Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Winter Walk

I took a walk yesterday, seeking beauty in the brown world of winter. I found it.

Palettes of color, form, and texture behind a scrim of tree trunks

Beds of moss with a hairy covering of sporophytes

Gill o' the Ground under the protection of fall leaves

LeRoy followed me like a dog.

And clawed his way up my leg like a cat.
Blooms of blue-green lichen on rotting branches
Perfect dinner-plates eaten out of oak leaves
Remember this goldenrod from a post last summer?
It is just as beautiful now
Along with the milkweed seeds
All glowing in the slant of late afternoon winter light, warming towards spring

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas is for Kids

I'm in the city, sorting through the photos from today's festivities and can't help but post a few.

Mario, looking straight into Peepaw's soul:

Maria, wearing her princess demeanor if not the clothes:

Jack, just as excited as Mario over the racing cars:

And Maria again, about fifteen minutes ago, on the couch "watching" Dora on the TV. She's spending the night with me at "the partment."

Happy Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Solstice

How fitting that the sun is shining today. It showed its face for about five minutes on Friday after the big Break Up, but went undercover again until now—Solstice Morning. It may not stay, clouds in varying sizes are moving across the sky, but to see it shine even for moments on the ice-covered trees is heart-gladdening.

I’ve been thinking about the solstice a lot this year, perhaps because I am more aware than ever of the Earth. Everywhere I look, I see earth and trees and sky and meadow. And so I wonder about it more often. I marvel how human culture is tied to the cycles of the planet. Even though we’ve forgotten the original connection of our customs to the rhythms of the earth, it is there. The Christian celebration of Christmas sprung from midwinter celebrations of all kinds. Seems that many cultures, especially those that thrived in northern climates where the winters are darkest and coldest, celebrated the winter solstice with a sense of relief and happiness, and used it as therapy for the winter blues. SAD is not a modern malaise!

I looked up solstice on Wikipedia and under a heading, “Therapeutic,” was this paragraph:

“Midwinter festivals and celebrations occurring on the longest night of the year, often calling for evergreens, bright illumination, large ongoing fires, feasting, communion with close ones, and evening physical exertion by dancing and singing are examples of cultural winter therapies that have evolved as traditions since the beginnings of civilization. Such traditions can stir the wit, stave off malaise, reset the internal clock and rekindle the human spirit. [5]
That last sentence is what gets me—oh, how we try to make the best of things. Let’s be “the glass is half-full” kind of people. I like that response. But it isn’t just blind optimism; the sun really is coming back. The days really are getting longer. We will not perish in darkness. Food will grow again, birds will sing, flowers will bloom. My calendar calls December 21 the beginning of winter, but I’m sticking with the title, Midwinter. I’m siding with the optimists.

While listening to NPR the other day, a Jesuit priest bemoaned the growing tradition of sending Christmas, or holiday, cards with pictures of your family on them. “More of the holy family and less of your family” was his complaint. Even though I haven’t been a Catholic for years, I still felt guilty. (Ah, that Catholic guilt—once instilled, it never quite leaves!) Reading and thinking about the solstice, though, has given me a new appreciation and perspective on the “holiday” season. There is something special about this time of year, and it doesn’t belong solely to followers of Jesus or any other religion. Celebrating this season is a deep part of our human nature, and a deep response to our place in the natural world. Sure, if you’re a Catholic, you may want to focus more on the holy family—but if you’re not, your participation in the festivities is just as valid. Sending and receiving pictures of loved ones is a way to connect with others when travel may be difficult. Feasting and gift giving, lighting up our homes and decorating with greenery serve to raise our spirits and give us something to do besides curl up with the covers over our head.

I love, too, how this time of the year makes us reflective. With the return of light, there is a kindling of hope and resolve deep within most people I know. The older I get, and with this move to the country, I reflect more on the planet and my involvement with it, for better and for worse. I would like to get to know my patch of land better this coming year. I would like to grow in sensitivity to it, learn to read it better. Through that process, I’m sure I will get to know myself much better—the good and the bad.

John and I have argued over which side of the bed we get to sleep on in our new bedroom. I’ve argued for my standard side, which is the left if you’re standing at the foot of the bed, looking towards the headboard. Ultimately, I’ve had to compromise—we’ll switch every month. And here is why:

That is the sunrise as seen when waking up on the left side of the bed, unfettered by the lump of your beloved under the covers.

Happy Solstice Everyone! May your view of the sunrises be lovely this year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Breaking Up

The nice thing about our view of the sky is that we can tell what kind of weather is coming our way within the next thirty minutes to an hour. It comes mostly from the west/northwest. I could have school kids out here to learn about weather fronts, it is that obvious. The front comes at us with a wall of clouds looming over our neighbor's hill. We spend some time in the middle of whatever the front holds--rain, wind, snow--and then we watch it leave us, trailing over the hills to the east. I can often see the edge of the front, like the line of a shelf, to the south. Around noon today, I was happy to see the rain clouds breaking up and trailing off in their usual pattern. Until then, a steady deluge of rain slashed at the windows and filled up the puddles in our construction zone of a front yard.
Mmm, pretty.

I used to complain about the clay soil in my Columbus yard. To that, I now say: Ha. Ha. You want clay? Come on out here, and I'll show you clay. It sticks to the bottom of your boots like cement. People have made use of it--this area is known for its pottery--but I've got some serious amending to do before I can garden.

I am looking forward to seeding the bare soil around the house this spring. This past summer was so hot and dry that we couldn't very well seed then. By the time the rains came, it was after the frost date. This spring, my goal is to get rid of opportunities for stepping in mud anywhere around the house or cabin. It has probably been a good thing to see what kind of havoc the mud can wreak this year. I'll know how to avoid it next. I am just soooo happy that we built the mudroom afterall.
The upside of all this rain? Our water tank is full. Full, I tell you! The pump is on, but not pumping because the tank won't hold anymore water. We had a head start with a second fill-up this fall, but still. I just might take a long, hot soak in my crackled up clawfoot tub this weekend. Luxury!

Happy Friday. Have a great weekend.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Well, as promised a few weeks ago, posting has been light!
We've been busy with the last leg of our move. I mentioned to John this morning that it has been one year since we began this journey. It was last year this time that I was in negotiations to go part-time at work and we started writing our to-do list for selling our Columbus home. And now, here we are, getting our last boxes from the cabin and the storage room at the Columbus apartment, and putting things in place in the home we hope to live in for many years to come.
Wow, no wonder. No wonder that we sometimes feel exhausted, physically and psychologically, but also happy down to our bones.

Yesterday we took a break, just the two of us, to explore Marietta. I had never been there before and it is only forty-five minutes from here. I love exploring the small towns around Ohio. Or, I should say, the small and smaller towns--size becomes relative when you get outside the large metropolitan areas. Heck, Quaker City is pretty darn big compared to Salesville, and Marietta is downright huge! The larger small towns ususally have a Main Street, even if it isn't called that, with historic storefronts and a courthouse. Thankfully, the Burger Kings, Wal Marts, and Radio Shacks are built along an outerbelt of sorts. I love finding antique and gift shops and restaurants along the Main Streets and marveling at the odder tenants ("Tanfastic" is my favorite shop name in Cambridge). And I love finding the mansions that always lurk in the surrounding blocks. If a town has any size or any historical significance at all, there are always these gorgeous, turn-of-the-century, gigantic homes in the few blocks right off of its Main Street.

I took the camera with me, but didn't take one photo yesterday (yay for me). However, I found the website of a wonderful photographer who has done a much better job than I could ever do. Take a look here to see some of the homes that I saw yesterday. Marietta has quite a few of these beauties, since it was the first settlement of the Northwest Territory (from the Eurocentric point of view anyway).

Along with home-ogling, we had a micro-brewed beer and locally raised buffalo burger at The Marietta Brewing Company. That was after some antique malls and a leather store where John got his Christmas Present From His Mom--always a challenge. He got a Tilley Winter Hat in which, I must say, he looks dashing.

And now it is Monday. Back to work. I've got Christmas presents to finish up and some major organizing of the desk to accomplish (so that I can find the bills). I am anticipating the solstice in just a week. Longer days, even if imperceptible at first, will be most welcome.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Moving Haikus--Sort Of

Stompin' through the snow,
up to the cabin and back again,
arms laden with clothes, books, cooking utensils,
towels--haven't I gotten it all yet?

Cheered on by bluebirds,
red barn, white snow, blue sky.

Yes, it is a leaner.
But, not that bad.

Will we be able to fix it
before it falls clean over?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Horses on the Brain

Okay, we're in the new house--now our attention can turn to what's really important, to the real reason we moved here...horses!

I got my horse nerve all agitated at Thanksgiving. My sister Mindy owns three horses and keeps them on her property north of Cincinnati. After eating our turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, we headed out to the barn for some trips around the ring with the kids.

What is it about the smell of a horse's neck that is so intoxicating? I think that the smell is one of those things that people either LOVE or don't have an opinion about one way or another. Is it genetic? Is there a marker on some gene somewhere when, if turned on, causes people to love everything about these large animals with sensitive eyes and big, fluttery nostrils? Their smell is sweet and warm. I always want to describe it as vegetarian--it reminds me of dried grasses and oats--what they eat. It is mixed with something else, though, something particularly horsey. There is nothing else in the world that smells like a horse. I think cows stink. Pigs really stink. I've never had the opportunity to smell goats or sheep.

Mindy's horses are kind and well mannered, attributes of horses that are loved and happy. She has been working towards "natural" horse care lately and it shows. I was musing about what kind of barn to build and she said that if she had to do it all over again, she'd build a run-in for the horses and a separate tack room and grooming aisle. She gave me some books on natural horse care, which includes keeping your horses barefoot. I was so excited to hear this. After building this house for three plus years, I am not ready to embark on another huge building project. Ever. The idea of a three sided run-in (with maybe a fourth half wall so that they have a corner to get into when the weather is really bad) sounds so easy and quick and less expensive. According to the books she gave me on barefooted horses (that means unshod), maintaining good hoof care includes letting horses be horses--giving them access 24/7 to the outdoors among other things. I'm devouring the books and dreaming of my future babies.

John picked up a "Farm and Dairy" monthly at the hardware store the other day. It is quite a publication! There are several columnists sprinkled throughout and they provide some entertaining reading. John browsed the auctions and I went straight to the livestock section. I will have no trouble finding my horses when the time comes next summer. Here's one in my price range (under $1,000): 8-year old bay Thoroughbred gelding, very friendly, 16 hands. And here's another: 6-year old reg. Quarter Horse gelding, very friendly, excellent ground manners, 14.3 hands. And this one might be interesting: APHA reg. (that's an American Paint Horse), 11-year old flashy sorrel and white mare, lightly ridden in the last 3 years, needs tuned up, excellent broodmare, 15 hands. Ooh, now that's got me dreaming!

Ah, it's gonna be a long winter...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Here We Are... the new house!
We are feeling exhausted from the marathon of activity, but this morning we enjoyed coffee at this table, watching the sky change outside the huge windows:

You know, back when we moved here in the summer it was one of the hottest, muggiest days of the year. For our move down here, there was a steady rain all day which equals mud-city. We know how to time it, don't we?

There is still sooo much to do. The cabin is a wreck--there is mud tracked all over the place. And everything down here at the new house is the definition of make-shift (we have to wait a week for the upstairs floor to cure before putting furniture on it). But it is so comfortable, warm, spacious, light-filled! I love it!

Right now, I am listening to the quiet swish of my new washing machine doing its job upstairs. Is it possible to be in love with an appliance? I smile everytime I look at my stacking washer and dryer.

And the kitties--LeRoy luvs the place! He walks across the beam that connects the two lofts upstairs and also walks the lower railing, balancing like a pro. Clare ran back up to the cabin as soon as she had the chance and stayed up there until I dragged her back down here. She is now sleeping on the bed with LeRoy and seems to be in a state of acceptance. (I couldn't get the two of them in the frame, and LeRoy is just so photogenic...)
John spent the day working at his real job at the temporary office set-up we put together. The wireless is working seamlessly. No more worrying about whether the barn door is open or not to get reception.

I'm resting my weary bones and muscles until heading up to the cabin for yet another trip to get stuff. It might have to wait til tomorrow, though. I'm plain tuckered out. I think it might be time for a cold beer in front of the warm fireplace. Ahhh, there's no place like home.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Grateful All The Same

Drear. According to Wiktionary, that is the obsolete form of the adjective, dreary. But, to me, leaving off the "y" makes it sound more dread. Dread and drear. And that is what the weather is like today--rain with temperatures in the 40s. My least favorite kind of weather. Unfortunate, because that is what winter is often like in Ohio. Oh well, we make up for it with spring, summer and fall.

John and I are in the homestretch of getting ourselves into the new house and out of the cabin, and it is going to involve some tricky logistics (so what else is new?). We will be juggling the following over Thanksgiving weekend: polyurethaning the staircase; driving to my sister's for the holiday; sanding, staining and polyurethaning the upstairs floors; winterizing the cabin (turning off water, flushing pipes, mouse-proofing, etc.); oh, and throwing all of our stuff into boxes and hauling it through the mud down to the new house where we will put it on the floor in said boxes and live out of those boxes until...until...we put it on folding tables for awhile. Sounds fun, huh? But, you know what? I'm still looking forward to it.

On her most recent visit, my three-year-old granddaughter Maria, walked out of the kitchen on a Sunday morning after two nights here in the cabin and said, "We need a couch." It is something that I have said more than once since moving in June. John and I browsed a furniture store the other night and the fact that we are that close to getting a couch again makes me all warm inside. When we do have it, I'm going to make Maria close her eyes, and I will carry her inside the house, stand her in front of the new couch and say, "Okay, you can open them!" And then I'm going to cuddle up with her on it and read some books. I can't wait.

But first, I've got some work to do. Obviously, posting could be light the next week or so.

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone. I'll close with some pictures of the sky last week before the Great Drear set in.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I've Been Tagged

The snow is still here in patches. I'm sick with a cold and had a migraine headache this morning. All of a sudden it isn't as dreamy living in this, rather drafty I now see, cabin! The "boys" did the nicest thing before they left today, though. They brought me up a pile of wood from the woodpile which happens to be down near the new house. (John is away for the week in sunny Arizona, so they felt sorry for me, I guess.) I think I gave one of them a fright this morning when he came to see if I had a D battery they could use for the ceiling fan they installed. I answered the door in full sick-bed regalia--robe, slippers, and my snot rag in hand. Hoo boy!

However...I've been "tagged" by Alice at Living the Rural Dream (and Fanciful Alice) and so I have something else to do but whine about being sick. I agree with Alice that tagging is a bit chain-mail-ish, but I've seen lots of other tag games ("ghosted" is a good one) and they're sort of fun. (And no one promises dire consequences if you don't pass it on!)

So--here are Six Things About Me (the basis of the tag). Read on, or click on outta here--you've been warned.

1) I love horses with an illogical fervor. I was one of those girls with horse pictures plastered on my bedroom wall, a collection of horse figurines, etc., etc. I even studied horsemanship for a year at Virginia Intermont College. How it has taken me so long to get a horse back into my life, I'm not quite sure. I hope that next summer we are ready to take the plunge and saddle ourselves (ha!) with the responsibility of owning a horse or two. I just want to breathe in their smell and look into their big sweet eyes and listen to them chew hay at this point in my life. No competing.

2) I have a mild case of Raynaud's disease. That's where your fingers and toes (or hands and feet if you've got it really bad) go white in the cold. The blood vessels shut down and circulation stops altogether. I run my hands under hot water, or stick them somewhere warm when it happens. Obviously, I'm thinking about it now that the weather has turned--ergh.

3) "I often make light of my chemical dependence on caffeine." That is the quote on a coffee mug that I purchased from The Onion store recently. I thought it was hysterical, because it's true.

4) Adding to the above, I love coffee houses. My favorite one in all the world so far is Stauf's Coffee Roasters in Columbus. I love that coffee shops are a place where you can go to be alone within a crowd of people. You can sit by yourself for hours and no one gives you a second look. Lots of other people are there doing the same thing. I also love having long conversations with people I care for in coffee shops. It is one thing about living in the city that I miss.

5) Even though I am a gregarious person, I need a lot of alone time. It has always been this way. I am happiest when these two sides of me are in balance. If the scales have to tip, I would prefer they go towards the being alone side.

6) When provided a choice of colors, I always go for the warm ones. Reds, golds, yellowy greens, toasty browns, and greeny blues if I have to choose a blue.

And now I will tag just one other person...Siobhan at Flying Solo--you're it!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Aww, No It Didn't!

Yes it did! It snowed! I stepped outside early this morning to load up the car for a trip to Columbus and was met with this lovely sight (that's a falling snowflake blurring the upper left quadrant)...

Here it is out the upstairs bedroom window...

And here is the cabin looking, I think, like a cozy place to have around...
The snow was gone by the time I got to Columbus. But on my way home, I hit it again right outside Cambridge. There is a thick dusting over everything out here. It is pretty wet and slooshy, but so pretty. I hope it sticks around tomorrow so that I can look out from my warm cabin and dream. The first snow is always welcome by me. Come February, I'll have a different response, but for now...ahhhh.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Foto Friday

Time for some visual.

The moody skies...
The dying grasses...
The comical cats...
And the big oak tree, hanging on to its bronze leaves at the top of my favorite curve of land...

all seem to conspire for my delight.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Choose...Warmth

I returned from the city late last night to one very cold cabin and two very happy-to-see-me cats. I got the woodstove cranking and turned on an electric heater in the bedroom upstairs. It took a while, but the chill began to fall away and the cats began to purr. I had to set the alarm for a middle of the night re-loading of the woodstove. We got a small stove for the cabin when we bought the place six years ago. It won't hold hot coals overnight, meaning that you have to restart it in the morning with paper and kindling, unless you get up and keep the fire going in the middle of the night. It's not so bad...if you're just visiting. Living here is a different story of course.

The woodstove in the new house is a marvel. It's big and made of soapstone, polished to a sheen on the outside. Here is a picture of "The Mansfield" from the Hearthstone website:
Soapstone has different colors in it, similar to marble or quartz. Ours is mostly green with white and cream and black variations. The stove in the picture has a shiny brown frame, but we chose a matte black metal. The marvelous thing about soapstone is that it radiates heat for 24 hours after the fire goes out. The box of our new stove holds about three times what the little stove in the cabin holds, so no need for middle of the night stokings. And the fire really looks like that through the window--large and lovely with a slow, smooth flickering. The cats are going to love it.
We also have a few strategically placed electric baseboard heaters in the new house so that we can leave the place for several days if need be in the wintertime without freezing the pipes and/or cats. It is a nice set-up.
I bragged to my son, Jack, that I had an apartment in my college days that was so cold in the wintertime that I actually saw my breath for about a week during a particularly brutal cold snap. I asked him the other day if he had turned on his heat yet. "No way! I'm not doing it until I see my breath." I hadn't meant to throw down a gauntlet, but apparently that's what I did. Well, he can tough it out all he wants. I'm going to stay nice and cozy, thank you. Me and the Mansfield--best friends forever!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Got Mice?

We've got them. In droves. They tend to live at the edges of the cabin in the summer, but they really burrow in when winter hits. When I'm home alone doing something quiet, I hear them gnawing away at the walls, in the closet under the stairs, underneath the kitchen sink. They leave their little tell-tale poops around the cat food dish (the nerve!) and will chew into bread bags, or even this summer, ripe peaches if left out on the counter. It makes one a better housekeeper, in an inverted way, having mice.

The wasps and the ladybugs that aren't true ladybugs, but an invader from Japan, and houseflies are also coming in from the cold. They don't last as long as the mice. I've been stung by more than one wasp wobbling across the dark floorboards, wondering where it has got to. I crush them on sight with the heel of a shoe. I have to repent their deaths everytime I bow my head at the end of yoga practice and say, "Namaste." (hypocrite!)

I found a poem this summer by Marge Piercy in her book, My Mother's Body. I find myself thinking of it everytime I get all high and mighty about extermination. The poem is called "Cowering in a corner." In it, she chronicles all the spiders she sees in her house and wonders, "What do they eat?" After denying that it is the mice, ants, wasps, etc., she concludes that it must be "the other/nine hundred thousand inhabitants of what/I foolishly call my house."

Mmm, hmm.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

For Sue

For those of you who knew her, Sue Menkedick lost her six year battle with cancer on November 1--my sweet sister-in-law, the wife of John's brother Bill, the mother of my niece Kerry, the grandmother of Annalise and Ben. I miss her. She was a funny, warm person with a generous nature. I always enjoyed seeing her when our families got together. We would compare notes on our kids and grandkids, admire each other's house and outfits, and compliment each other on whatever recipe was on the table. Simple things, some might say surface things, but the current beneath the talk was always loving and accepting and supportive in a very female way. Sue and I were different in many ways, had different tastes in our decor and our clothes and our jewelry--the surface things in life. But we were very similar in that we wanted to be happy. We wanted to love our families and our life. We wanted to make a cozy home that we enjoyed being in, wanted to raise our kids to be good people, wanted to enjoy our grandchildren, wanted to remember always what was underneath the surface of everything we had and did in life. We saw that in one another and that's what we responded to and built a relationship on.

I had a conversation with Sue a few weeks before she died. We dropped the small talk and got down to what we really wanted to say for a few moments. We both agreed that everything that happens to us is supposed to be for a purpose, that it has a meaning, that we chose it somehow--even if all of that is indecipherable in the present moment. "Sometimes I wonder, what the heck was I thinking?" she said to me in response to this mystery. What kind of lesson was this that couldn't have been learned in another way? What kind of "gift" was this? And can we take it back? There are no answers to those questions, only the asking of them, and sitting with the feelings that arise when you give in to their mystery.

I can tell you one gift that I received from Sue's ordeal. It was the gift of being able to contemplate this mystery with her. To sit for a moment and feel the enormity of a life. To be able to tell her, "I'm going to miss you." She allowed me to do that. She honored me by letting me feel what is really important in life in her presence. I am not suggesting that the reason she died was so that I could have this gift, but I am saying that she gave me this gift as she was dying. And I will carry it with me always.

In the past, I have responded to death with pessimism about life. Why bother? None of this matters if we all die anyway. But Sue gave me a much richer and more mature response to death. She reminded me how lucky and blessed I am, and that I shouldn't take anything for granted. She reminded me to love my life because of death. Love my life even more. Live it as fully as I can possibly handle in as many moments as I can remember to. That is what I hear Sue telling me to do. That is what I will think of whenever I think of Sue.

I really do feel that she cavorts with angels. It seems to me that angels have that kind of energy--an energy that doesn't deny the problems of life, but responds to those problems with a deep and abiding sense of generosity and helpfulness and love.

She told John and me to enjoy our new home and that she would be keeping up with us, just from a different perspective. I believe her. And I am so grateful for her presence in my life.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Look What We Did

We applied a water-based polyurethane to the beautiful tongue & groove ash floorboards in the downstairs of our new house!

Looking this way:

Looking that way:

It is becoming real--this moving in thing. Counting down to about three, maybe four more weeks. I won't have kitchen cabinets right away, but at this point, I care not. Just want to get in there and start to feel what it is like to live in the place down the hill from my cabin.

Happy Monday, all.