Thursday, October 30, 2008

Man Places

I like to gush about country life, right? All my walks, the changing of the seasons, the wildlife, even the challenges of learning new ways of doing things once taken for granted, like obtaining water are the best things ever. Okay, well here is something that I don’t particularly care for: Man Places.

One would think that there are Man Places in the city, too, and there are, but not like in the country. At least not that I’ve ever found. Lowe’s and Home Depot are not Man Places. They are too big, too diluted in character to be a contender. And here is my disclaimer right up front: this is my perspective. Another woman might march right into a Man Place and have no problem with the vibe at all, in fact not even feel the vibe, so strong is her sense of self and her place in the world.

Well, that’s not me. I have a fair amount of anxiety upon entering a Man Place and if I had my druthers, I would never do it again. Not knowingly at least. But, I am sent on a lot of errands during the building of our house. I’m not up to the task of, say, installing plumbing without some tutorials that we don’t have time for, but I am capable of driving to the plumbing supply store—a Man Place!—to get the needed parts while someone else keeps working on the project. (I will not name the Man Places I’ve been to out here, though someone familiar with the area would be able to guess the places I’m talking about. There aren’t that many stores, after all.)

The other day I had to go to the lumber supply store to buy a case of floor glue. I pulled into the gravel parking lot with my tiny, hatchback Honda and parked it between two large pickups. I got out of the car and walked to the door of the place while being watched by two men with their hoods up standing out back where the lumber is stored. They don’t wave, they don’t leer, they just stare. I went immediately into my, Oh god, I’m in a Man Place comportment. Don’t give a little hi-hi wave, don’t smile, look straight ahead and act like you know what you’re doing. There. Okay. I’m in the door. Oh, shit, this is the wrong door! Damnit, I do this everytime.. Okay, walk around the front of the building and head straight to the desk. Don’t try to find this stuff on the shelves, because you’ll never do it and they might think you’re trying to steal something.

To be fair, once I make contact with the employee, or as is often the case out here, owner of the Man Place, things go smoothly. They want my business after all. They are there to help. Everything is O-KAY. But the customers (all men, always, in a true Man Place) still look at me askance. That happened in the plumbing supply store the other day. It was so thick with Man Place vibes in there I thought I would explode from the pressure.

I knew it was a bad sign when I walked in and saw no one. No one except an older man, very grizzled, who sat down on one of the stools they have at the checkout counter for customers. (That there is another bad sign, don’t you think? Is service so slow you need a place to sit down while they compute your order?) The man had two pipe pieces on the counter in front of him, so I assumed that someone was helping him, or would be helping him soon…I took my cue from him, in other words, and had a seat on the stool closest to me and waited. Patiently. The man and I stole glances at one another, but no direct eye contact, no smiles, no way. After several minutes, some employees started appearing. All of them were apparently busy scuttling around the back aisles of the store, fetching things for called-in orders like mine, and for this lone guy. One employee asked me if I’d been helped yet and that started my transaction. Ends up I was glad for the stool as it took a goodish amount of time to rack up the bar codes. In the meantime, I became almost dizzy with the pressures that ensued.

The bell that sounds as someone enters the store kept ringing as man after man arrived. (Who knew that so many people needed plumbing supplies at 4:00pm on a Tuesday? And why aren't any of them women?) One of them looked like a real character with an extremely long grey beard and long hair under a fedora-style hat. The guy ringing up my order called to him by name. The man answered him pleasantly, then stood, hands folded in front of him, about a foot away from me and waited for his turn. So patient. So close to me.

Then another single guy came in. Then a whole group of guys. That group stood around behind me and the bearded man, milling and talking low and being all guy-like. I was keeping it real cool by now. Do not look at anyone! I’m not a robot, though (see here for a very funny Onion story on Cindy McCain) and so I did turn to glance. One of the guys smiled at me. I smiled back, but did not think it a good idea to really smile and get all relaxed and start chatting people up. Please, please, is my order done yet? What’s the damage, c’mon! was all I could think.

$449. 56. Whaaa? Are you sure you counted all those parts right? Oh god, no, don’t do it again. Here’s my credit card. Just get me outta here.

The guy who rung up my order helped me to the car with all my (expensive) supplies, and we got it loaded into the hatchback (including a ten-foot section of pipe) and he was really nice to do that and the guy who smiled at me was really nice to hold the door for us and nothing is really wrong with Man Places, I’m just not comfortable in them.

I will get John back for all these errands to the dreaded Man Places. There is a cute little quilting supply shop I know of and one day, during a quilting crisis, I will make him go fetch me some fabric. “Look, you can sew this quilt if you want, or you can go get me the needed supplies. Which will it be, buddy?” Oh, he’ll be shaking in his boots.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Autumn Rambling

After a glorious fall weekend, it's a bit gloomy these past two days. I like it, though. After checking on the boys at the house this morning, I trucked off through the pastures in the cold, moist air. The sky was all slate gray and blue. The ground is starting to become more brown than green. The trees still have some yellow and bronze leaves that rustle in the nippy breeze. I can't really call it a breeze anymore, though. Wind. It is a cold wind that blows around and through our valley now.

I scared up five deer, at least, from their haunts in the back pasture. Their white tails flashed like exclamation points popping up in bad high school prose as they made for the woods. I guess they were resting in the tall grass, even though it was spitting tiny raindrops.

I meandered all around the paths that John mowed recently encircling a copse of trees laden with bittersweet vines. The red berries have popped out of their orange skins in their festive way. "Come taste me!" they call. Or, as I hear it: "Hang me up in your house as seasonal decoration!" Either way, they are successful in evolutionary terms. No one need worry about the bittersweet. It is everywhere.
Returning through the apple orchard, I thought about this wonderful blog entry I read last night about a Most Loved Old Apple Tree, and I spoke a few words of encouragement to ours. They looked like old gnomes with their gnarled branches and lichen-covered bark. They've spent many years weathering the winters on their gentle slopes.
I promise (right now) to prune them next spring, right before the sap starts flowing again. We'll use the dead branches for another bonfire, like the one we enjoyed this past weekend with our friends, the Lindsey's.

John and I have a hunch (a hope) that winter will be a little more tolerable out here, a little less depressing than it has been in the past, in the city. There are graceful lines of earth to see in the winter, when the vegetation dies back. Lichens, mosses and fungi create a palette of color in the woods when the leaves melt back into the soil. The sky is on parade in winter, with subtle variations of blue and gray, mauve and purple. Everything is quiet, hunkered down, resting. There are things to love about winter.

That said, here is a final celebration of chlorophyll in all it's photosynthesizing beauty--taken as recently as two weeks ago on my front porch. We'll miss it, won't we?

Friday, October 24, 2008

And Leroy Was His Name-O

John came home to meet "Pumpkin" the day after I brought him across the road and promptly said, "I don't want to name him Pumpkin." He wanted Clyde. I suggested Leroy. When I say it in my head I pronounce it--la ROY--accent on the second syllable as if we are in the South. It doesn't come out that way when I call him, but I like thinking it in my head. Le Roi--the King, en francais, n'est-ce-pas?

I am relieved to report that Clarabelle seems to have relaxed and accepted the little shit, I mean kitten! just fine. Of course, I have to admit to using kitty drugs to help the process along. Yes, high grade kitty drugs. I took both cats in to the vet--Clare was due for a rabies booster and Leroy needed some ear mite medicine--and she suggested this product:
It is a "synthetic analogue of F3 fraction of Feline Facial Pheromones" in a diffuser that you plug into an outlet. According to the package, "when a cat feels safe in its environment, it rubs its head against the furniture, the corners of walls, on the bottom of the curtains, leaving substances called facial pheromones. These pheromones convey a message of well-being, calm and abscence of stress." The diffuser pumps these things into the air and cats are supposed to feel the effects of them, even though they sure didn't produce them. "It's like kitty pot," said my vet. Well.

"Can I just use catnip," I asked, knowing that Feliway would cost me.

"It's not quite the same," she said. So, I sucked it up and bought it ($45) because I really wanted Clare to relax. She's been so happy out here, I didn't want the whole thing ruined for her. And so far, so good. She still growls at the kitten if he jumps her (so do I), but they have actually sniffed noses and meowed for food together and Clare seems to like watching him play like a little madman with his toys. Now, who knows if it's because of the phermones, or simply the passage of time. I'm sticking with the phermones. It can't have hurt.

To that point, I also picked up a good old fashioned catnip toy, which Clare loves.
And this is the toy I got for the kitten. There were three of them in the package, but this one with the feathers is my favorite. They bobble around unpredictably and he loves them! Clare even took some time batting one around.
Okay, without further ado, here are the latest pictures in the cute-fest we are currently living through.

Everyone sing together now~

Everybody wants to be a cat
Because a cat's the only cat
Who knows where it's at
Everybody's pickin' up
On that fe-line beat
'Cause everything else is obsolete

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Garden Update & Check it Out!, Part II

There is one thing I got done before fall hit, and that is the rock garden on the side of the cabin. Remember when I was moaning about my lack of farmwife fortitude when it came to moving rocks that were sunk into the earth after years of neglect?
Well, here is the same garden today: Ta Da! I am pleased enough. John dug up all the rocks and I put them into formation and hauled away (almost all) of the little ones as agreed. Our partnership worked pretty well. Next year, this is where the cinnamon ferns and hostas and hydrangeas will live. I transplanted the Shooting Star hydrangea that my sister, Kathy, gave me on the Fourth of July. I hope it survives. I had it in a large pot all summer, and just put it in the ground last week. Not sure I’ve given it enough time to establish itself in the big cold world. I will protect it with burlap this winter and keep my fingers crossed.

On to antiquing successes—we found a clawfoot tub for the new house. If you’ve ever looked for a clawfoot tub, you know that there are plenty around. It’s just that they come in a variety of conditions. John bought one several weeks ago and hauled it home in the back of the truck. Trouble was, it was six inches shorter than the standard size. I sat in it and my legs could not extend. (I’m not that tall.) This simply wouldn’t do. I am a hot bath girl in the winter time. I love the ritual of filling the tub with lavender salts, lighting candles, and sinking into the amniotic embrace of hot water. I’ve saved a good deal of money on prescription anti-anxiety drugs with hot baths over the years. So, the search continued.

We had to go to Lowe’s (again) on Saturday, and I suggested we stop at the antique stores on the way to see if they had a clawfoot. Can you believe it, but they did! And it was the right size and it had the most spectacular, original crackled finish I’ve ever seen. I kept marveling about the crackle finish and John warned that we better tell the guys not to scrape it off. He said he could hear them saying, “Hey, we scraped most of that chipped paint off for you. There’s still a little more to do.” And sure enough, when they were getting it out of the truck on Monday, the guys laughed that it was the first thing they said when they arrived and saw it there—“Well, it needs to be scraped, but it’s okay on the inside.”

A few more treasures from the antiques stores... Another red & white plate for my random, red & white plate collection (posed with a kitty):
And a bowl with gold polka dots, hel-loh!

So, if you are in the market for a clawfoot tub to wash your kids in (or if you are 5' tall or under), let me know. I've got just the thing for you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bringing it Inside

So, the season has turned for real. September was endless summer and the beginning of October was warm enough to allow for the illusion that we had plenty of time yet before the first frost bit. Bite is has, though. The mornings are beautiful, but I can’t sit on the porch to watch them unfold, even with the sleeping bag I was wrapping myself in for awhile, steaming coffee mug warming my hands. The frost silvers the grasses in the meadow (which John still hasn’t quite found the time to mow) and the sky is showing its winter colors—baby blue and soft pink. I take a refreshing breath of cold air through my sleep-stuffy nose when I open the door to get some fresh kindling and firewood off the porch at six a.m. That is now my encounter with the morning. And I always, always, think about my future animals at that time…Hmmm, I’d have to trudge to the barn right now if I had horses, goats, chickens. Well, maybe I could warm up for a minute or two before bundling up and heading out into the frosty air to feed, water, and check. A mere human could be allowed a little coffee first, no?

This week, the days have been lovely and warm enough to work outside by the time the sun hits the zenith. John and I did so this past weekend. I put a first coat of paint on the front door of the new house and he cleaned up behind the workshop in preparation for stacking wood. Still, I am aware that the stakes have shifted in favor of winter and I feel almost a panic somewhere down deep. I feel like a squirrel wondering, have I stored enough nuts in the right places? I walk around and see things that I thought I’d have plenty of time to do, like till up next year’s garden, and plant the rock garden with ferns (or shell those walnuts!) and realize that it is too late. Those things will have to wait until next year. The other part of it is a feeling of, hurry, hurry, save this! I’ve got to get the paint out of John’s workshop or it will freeze. I’ve got to put the amaryllis bulb and the voodoo plant in the root cellar. What else…what else? I scan the yard for S.O.S. signs.

Inside the cabin, it is a different mood. I’m feeling that familiar surge of creativity that has always come to me in the fall. I still have several weeks to wait until I can have the new house to store non-decorative things like file boxes in, but I got busy one night last week despite that fact. I’ve had these plain white pillows in the cabin for a long time and have always wanted to warm them up, so I took some old yellow and red toile fabric and some buttons and had at it. It is amazing what color will do to help tie a room together. I’m certainly not done yet, but it has already helped the burgeoning color scheme of the cabin’s main room.

Next spring, I’ll probably have a pile of half-finished projects like those pillows, that I thought I’d have plenty of time to get done over the long, dark winter months. And they’ll have to wait until next year, because the outdoors will be calling with all of its chores and charms. I hope I’m that lucky.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pumpkin. Or Wags. Or...?

In September, at the birthday party for my friend Colette's father, I had a conversation with her young neice, Sedona. We bonded for a moment over that fact that we were both going to get kittens soon. Sedona had been waiting for her kitten for a long time and was keeping her fingers crossed that her parents would come through on their promise. She had, after all, done all that had been requested of her--cleaning the litter box for their current cat, taking care of her room, and generally being a "good girl" (which isn't too hard for Sedona). I, of course, had no such requirements to fulfill. I just started talking about the four-week old fluffball at our neighbor's house as if he were already mine. Somebody, maybe it was Mary, asked, "Are you really getting a kitten?" and John simply rolled his eyes and said, "It's a done deal." If I were Sedona's age, I would have squealed. Maybe I did anyway.

I waited until we got back from California to fetch him. He's about eight-weeks old now and as cute and cuddly as can be. My granddaughter Maria has seen (and wrangled) him many times on our visits across the road. I asked her what we should name him and she suggested Pumpkin since he is orange (kinda). I am willing to let that be his name if she still thinks it fits. He has this darling habit of wagging his tail like a dog when he walks, though. It seems to signal a naming opportunity. We'll see.

Clarabelle is, well, pissed off. As to be expected. She growls and hisses at him and sits sullenly across the room, glaring in his direction. The kitten is oblivious, given that he's grown up around several cats. I know Clarabelle, and I think she'll settle down soon enough. She acts normal upstairs when he is downstairs and out of sight/smell. I'm giving her lots of attention and keeping it light. "Nothing to see here! Move along folks!"

So, here he is, sitting on the shelf of the computer docking station. How freakin' cute is that?I haven't had a kitten in so long. They play with anything. It's like having a baby--you can give them the keys from your purse and they're like, "Wow! fascinating!" It is delightful to have him here. He is mellower than your normal kitten, too, again from the fact that he's been raised outside with other cats. As I write this, he is sleeping on the same computer shelf. Take the photo above and curl him up in a ball and close his eyes. And then feel your blood pressure drop.
And yes, Sedona got her kitten, too. But of course she did!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Home Again, Home Again

It's Monday and we are truly, officially not on vacation anymore. We arrived back to Columbus on Friday night, drove out to the farm on Saturday morning, and spent the weekend coming back into ourselves.

California was lovely and our friends were even lovelier. One of the first things we did in Los Angeles was set out for a walk. It was misting, of all things, so we had to don some chapeaux.
There is Col in her infamous kitty hat.

And after that it was non-stop. We ate at fabulous restaurants--how can you not in such cities as LA and San Diego? We saw a hilarious show at the Groundlings Comedy Club. We visited the neighborhood coffee shop every morning to get our coffee on (girl got to get her juice!) And we did something I've never done in all the times I've visited Col in LA--we took a hike. Stough Nature Preserve sits on the hills above Burbank. We walked straight out of the parking lot up some fire roads. The colors were soft and autumnal in a desert-like way.
At the top of one of our hills was a picnic table near a lone pine tree. On the picnic table was a box where people wrote their thoughts on paper and left there for others to read. We had a nice rest there, ate some berries, and of course left our own thoughts on a scrap of paper.
The next day we drove north to wine country in the Santa Inez Valley to do some tasting with some of Col's friends. Yeah, that was hard. That was a really hard day. Mmm hmm.

And then we were off to San Diego. John and I drove our rental car to San Juan Capistrano to sight-see at the Mission before meeting up with Karen. I visited missions near Santa Barbara with my parents when I was a kid. They bought a painting on one of our trips and it hung in our home when I was growing up. I loved looking at it and remembering the cool stones and hot sun, the yellow adobe and fuschia flowers, and the endlessly interesting play of shadow and light across the pathways. This shot reminds me of that painting, and is, for me, the quintessential Mission image:And there are those fuschia flowers (with the addition of a sweet hubby).We stayed in a little motel by the ocean that night and watched a sunset. You can't have a travelogue about California without a sunset shot!The next day we continued down the coast and met up with Karen in San Diego. We took another hike--this time along the coast. We began up high and travelled down to the beach. It was another glorious day, although a little hot. Thank goodness we didn't run out of water! Karen!

We returned to LA after a delicious meal at a Mexican restaurant that one of Col's friends recommended--El Agave. We each had a different mole. I wanted to lick the plate, it was that good.

On our last day, we took it easy with Col, laying around, eating one last meal with one last bottle of wine. And then we flew home.

Thanks to Col and Karen for your hospitality and energy. It was so good to see you both. Friends like you are priceless. Thanks, California, for your rugged beauty and for giving me a new reflection of myself. Hello again, Ohio, my undeniable place of heart. It's good to be home.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Vacation, for real

Events conspired against a posting today. I wanted to chronicle a lovely walk in the woods that I took yesterday, which included the antics of this deer:Alas, it is not to be. I am hastily doing dishes, putting toiletries into 3 ounce bottles and avoiding the cat as she mews plaintively at me for food. Yes, that's right, I'm preparing for a plane trip. Clarabelle is going to the city apartment with us tonight so that Jack can take care of her for us while we spend a week in...sunny California! (I can't feed her, due to the aforementioned car-sickness from which she suffers [or is it us?]). She'll thank me later.

John and I were going to take this trip back in August as a "yay! we moved!" trip, but for several reasons, it didn't happen until now. Since today, October 3, is our twenty-first wedding anniversary (!), we have re-named it a "yay! w'eve been married for a long time!" trip. Either way, we are looking forward to it. We'll be visiting best friends Colette in Los Angeles, and Karen in San Diego. I am not taking a computer (*gasp), but I will have loads of pictures and stories to share upon our return next weekend.
Until then...