven't seen since high school prom night!  He was "...just thinking about" me.  How strange, but it was great catching up with all of these men. 

In recalling our conversations it seems each was reevaluating his life and in a couple of the calls I sensed the speaker was discouraged and perhaps less than happy with some past choices, but is there a person alive who has always made the "right" choice?  I think not.  The only thing that really matters is how one deals with the present.  Live in the moment!

It was great to reconnect and while I am still recovering from a lovely evening spent with several friends, I think a reunion of sorts with the callers might be fun.  Life is too short to ignore serendipitous opportunities.  The following quote is a day tardy, but....

"The year is going, let him go; ring out the false, ring in the true."

Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

9:31 am est          Comments


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