My Small Country Life

Published Works
Favorite Photos
Useful Links
Contact Karen
Archive Newer | Older

Sunday, July 31, 2011



            The volunteer cleome on the new terrace that thrilled me only weeks ago has become menacing!  It dares pedestrians (other than the orphans) to step off the porch or the deck lest they become ensnared in its sharp thorny stalks or scented with an odor not far removed from skunk, but even so it's beautiful.

            It's hard for me to justify pulling up and discarding pretty vigorous plants, but there were simply no other options. Until the plants became so robust I transplanted them to places where they could grow unfettered.  I gave young cleome to anyone who would accept it. I've tied the rampant plants to stakes and to the porch spindles, but they continued to sprawl nearly obliterating the lovely terrace Super Sue created. So, mindless of the thorny threats and smelly perfumes I forced myself to yank and pitch enough to reveal the flagstones once again, but I know that the battle is not over.

            Kayaking last night was perfect!  There were no cars in the parking area and no visible boats on the mirror smooth water. It was almost like having the lake to ourselves.  Wonderful!  As we skimmed across the glassy surface, so did schools of tiny fry.  Their shimmering wake looked as if invisible boats were speeding past us.  Two deer waded contentedly in the shallows, stopping occasionally for a drink. They strolled along the shoreline the way vacationers stroll a beach at sunset.  An osprey with a fish clutched in his talons flew overhead while countless great blue heron patrolled the shore and only their outrageous squawks broke the stillness of the day. A kingfisher sat on a snag watching me as I sat in my kayak watching him.  It was such a perfect evening we plan to return tonight.

            The advent of recent unstoppable events make me cherish such moments even more than I might have just a year ago.  The assault against Nature is rampant and I see no hope on the horizon.  The fracking frenzy which Ohio's bonehead governor is lauding as a great thing for the state is moving along at breakneck speed.

            Yet another "representative" has been making calls, successfully engaging some less than brilliant people (in my opinion!) who fell for the disingenuous promise of untold riches and signed the leases granting the possible/probably rape of the surrounding land. 

           "Just what is fracking anyway?" one of these dimwits asked me.  My anger at his ignorance overwhelmed my ability to explain.  I was furious and ‘suggested' that doing some research prior to signing the damned papers that granted a free for all would have been prudent.  Ignorance may be bliss for him, but for those of us vulnerable to  collateral damage, ignorance is inexcusable.

            Yesterday a crew of guys set stakes in the field directly across from T.  Each stake through the soybean field represents a spot where a thirty foot deep hole will be drilled.  Then an explosive charge will be set off within the hole in preparation for the seismic monitoring.  Step one in what could be an R-rated drama; ‘Mindlessly Destroying Our Planet.'

            And so, tonight T. and I will return to the lake.  We'll watch the wildlife that is oblivious to its imperiled state and we'll treasure the privilege of sharing one more day of peaceful coexistence with them.


11:17 am edt          Comments

Friday, July 29, 2011



            A new ritual has developed here.  Each morning before going to the barn I take the pointy garden shovel and dig a hole somewhere near the dahlias.  Then I get the dustpan and collect bodies.  Since yesterday I have buried eleven rodent corpses, and these are just the ones that are delivered to the front or back doors.  No graveside eulogies are offered.  ‘Just dump in the dead and cover them up.  It's stink control.

            Meanwhile at the barn the quadruplets are still alive although the only sign of a maternal presence has been the diminished breadstick.  I've come to the conclusion that the mother is caring for her children, but the sound of the barn door alerts her to run for cover, hence when I open the cupboard the tiny babies are unattended and vulnerable.  She has not improved the nest.  The kids remain unprotected and squirming on their gauze pads.  I've replenished the food supply.

            The house next to my daughter has been empty for over four years; yet another foreclosure.  Like mother, like daughter, Jill has relished her solitude, but two days ago a "For Sale" sign erupted in the front yard and the stream of potential buyers has been endless.  "You'd think it said FREE!" she cries. 

            Her frequent calls are usually panic-stricken and include a description of those piling out of a mini-van with six kids or from a beat up junker full of undesirables that could possibly (in her worst nightmare) become neighbors too close for comfort.  I've just received the most anguished call to date.

            "The most disgusting hill-billies you could ever imagine...," she weeps into the phone.  Their loud profanity offends her.  Their belching announcements of planned beer parties complete with detailed sex make her nauseous. She is far from being a prude.  These latest potential neighbors sound like the worst of the worst.  I understand her fear, her frustration and the sinking feeling of helplessness for it mirrors what I felt when the lands around me sold to people who are my polar opposites.

            It's a pity wannabee buyers aren't required to meet with the approval of nearby residents.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but the parade of interested lookers at the house next to Jill's is ominous.  Yet another reason to surround oneself with trees! 

           The orphans are now pretty big and they follow me all day long, waiting on the patio benches or peering into the door hoping I'll appear with some delectable treat. How could I help but love them!  Like the donkeys, they make me smile.



8:36 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, July 28, 2011



            There are many professions to which I NEVER aspired; obstetrician being one of them, second only to proctologist, but desperate times call for desperate measures....

            Being jettisoned into the world in a torrent of ice water is no way for anything to begin life, especially if you happen to be a bean-sized mouse not even entirely out of mama's womb!

            Summer inevitably causes mice with maternal instincts to build extravagant nests inside the spout of the pump.  I begin pumping and if I'm lucky the big glob of grass and moss comes shooting out.  Sometimes a very surprised mouse accompanies the mass.  More complicated dense nests require dismantling the spout and that's a pain, but it's frequently necessary.  I'm always amazed that so much material can be assembled inside the pump within a 24 hour period.  It would seem there are much easier places to build, but for some reason the curved iron spout is attractive.

            Tonight as I began pumping fresh water for the barn critters a small amount of debris spat out, immediately followed by 3 brand new baby mice, plus a sibling just being born.  The poor mom was freaked out and no wonder!  I quickly dumped most of the water from the bucket and transferred her and the birth in process into the second dry bucket and fished the 3 other infants from their icy bath.  It seems incredible that they weren't dead, but they weren't far from deaths door.  They felt like tiny popsicles.

            As gently as possible I warmed them by cupping them in my hands and breathing into the cavity.  They revived almost instantly, so I added them to the ambulance bucket and headed toward the barn to set up proper accommodations for the new family. I set up the maternity ward inside a cupboard, safely away from Little Ivy who patrols the feed room with regularity.  Gauze pads from the first aid kit (this was definitely a medical emergency) made a good nest.  I placed the kids on the sterile bedding, provided a breadstick and some scratch feed next to it for the stressed mother who was still in the bucket, then introduced her to her dry wriggling offspring and closed the cupboard door.

            After finishing barn chores I peeked inside only to find that mom had beat feet. She was nowhere to be found.  Surely the babies would die, I thought, but hours later they are moving about.  The breadstick is gone, so I'm hoping that during the night the bug-eyed mother will return and care for her new family.

            To be continued....

10:06 pm edt          Comments

9:50 am edt          Comments



            Funeral services were held this morning for five family members who were brutally killed last night in Marlboro township.  In keeping with mole tradition a private mass burial was held at the Peaceable Kingdom cemetery shortly after sunrise. 

            It is believed that a gang was responsible for the slayings.  This latest killing follows a series of rodent murders at the quiet rural location. The killers remain at large. They are described as being of various ages and sizes and wearing fur coats in spite of the heat.  

            Out of respect for surviving family members images of the slain are not being published, but this unidentified mouse was just one victim of a similar massacre two nights earlier at the same address.

            In lieu of flowers, the family requests that corn, sunflower seeds or other food items be set outside throughout the blog reading area for grieving rodent relatives. 


9:33 am edt          Comments

Wednesday, July 27, 2011



            The dogs and I set off very early for a morning walk in an effort to beat the heat and the bugs--and we did.  In the woods I came upon a brown thrasher and several deer.  It was a lovely way to start the day.  Back home I was just pouring a cup of coffee when the phone rang.

            The call was from my credit card representative telling me that they noticed some "unusual activity" on my card.  He then detailed approximately $1,000.00 in charges that had been racked up last evening!!! 

             I am very grateful that Discover Card is so conscientious. They caught the "unusual activity" and notified me immediately,but I am also sick to my stomach knowing that my security has been compromised.  At this point I have only praise for Discover Card's efficiency in handling the issue, but it was a frightening reminder of just how little real privacy anyone has these days, regardless of how careful we try to be. This unsettling event came on the heels of another incident that occurred last evening.

            Just before dusk the dogs and I were enjoying quiet time on the porch. They were lounging and I was reading when the first shot rang out. That was soon followed by a second crack that sounded as if it came from a different gun.  That second shot was the one that literally caused the tree nearest the porch to shudder right before my eyes.  The dogs were terrified and even the cats ran for the door.  I was furious! 

           There was no doubt the gunfire came from the property that borders the south end of my woods.  I jumped on my bicycle and headed for the war zone ready to confront the trigger happy shooter.  I peddled like Lance Armstrong up their curved driveway where J. and grown son M. stood arguing about something.

            "Did you just fire off a couple rounds," I asked rhetorically.

            "Yeh, M. shot a groundhog.  See all that blood down there," replied J. pointing toward a tree near the road.  In a voice that only vaguely tempered my anger I related the reason for my visit.  "No, no, we only shot in this direction...," she reiterated.  Shooting toward the road to me seemed even dumber than shooting through the woods, but I resisted pointing this out.  Clearly the issue was going to be one of ‘he said/she said' and nothing was going to be resolved.

            I think people choose rural living for one of two reasons:  It's the life style they grew up with.  OR:  They (people like me) prefer privacy and nature rather than neighbors.  Certainly I have some wonderful friends on this road, but there are also some people for  whom contact is limited to polite waves.  Hence I know nothing about what goes on in their lives, but in a frantic attempt to change the subject from errant gun fire, J. launched into a stunning and extensive summary of some of those living closest. 

            I'm still reeling from her revelations.  Meanwhile I'm planting more trees to isolate myself a little more from stray bullets and nutty neighbors, but I fear it's all in vain.          


3:33 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, July 26, 2011



            Certainly there was no shortage of work to be done around here yesterday, but it was all too easy to ignore.  Maryanne of our women's writer's group graciously invited all of us to a pool party/luncheon at her lovely home.  Such an extravagance to spend an entire day swimming, eating and talking ‘writing.'  I think I'm safe proclaiming that a great time was had by all.  I know I certainly enjoyed myself!  'Maybe a pool instead of my leaky pond...?

            Charlie G. has his SWEET CORN station set up on the corner.  He'll be there every day for a few weeks sitting on one of those aluminum lawn chairs with the multi-colored woven straps, shaded by a big umbrella, the back of his pickup truck open and loaded with some of the best corn around.  $3.50 a dozen and worth every penny.  Delicious!  The only thing that could have made it better would have been a big ripe tomato from my own garden, but the chickens got to it before I did. The orphans made sure not a single kernel of corn was wasted.

            July is apparently open season for rodents.  At least that's what the cats are claiming.  Each morning the brick porch and the back patio are littered with corpses.  It's a disgusting scene as the hunters proudly display their trophies.  Moles, voles and various types of mice don't stand a chance against this army of killers. 


4:21 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, July 24, 2011



            Although I'm surrounded by flowers and productive vegetable plots, I'm really not much of a gardener; not like some of the people I write about whose weed-free gardens have ordered design. I'm lazy and figure most of the beauty and bounty here is due to benevolent Nature and luck rather than any seriously-concentrated effort on my part.  

            When it comes to splendor I think wildflowers are just as pretty as and often prettier than cultivated varieties.  After a dreary winter, nothing cheers me more than early spring's bright yellow coltsfoot.  And in my opinion, Queen Anne's lace, goldenrod and ironweed are among the loveliest blooms of summer.  Nature is a far better horticulturist than I could ever be, but I still like to putter around and plant, especially the vegetable garden. 

            Since replacing the square plot plan with the long strip garden paralleling the donkey paddock everything is far more productive.  It's also easier to plant, tend and harvest.  The tight new fencing installed this spring prevents incidents like that of a few years ago when the bad asses harvested enough green tomatoes to fill a five gallon bucket.  They had no interest in eating them; it was just fun to pick them. They've also been known to gather  pumpkins just for the heck of it. 

            To my knowledge the trouble-makers haven't even noticed the all-volunteer garden that erupted and is thriving within the chicken pen.  I'm sure that breaking and entering will become their obsession if/when they discover the corn, tomatoes and pumpkins or squash plants that are flourishing in this nitrogen-rich, 8' x 10' enclosure.  No weeding necessary (or possible).  The plants couldn't be more crowded.

            It's interesting to compare the vigor between this jam-packed plot and my tidy, tended strip garden.  Currently the vines (which may be pumpkins, acorn squash or spaghetti squash) are at the same maturity stage as those I planted.  The corn is on a par with that of surrounding farm fields, but the tomatoes seem to be slow and anemic looking.  So far, only the corn has topped the surrounding fence, but the donkeys rarely pay any attention to the chicken pen anyway, so it's not surprising that they remain unaware of this salad bar right within reach.

            To be continued.


11:32 am edt          Comments

Saturday, July 23, 2011



            "...And why do you have those donkeys?"  How many times have I been asked that question and I've yet to come up with a compelling answer.  I don't breed them.  I don't use them in the garden.  I don't show them.  I don't put them to a cart.  I just spend money on them and clean up after them.  That's the truth, but then I must confess that these two bad asses make me smile.  Today they made me laugh out loud.

            Every so many years their stall base requires restoration and since the temperature was delightfully mild early this morning it seemed a good time to tackle the labor-intensive project.  I drove to the builders' supply for a truckload of aggregate, the plan being to strip their stall, back the truck into the barn and unload the heavy material into a wheelbarrow, dump it the stall, level and pack it, then put down fresh bedding. 

            I confined the troublemakers lest they make a break for it while the gate was open so I could drive into the barnyard, but once the truck was  in place the donkeys were banished from the barn so I could get to work.  The mild morning temperature quickly became just a pleasant memory.  The thermometer was already registering in the upper 80's.  It felt like a sauna, but it wasn't going to get any cooler, so I set about the task at hand. 

            From the corner of my eye I saw the nosey pair hurrying around the barn toward the truck and could just imagine the conversation between them; "Wow, look at this new toy!"  They immediately set about inspecting every inch of the bumpers, fenders, wheels and especially the side mirrors.  The driver side window was open, but it never occurred to me that Corky would be brazen enough to check out the interior as well. 

            When the windshield wipers suddenly began slapping from side to side at full speed no one was more surprised than Corky.  He looked like a rodeo escapee, something from the bronc riding competition!  He shot off like a rocket, bucking and snorting and Andy was right on his heels. 

            It was hot and the work was hard, but I have to admit that seeing those surprised bad asses tearing around the paddock as if their tails were on fire was welcomed comic relief!  Of course they crept back just as I was reaching in the window to turn off the wipers.  I think they were disappointed.

            So, why do I have those two little money pits?  ‘For priceless moments like this.


5:58 pm edt          Comments

Friday, July 22, 2011



            Hi, It's me, Ted.  I'm filling in as scribe today and let me tell you it's not easy for dogs to type, but someone had to do it!  Considering my reputation as the "perfect dog" of course I volunteered.  Karen is under the weather, so to speak.  The blistering heat plus her allergies to mold spores made her very ill, but the cats, Julie, Ernie (who isn't much help at all...) and I are taking care of her.  She needs someone to look after her because today I saw her standing on the bed trying to flip her mattress while the ceiling fan was running.  Now she has a headache too.  She'll be back tomorrow.


4:01 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, July 20, 2011



            It's wonderful, but now I'm thinking maybe I should reward the migrant workers, AKA the raccoons for planting all that dill a couple nights ago. They were here again last evening, but said they were taking time off from 'work.'  They just stopped by to see if there might be something tasty in the compost pile. 

           Since I already had more than enough dill and knowing how much more will soon be popping up everywhere thanks to their efforts, it only seemed right to share the current and the anticipated future bounty.  Waste not, want not!

            So I posted an ad on Craigslist; "Dill.  $1.00 per bunch"  Frankly, I wasn't quite sure how much dill would constitute a "bunch" and visits to several farm markets this morning weren't at all helpful.  Not one market had any dill, so the quick response to my  Craigslist ad wasn't all that surprising.

            The caller said he and his mate were making three bushels of pickles and they needed a lot of dill!  Yikes, they must really like pickles, I thought.  We chatted briefly about our mutual gardens and it was obvious that his was far more ambitious and productive than mine.  Already he was harvesting things that are nowhere near ready here.  Although he was 45 miles away, he planned to come right over.  They were eager to start pickling!

            I cut a bucket full of dill and he arrived with a bag of lovely cucumbers, zucchini and green peppers. Then we exchanged recipe ideas.  Forget the dollar!  Who cares what constitutes a "bunch." Bartering is a far better deal!  Thanks to my little masked helpers I'm sure there will be future dill harvests and hopefully more bartering.


3:58 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, July 19, 2011



            Welcomed storms hit yesterday afternoon and continued throughout the night. As the power flickered, it seemed wise to shut the computer down for safety sake, hence no post yesterday.  The soil was rock hard and the plants quite parched, but even watering the gardens with the hose seemed to have little effect, so it was heavenly to hear rain pounding down all night long, but surprising to discover how little it penetrated.  Of course the plants seem perkier, but as I weeded the vegetable garden it was apparent that only about two inches of earth was saturated.  I expected more, but am grateful for the rain we received.  Hopefully we'll get more today.

            The heat is unbearable.  The bugs torment me, the dogs and the donkeys.  I put a fan in their stall, but they seemed to prefer being out in the blazing sun right next to where I worked in the vegetable strip garden, no doubt hoping that I'd toss them some of their favorite summer snack--tomato leaves.  They act as if it's the best thing they've ever tasted.

            The plants and trees are all heavily-laden and soon I'll be inundated with tomatoes and peaches.  No complaints.  I can't wait.  Right now the summer squash is producing more than I can use, but I've found that some can be used in addition to zucchini in this favorite dish.  It's easy, delicious and it uses up a few small squash! Here's my recipe for Zucchini Quiche.

1 unbaked pie shell heavily spread with yellow mustard.  (Set this aside and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.)

2 TBSP. butter in which you saute the following until lightly cooked:

4 c. thinly-sliced zucchini and/or squash

1 c. chopped sweet onion.

1 clove of minced garlic

½ c. chopped fresh parsley

½ c. chopped fresh basil

Oregano, salt and pepper to taste.

Add 2 beaten eggs and 2 c. shredded Brick or Munster cheese (or whatever you have).

Dump into the pie shell and bake until the crust is golden (about 45 minutes).  Allow to cool slightly before cutting.  It's also very good cold.


2:19 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, July 17, 2011



            I heard the band of drunks winding their noisy way through the woods, across the bridge and yard en route to their final destination, the barn.  No one has more fun than a trio of raccoons out looking for food and a good time.  I don't encourage their nocturnal visits by leaving tempting foods accessible, but there's always the off chance that I may have forgotten to bring eggs down to the house.  The free-loaders check the counter in the feed room nightly and leave their little hand prints as evidence.  If they get lucky and find a couple of eggs they haul them up to the loft and litter the top of the stairs. Raccoons are not easily discouraged.

            I knew from their chatter that after passing through the gate in the rock wall they made a stop at the garden shed to check out the possibility of finding something tasty in the glass and plastic recycle bin, but I was surprised this morning to discover what their search for goodies had wrought. 

            Rather than raid the garden where beans, beets, basil, squash and tomatoes are ripe or almost ripe for the picking, the masked bandits decided to open and nosh on several unopened seed packets that had been stored in a wooden box.  While the ripped packages and spilled beans made a small mess to be sure, it was the dill the banditos inadvertently "planted" that will have lasting effects!

            A friend who had a bumper crop of the fragrant ferny plants so good and useful (in small quantities!) gave me a large zip-lock bag full of dill seed.  I planted a reasonable amount which in turn re-seeded itself thus giving me a bumper crop as well.  I put the remaining bag of seed in that box.  My crew of farm workers dragged the bag of dill seed out of the shed, tore it open and distributed it everywhere!

            I know that soon I will have dill instead of grass, dill with dahlias, dill in the driveway and dill between the cracks in the brick walkway.  There was enough seed in that bag to plant an acre.  Need dill?  Drop me a line or call.  I'm sure I'll have some to spare thanks to my little friends.


7:45 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, July 16, 2011



            Each day around dusk I go to the barn to do my evening chores. It's my favorite time of the day, regardless of the weather or the season.  There's a unique ambiance up there with just me and the animals and the radio.  I don't want to share this time with anyone else.  Selfish?  Maybe.  So what.  I could take the phone with me, but I don't.  When I hear it ring, I don't even consider hurrying to the house to answer it.  I like being out of touch.

            I take my time mucking out the stall and dumping the manure and straw on the long strip of daily deposits that break down and provide endless wheelbarrows of garden mulch.  I scrub the water buckets and bowls, feed the donkeys and chickens and gather the eggs.  The orphan pullets have started to lay what look like little ping pong balls.  Then it's time to fill the water buckets.  "Let's go get water," I say and the dogs go berserk.

            They love going for water.  For some silly reason it's exciting and they race around barking while I pump two brimming buckets of clear icy water.  Clunketa clunk, clunketa clunk.... It takes 9 thrusts to bring the water up from the depths.  Sometimes a mouse shoots out of the spout.  It's a foolish place for her to build a nest, but she does it every summer.  I hefting the buckets back to the barn.  Then I sit on the stoop. 

            The donkeys hang by my side.  They'd sit on the stoop too if they could.  Instead they stand with their heads on my shoulder or sometimes resting on top of my own head.  I brush them and spray their legs with bug dope and we communicate without too many words.  They like this time of the day too. 

            Swallows swoop past for a dinner of insects.  Tired of killing mice and moles Sissy sits atop one of the fence posts and fishes her paw into a bluebird house mounted there.  She's not really serious about catching anything.  I can tell she's just bored.  Ted brings one of his ubiquitous toys and I throw it-over and over and over again.  He never tires of this game.

            From the barn stoop I can see the yard, my gardens and the old house and I think about all those years ago when C. and I worked to make the wreck of a structure our home.  It seems like a million years ago.  The oak tree that's now about 40' high was thigh high when he left.  Just like the old peach tree that split and died in spite of our efforts to save it, our relationship died and I found myself totally alone for the first time in my entire life.  I found the situation suits me better than cohabitation.

            I was happy here with C., but I'm happy here alone too.  It's okay.  Happy has different faces.


5:31 pm edt          Comments

Friday, July 15, 2011



            I feel as sad as Julie looks in this photo (she isn't really unhappy; just sleepy).  I however am sad.  After running around taking some photos for an article a little voice whispered in my ear that I should stop by Ginny's and so I did. 

            "Anybody home?" I called, letting myself into the house.  My friend was happy to see me, but her dog Mitzi was so distracted by horrible scratching that she hardly noticed my arrival.  Mitzi is older in dog years than Ginny is in real years. The dog looked terrible.

            "Oh, if I could drive I'd take her and have her put to sleep," said the bewildered old lady.  I know it's the last thing in the world she wants to do.  I diagnosed Mitzi's skin condition as a grass allergy and then dialed the vet hoping to be able to take her in for an anti-inflammatory shot.  I called two vets, neither of which I discovered keep Friday afternoon office hours.  An inventory of Ginny's dog medications netted just what we needed; antibiotic capsules typically prescribed for skin and ear infections and a bottle of anti-inflammatory steroid pills . 

            Mitzi cooperatively downed the lunchmeat-wrapped meds, then we headed for the basement wash tubs.  As I gave the dog a soothing bath I could see she felt immediate relief.  I ordered Ginny to phone me on Monday with a report on Mitzi's condition. It can only improve.  

            Poor old Ginny with her poor old dog.  It's all too obvious that neither will be around much longer and this is hard and selfish for me to accept.  The dog has a football sized fatty tumor and a cruel palsy causes Ginny's head to shake uncontrollably from side to side.  She says the tremor is tiring. "Me and Mitzi are gettin' old," she observed as we went outside to sit in the shade.

            Unlike my own, Ginny's garden is weed-free.  She said she'd "...worked out there for three hours this morning.  ‘Don't know why I get exhausted so easily...."  I reminded her that at more than 100 years old she was entitled to get tired!  The first ripe tomato sat on her spotless counter and two perfect zucchinis laid in the sink. 

            We visited while a much-relieved Mitzi ran around like a pup chasing Kitty.  Ginny insisted on sending me home with zucchini which I'll fix tomorrow for dinner.  I was grateful for the whisper that urged me to stop and check on my remarkable friend.


6:32 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, July 14, 2011



            Yesterday I noticed that the big speckled rooster‘s shins looked raw and sore for no apparent reason, so something would have to be done.  Those legs needed some antibiotic salve.

            This rooster has been here for a few years, but I've only picked him up a few times and that was when he was considerably smaller and younger.   I am not a chicken cuddler like some folks and he is not at all keen on the idea of being ‘cuddled!'  He's a macho rooster!

            Chasing chickens is foolish.  It makes far more sense to wait until they go to roost.  Then, being rather dumb creatures they don't suspect capture, but he and his two favorite hens roost on the highest possible perch. ('Figures....) So, at dusk I dragged out the noisy aluminum ladder intending to climb up and snag him when he least expected it. I soon found myself wishing I hadn't had that glass of wine with dinner. As the ladder and I were both rattling around the big guy became suspicious and very vociferous in conveying his annoyance. I was disrupting his quiet time.  I teetered up the ladder and he flew down in a flurry of feathers and fowl reprimands.  That wasn't the way it was supposed to go and neither of us was happy! 

            My guesstimate is that this bird weighs at least 12 pounds, so he's capable of inflicting a powerful flopping if so inclined.  He also has long thick spurs, so he could hurt me if he really wanted to, but fortunately he's a gentle giant.  He just puffed himself up to an intimidating size and protested in ear-shattering screams when I cornered him, the plan being to simply reach down and pick him up.  I can easily do that with the hens, but he rejected that idea too and began tearing madly around the coop with his two girlfriends joined in the ruckus just for the heck of it.   

            Not wanting to breathe in a lot of feathers, sawdust and chicken poop, I grabbed the old reliable landing net which is perfect for scooping up chicks,but which proved far too small for a Sunday dinner-sized rooster. Luckily it was enough to restrain the screeching bird long enough to grab his legs and up-end him.  That's when neighbor Sandy arrived on the scene!  What would I do without her?  Chickens instantly become sedate when they are upside down, so as I held the resigned clucker Sandy smeared Bio-cide on his angry-looking legs. 

            "See, now that wasn't so bad, was it...," I cooed. (He probably heard," wah, wah, wah, wah...")  I sat him back on a perch.  Hopefully he'll be more cooperative tonight. He seems to have forgotten the incident this morning.  Maybe I've been forgiven?


10:24 am edt          Comments

Wednesday, July 13, 2011




Several years ago I did a story on Merril Spiess who worked his Belgian mules on a restored section of the Miami & Erie Canal in Grand Rapids, Ohio. Trudging along the towpath the mules were plagued by all manner of flies, but Merril solved the problem with his custom-blended fly spray.  I've been using his recipe on my donkeys ever since and it really is better than any bug repellent I ever purchased at a tack shop.  It works on dogs and people too (if you don't mind the smell).

  • 4 16-ounce bottles Avon "Skin So Soft" bath oil
  • 40 cc (about 5 tablespoons) pure eucalyptus oil (I double this amount)
  • enough white vinegar to make up one gallon

The hardest part is finding pure eucalyptus oil. Don't get the fake stuff. The biggest advantage to Merril's spray is that it stays put.  It doesn't smell bad and because the oily film doesn't evaporate or sweat off, it's economical.  Unlike some concoctions, it does not attract yellow jackets.


            The first beans from the garden are always the best.  They are especially good prepared the following way.  Yum yum!

1 lb. trimmed haricots vert (AKA green beans)

1 tsp. good olive oil 

1 small shallot minced

1 garlic clove minced

1 TBSP (I use more) chopped toasted walnuts. (Toast in small skillet and for 3 min.)

Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste.

Toss the beans into a large pan of boiling water and cook about 5-6 minutes (until tender).  Reserve 3 TBSP. of the cooking water.

In a small skillet swirl the oil and add the shallot and garlic.  Saute until shallots are translucent (3 minutes).  Add these ingredients to the drained beans along with the reserved cooking water.  Toss with the walnuts, salt and pepper and then enjoy!

BTW:  In addition to being lovely to look at, delicious to eat, they are very low in calories!


2:49 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, July 12, 2011



            Yesterday was the day of the dreaded root canal.  That procedures gruesome reputation needs to be updated, for aside from the painful expense ($950.00!) the root canal itself was not at all unpleasant.  Here's how it went.

            The office is unpretentious and the staff is friendly and easy-going, so I feel calmed the minute I enter and begin leafing through a magazine. Then my name is called and I'm ushered back to an exam room where I relax in the comfy reclining chair and notice that the background music is great; stuff from the 80's.  The dentist and I are of the same generation. 

              The slim, fit doctor sort of dances into the room and I tell him I like his choice of tunes. He says he's got it all on his iPod.  He's a fit-looking, likable fellow with a quick smile who laughs and jokes as we make small talk.  When my eyes fill with tears as the first shot of Novocain hits home he grabs a handful of tissues and blots at them smearing my eye make-up  as only a man would do (women appreciate how long it takes to apply all that stuff).  Together we look at the enlarged ex-ray of my teeth projected on the monitor next to the chair.

            "Right there's the problem and it's not going to get better," he says tapping the last tooth on the screen when I tell him it no longer aches.  He straps on a face mask and starts filling my mouth with enough tools to rebuild a carburetor. 

            "Err,er-er,errr, err-er?" I grunt.    

            "Oh, how long is this going to take?" interprets his assistant.  She is obviously fluent in this exotic language.  "Just about 45 minutes," she assures me.  I look closely at her face in the pitiless light that fills the room.  She's pretty. Her blond hair is caught at the nape of her neck in a flat barrette and her eyes are perfectly outlined in black. I think about my own eyes that I'm sure must be a mess after the helpful blotting.  She and the dentist converse in yet another language as something in my mouth beeps like a fish finder. 

            "21 on 1," she says.  The dentist hums along to Bye, bye, Miss American Pie. 

            I keep my eyes closed during the whole process and concentrate on the medley of songs that take me back to a reckless bohemian period of my life.  Before I know it, I'm finished.  It's over and other than the first numbing shot there was no discomfort, but  I'm advised to take some Advil before the numbness wears off because they all assure me my mouth is going to be sore.  Advil knocks me out, hence no blog post yesterday.

            As for Ted, his fluid intake is being closely monitored to determine if there really is a health issue.  To be continued....


1:05 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, July 10, 2011



            I love the brick porch. I think it blurs the line between my inside rooms and Nature, but this favorite place had a serendipitous development .

            Norma was an odd woman, small and fragile-looking with electrifying blue eyes, but stoic and very disciplined.  She rarely smiled and when she did, only her mouth moved. She had designed and constructed her home and then purchased an entire kiln full of brick for what turned into the most ambitious paving project I've ever seen!  It wasn't just a driveway; it was something akin to a road leading to a parking lot and odd Norma laid every brick. 

            Her "house" was a monument of eccentricity.  It was aesthetically the ugliest structure ever, but utterly beautiful in its "green" concept which was decades before its time.  The steel-sided pole building was accessed through a passive solar collection alley that fronted the windowless structure.  A very high clear-story made of corrugated fiberglass provided the only natural light.  Like a barn, the house was essentially one big room complete with a sizable fish pond intended to humidify the living space.

            Her living quarters were directly connected to the sheep living quarters. A window and door in the kitchen opened directly into the barn.  This easily-accessible observation feature was handy during lambing season, but as anyone familiar with sheep knows, there were some odiferous and sound drawbacks.  Norma was very proud of her creation and rightly so.  The retired geologist spent her time planting trees on the surrounding rolling hills and spinning the wool from her flock of "indoor" sheep.  Full sheep fleeces covered her furniture.

            Stacked along one side of the driveway was a mountain of excess brick from her kiln purchase for which she had yet to find a use.  Maybe she just couldn't fathom the thought of laying one more brick herself, so when I asked to purchase them from her a deal was struck.

            For all of Norma's unique skills and her brilliant mind, she was afraid to drive in a big city.  If I would take her to Cleveland for a day of shopping she would give me the bricks.  Easy peasy!  I knew Cleveland like the back of my hand.  Norma had a great day in the city and I got all the bricks needed to pave an ugly cement porch!

            Paving an inflexibly-defined area was not a do-it-yourself project for me, so when one of my egg customers volunteered her mason husband to do the work in trade for a mere ten dozen eggs, another deal was struck.  George arrived that evening with his brick-cutting saw and in the course of a few hours he executed a perfect pattern that transformed the cold gray slab to the warm, rose-colored porch of today. It was a win-win-win situation.

            Norma died several years ago and George and his egg-buying wife moved far away about the same time, but it's nice to remember them all since they are each indirectly responsible for my favorite "room."  It's not unike the serendipidous way the BBB (Super Sue and Bud) transformed the terrace which I think is quite beautiful although that "barter" is quite different; I'm doing an article on their own innovative and beautiful gardens.  Yet another win-win deal.


2:20 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, July 9, 2011



            I'm afraid that escaping to the porch for endless hours of reading is actually my way of escaping some worrisome realities that suddenly seem to be cascading down upon me.  Having just finished another excellent book (The Namesake) I'm forced to confront them.

            Yes, the unexpected costly dental work that will take place on Monday is a concern, especially since it follows a series of smaller, but cumulatively-significant surprise expenses, but the real troubling issue is Ted. 

            Of course I love all of my dogs, but Ted is special and undoubtedly he is my favorite. For the past eight years he has been the perfect dog; always happy and playful, big and lovable; Ted, the eternal optimist.  But in the past week he has twice peed in the dining room during the night.  The rug has been washed (twice).  That's not a big deal, but never in his lifetime has he done such a thing which tells me something is wrong, especially considering the copious amount and the lack of odor.  Water in, water out.  Not a good sign.

            T. says that he's noticed that Ted "...just isn't himself lately."  Living with an animal 24/7 it's easy not to see subtle changes the way visitors notice them. And so after Monday's root canal Ted and I will head to the vet to find out what's wrong.  I am very worried. 

            For myself I refrain from any interaction with the medical profession, but for my animals it's a different story.  The windowsill is lined with their medications; pink thyroid pills for Buddy, blue thyroid pills for Ernie, MSM and Glucosamine for Ted.  These tablets and capsules are part of their daily regimen for the rest of their lives.  Why are such well-fed, well-exercised, well-loved animals so fraught with ailments?

            Such concerns have disrupted an otherwise lovely weekend.  Friends for dinner, sunny skies, gardens ablaze with flowers and edibles, but unfortunately I'm not one of those level-headed folks capable of balancing the good and the bad.  Worry currently has the upper hand. I think Poppy and Little Ivy are worried too.


3:26 pm edt          Comments

Friday, July 8, 2011



            It's déjà vu.  When I was twelve years old I spent the entire summer sprawled on the old green metal ‘glider' that served as Fifth Street porch furniture, enthralled in books checked out from the neighborhood library.  The library was housed in a brown-shingled, former residence just a few blocks from my home and it was unlike modern libraries in every way:  Strict silence was enforced.  The floors were made of cork.  Until one reached age sixteen reading choices were restricted by card color.  Pink cards gave access to the front room material only. After that milestone a yellow card was issued that allowed access to forbidden books housed in the back room.

            Unbeknowst to me Miss Dehoff, the lone drill sergeant librarian had noticed how much time I spent in her domain. In her sensible shoes that whispered across the cork as she dusted and straightened books on the polished shelves she was silent as a mouse, so I never heard her coming up behind me that fateful hot summer day.

            "I think you're ready for a yellow card," she said and ushered me into the previously-forbidden back room. She chose some books she thought I should read and that was the summer I fell in love with Erskine Caldwell, Arthur Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others.  It was the summer that changed my life.

            I've been feeling as if I'm reliving that summer on Fifth Street.  Instead of sitting in front of this computer writing about flowers, pigs and distant places, I've been spending perhaps too many hours sprawled on the porch reading and it's been heaven!



9:20 am edt          Comments

Wednesday, July 6, 2011



            "...And my daughter said, "That sounds just like the lion king" and we all laughed.  Last night it killed our cat," said a woman at the vet clinic today.  She was talking about the escaped mountain lion which has now allegedly killed someone's dog and the lady's cat, jumped a six foot fence without touching the top, but didn't harm the five year old kid playing in that yard and was seen napping in a field.  Stories like this are everywhere.  The police say they don't know who the cat belongs to, but everyone else knows exactly who owns it.  To be continued.

            Buddy and I were at the vet to find out why my best kitty is so thin. She's the perfect patient and actually seems to enjoy her visits.   Buddy, unlike hypo-thyroid Ernie, has hyper-thyroidism (or is it the other way around...?).  Anyway, she too will be on twice daily thyroid pills for the rest of her life$$$

            My toothache was also diagnosed this morning ($85.00)$$  The vitality test included ex-rays and ice.  I'm having my $950.00 root canal on Monday$$$$$$$$$$$$$

            The entire day was not an outpouring of funds however.  I harvested beautiful, fragrant basil and made pesto this afternoon.  The house smells heavenly and the first winter provisions are in the freezer.


9:04 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, July 5, 2011



             I'm experiencing my first toothache and the pain is simply excruciating, so it's something I hope never to experience a second time!  Worse still, I can't tell exactly which tooth is causing the problem, but my dentist seems to think it may be a molar that had a root canal and crown many years ago.  So, how and why can this hurt?  I'll find out tomorrow morning as I have an appointment with a specialist who will conduct a "vitality test."  I shudder to think what this might involve.

            The really big news of the neighborhood is that an alleged mountain lion has escaped from someone's basement and is roaming the immediate countryside.  Ohio is notorious for its archaic animal welfare laws and this situation only exemplifies the ineptitude of legislators who have been dithering about trying to draft a bill to regulate ownership of  "exotic" pets for years.  In a perfect (or even rational) world the bozos in Columbus would be consulting licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators, Division of Wildlife officers, as well as the animal welfare agencies that deal with absurdities like someone keeping a mountain lion in his/her cellar.  It seems a no-brainer that keeping such an animal as a "pet" is not only inhumane, but irresponsible.

            Now the poor creature who has endured an unnatural existence for God knows how long will probably be shot.  Perhaps domesticated animals or humans will be injured or killed by the frightened cat that will find no safe refuge to which it might escape as such  cats are not native Ohio wildlife.

            A throbbing jaw makes tolerance for such stupidity impossible. THIS (Ted) is a "pet."


8:20 pm edt          Comments

Monday, July 4, 2011

2:44 pm edt          Comments



            Yesterday was my annual garden party, although I do take liberties in using the word "garden."  My gardens are admittedly happenstance, but that's okay.  Flowers are pretty whether they are intentionally cultivated or volunteer specimens.  Most of mine are the latter, like the cleome. 

            As construction on the terrace drew to a close I mentally planned the great floral display that would complete the project.  Zinnias would go here, nasturtiums would border the north side of the walk, behind which would be a marvelous display of red canna lilies. Oh, it was going to be something that might even wow Super Sue (whose gardens are perfect), but things don't always work out as planned.

            Three packages of zinnia seeds produced a paltry nine viable plants.  The cannas which are usually showy early bloomers have still not produced the first flower.  The chickens redistributed my carefully-placed nasturtium seeds and while some of them are actually thriving in their intended locations, others are flowering barely noticed amongst the yet-to-bloom cannas. 

            So, when a vigorous crop of volunteer cleome began popping up everywhere from between the flagstones to between the bean plants, how could I not welcome these beauties!  They are thick as grass; hardy and blooming so profusely one might think I planted them.  My feeble attempt to color coordinate, sculpt and organize this year's gardens may not have been successful, but I think they are gorgeous anyway.  Thank you Mother Nature.

            The collection of party guests was just as colorful and lovely as the flowers!  By the time the last car pulled away around 8:30 last night and I sat reflecting on the day I realized once again how lucky I am to have so many interesting, talented and creative people in my life.  Like the garden plants, some of my guests are longtime cultivated friends, while others have come into my life quite by chance, but just like the cleome, I think they are all beautiful! My only regret is that there just wasn't enough time to spend with each guest as I wanted to.  Second regret is that I forgot to take photos of the crowd. 



2:28 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, July 2, 2011



            I didn't recognize the dark SUV parked at the end of the drive, nor did the fellow reluctantly opening the gate look familiar.  "I'm kind of afraid of dogs," he shouted as Julie did her best to look threatening.  I gave him the okay to enter and walked out to meet the stranger.  With clipboard in hand he introduced himself (Bill) as being from a company that wants to put a seismic monitor on my property.  His company was under contract with Enervest, one of the fracking operations scouring this township.

            I invited Bill to have a seat on the patio. He pulled out a map that showed a little white square identified as my property, surrounded by some blue properties.  Blue indicated signed permission contracts.  Bill assured me that signing simply gave them the okay to enter my land and install a monitoring device that would sit on top of the ground, generate energy that would penetrate the earth and then bounce back to a recording system, the purpose being to measure the depth of the shale deposits at that point. 

            Bill was a pleasant, chatty fellow with faded freckles, short ginger-colored hair, a generic polo shirt and khaki pants.  He lives in New York state and he said he was homesick. He told me about his tomato plants, his wife, his cats and his daughter.The conversation was friendly and interspersed with assurances.

            I listened to what he had to say, asked questions and then informed him of my opposition to the fracking frenzy and that because I believe it is important to stand up for one's convictions I could not/would not sign his permit.  It was not the response he'd hoped for and while Bill remained politely friendly the atmosphere changed and so did his approach. "There's a lot of misinformation (about fracking) floating around," he noted and with that statement I agreed emphatically.  He said fracking offered great opportunities and then threw in the buzzword of the day--jobs.

            Then he essentially told me that whether I signed or not his company would get the information they were after and I'm sure they will.  "Other neighbors will sign," he said and I can guess which ones are already seeing dollar signs in their futures, but I will not be one of them.

            Seamus McGraw is the author of a recently-released book called The End of Country, a critical and fact-based examination of the risks and realities of fracking.  I look forward to reading Mr. McGraw's work and wish all my neighbors would read it too.   Meanwhile, I fear for the sanctity of my Peaceable Kingdom and all that surrounds it.


1:33 pm edt          Comments

Friday, July 1, 2011



            The cats have been presenting me with "gifts" several times daily, but sadly these prezzies are not appreciated.  I've lost count of the number of dead moles and voles which have had to be interred this week alone, so when I saw Sissy and Ivy harassing something under the maple tree I assumed it was yet another sorry victim of their mole massacre.  I was wrong.

            Approaching the two cats who seemed only mildly interested in their squeaking captive I discovered not a mole nor a vole, but this tiny mouse.  Amazingly the sounds it emitted were as loud as a bird.  Where they found this solitary baby was a mystery, but what to do with it?  I tried giving it diluted milk (organic, of course) with a small syringe, but this wasn't very successful.  My conscience wouldn't allow me to return the infant to the murderous felines who had launched an intensive search and destroy mission for their vanished prey.  And since carrying the dear little creature around in my hand all day wasn't an option either I set off for the barn to seek a surrogate mom.

            I'm not sure how receptive rodents are to foster care, but there was little choice and  since there's no shortage of mouse nests in the barn loft, it wasn't difficult to find a prospective adoptive parent. I lifted the board covering the nest and was greeted by a very surprised mouse.  After the briefest of introductions I plunked baby no-name into the nest, replaced the board and hoped for the best.


2:22 pm edt          Comments

Archive Newer | Older

This site  The Web 

You are visitor:

© 2009 Karen L. Kirsch