Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The four elements. In every place in the earth, it seems one prevails. At the heart of Havenwood lives the spirit of water.

When we first walked our southern woods, it was dry. We knew this was a wetland area, but in Indiana that can mean any place that gets muddy sometimes. The degree to which our lower woods would flood and the persistence of standing water have come as a surprise.

I had envisioned this forest floor planted with native ferns and wildflowers, a charming and green undergrowth providing beautiful views from the driveway. It seems we need to rethink the plan.

I don't know much about marshes or what, if anything, grows well in one. Most of the trees in these woods don't do well, toppling over before they reach maturity. Their roots probably rot over time. There is a kind of native pine that likes swamps, though we are just above its northern range. I'm looking into those.

Draining the place is not an option. There's nowhere lower to send the water to. And besides, wetlands are an important part of the ecosystem. I do want to preserve it.

If anyone has any suggestions for plantings or management of an area that floods and is often wet, please let me know? I imagine somebody out there knows what to do with a swamp of one's own. I'm all ears.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Our first Christmas tree in the new house is, appropriately enough, made up of some of our family ornaments and empty spaces where more of them would be if we could find the other box.

It pretty much represents our current state, partly settled in and partly still stumbling around, with an overall spirit of good cheer.

This is the first room since we had kids where we could actually fit a tree and the furniture into the same room. In the old place, we had to draw straws to see who got a chair and who had to sit on the floor when we wanted to watch TV during the holidays. I can't say as I'll miss that particular tradition.

Our tree doesn't go up until the weekend before Christmas, and the lights are lit until midnight on New Year's Eve. There is an ornament for each year for each kid, reflecting some milestone or special interest they had in each year. We collect a few from each vacation as keepsakes. Others have special meaning for my husband and me; those generally are from before the kids came along, and some came from our own childhood homes.

Trimming the tree becomes a trip down memory lane, with everyone sharing stories of the places and times we've shared. (Oddly enough, nobody seems to feel particularly nostalgic about taking the ornaments off again. Good old Mom and Dad always end up with that job.)

It took some doing to whip the place into shape in time for the holidays, and it's a long way from Martha Stewart perfection. But with the familiar decorations and goodies, and with family all around, it finally feels like home.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, and that you're enjoying a peaceful, happy holiday season.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Souls on Ice

It takes a lot of faith to step out onto a frozen pond: faith in your own strength; faith in the universe; and most of all, faith in the people who will have to save your soggy, freezing butt if you fall through.

But if you dare, and if you trust, the earth reveals hidden wonders and delights.

This weekend the hubby announced the pond ice was thick enough for skating. He's the only one of us who actually owns a pair of ice skates, though, so for the rest of us it was thick enough for scooting.

The boys and I were timid at first, stepping gingerly on the frosty crust and listening for cracking sounds. There were none. The snow, ice storm, and arctic temperatures of the last two weeks have turned the water to stone--and the ice turned all of us into kids for the day.

Hubby tried out his old moves, zipping between us and racing circles around the edges. I scuffled off to explore the many shrubs and plants I had admired from the bank. To my surprise, the thicket behind the pond is covered in lovely red berries, and the bush that forms a little island has wonderful, spiky seed pods that hang like Christmas tree ornaments, glittering within the ice.

Ice seeds2IMG_3884

Beneath the ice itself were more surprises. There is a small circle of thinner, clear ice, like a portal into the world below. Up from the impossibly cold water, tiny creatures swam up toward the light. The guys here are examining what may be an insect nymph, no more than half an inch long, its fins beating fast as hummingbird wings.

Ice Fishing

Could this adventure have ended badly? Sure. But it didn't. It ended in great memories, a warm fire, and hot cocoa. Sometimes, faith is rewarded. Sometimes, you just have to step out onto the ice.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Protect Your Nuts

I love trees, and I love oaks best of all. I'm not sure why I feel such an affinity for them, but I think it's mainly because they get so big, and that it takes so long for them to grow to their full maturity. An old oak represents a century or two of time's passing. It stands steady and unmoved while the tides of history ebb and flow around its roots. I never gave much thought, though, to the seedlings.

Back in the fall, while roaming around in the woods, I remarked to the hubby that we had all these oak trees and yet there wasn't a single acorn in sight. It seemed weird. Even a little creepy.

Then I read an article somewhere about how deer eat so many acorns that they are changing the balance of the forests from predominantly oak to maple. There are areas where conservationists are fencing off areas so that the nuts have a chance to sprout and mature, to try to preserve the species. With so many deer around here, I figured that solved the mystery of the missing acorns.

Not so. It seems there is a worrisome absence of acorns in general this year: Acorn Shortage Drives Scientists Nutty. Aside from the lack of new oak trees, this means trouble for deer, squirrels, turkeys, and other wildlife that depend on acorns to survive the winter.

Nobody knows yet if this is just an unusually light year following an unusually heavy one, or whether it signals a more deeply rooted environmental problem.

At the old house, there used to be dozens of ancient oaks around us, and the ground was littered with acorns in the fall. In spring, we'd pull up loads of oak seedlings as weeds in the flower beds and lawn. I wish now that I had potted some of them up to transplant into the woods.

I know it's late in the year to gather and plant acorns, but if you're lucky enough to have seedlings next spring, please treat them kindly. They may be among the last, precious few.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Walking on Water

Time for a cheerful post, don't you think?

It's been cold enough to freeze the many small ponds in the neighborhood, but the wild residents keep showing up anyway.

I believe these are Chinese geese, the first I've ever seen. They are often at this particular pond, down the road from us a bit. Click on the photo to enlarge; doesn't the one on the far left look like he's conducting an orchestra?

I've been a bit jealous that they always choose that pond and not ours. But considering the noise they were making when I stopped to snap a shot, maybe I'd better be careful what I wish for.

These are my own strange ducks, checking out the ice on our pond to see if it's thick enough for ice skating.

Some areas were fine, like the one they're walking on, but the muddier parts weren't safe yet. We're still hoping for a freeze long and hard enough to turn it into a backyard rink.

I'm way behind on Christmas preparations this year, so blogging may have to take a back seat for a bit. Hope you're all having a wonderful holiday season!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Beginning to Say Goodbye

I don't know how to write this post. I've been thinking it over for quite a while now, and I'm no closer to knowing what I want to say. I just know I need to say something. So here goes.

My father in law has Alzheimer's disease.

There. I finally put that in writing. Since his diagnosis a few months ago, I've been trying not to believe it, or to push it into the future; I've tried to think it's no big deal right now, just something that might be an issue in a few years. But it isn't.

We hadn't seen Dad for six months or so when we went out for the summer wedding. Already, it was clear that he wasn't quite himself. Once twinkly-eyed, engaged, and eager to laugh, he seemed distant and quiet. He'd respond if spoken to, but wasn't really able to carry on a conversation. He still did his woodworking, but the craftsmanship was gone. He would overeat, by several platefuls if not stopped, apparently forgetting the meal he had just had.

Dad and Mom came to us for Thanksgiving this year, as always, but for the first time their kids drove them here. Dad protested at first, but in the end he said he enjoyed being driven and watching the scenery from the passenger seat.

All of us knew this would probably be the last Thanksgiving where he would understand what was going on. Of course, I wanted it to be perfect. And of course, it wasn't. In fact, it was the worst turkey I ever served. Maybe the Alzheimer's was a mercy in that particular instance, because he ate like a farmhand and seemed to enjoy every bite, flaws and all.

He seemed his old self sometimes, exploring the house and property with Mom and my husband, congratulating us on the place and taking the new tractor out for a spin whenever he could. Then, there would be moments ... when he couldn't recall how to shake up a cruet of salad dressing; couldn't find the drinking glasses, though he'd been shown several times where they were; when he slipped on my coat instead of his own, though they look nothing alike, and didn't notice; when he couldn't play his favorite card game without help.

Mom has changed, too. Her naturally controlling tendencies have gone into overdrive. She is never more than a few feet away from Dad, watching his every move, commenting on or "correcting" most of them. She is exhausting herself already with his care.

Most disconcerting for me is Dad's blank passivity in the face of all this. Time was, he'd have put up quite a fuss at being bossed around. No more.

My husband's family is a practical, unsentimental lot. They seem to be taking this in stride, adapting to and accommodating Dad's needs without missing a beat. I envy them their resilience.

Maybe it's partly having lost my own mother this year, and missing my own Dad still, but I'm afraid I'm not handling this nearly as well. I'm trying to find some way to be at peace with this inevitable loss, but the process of the disease is so cruel.

It's like watching him fade, going transparent at the edges, like an old horror movie come frighteningly to life. The Invisible Man. And it isn't out there, up ahead. It's now. It's really happening. Right now.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Exorcist Wanted

My kitchen is possessed.

As noted in the last post, the fridge freezes things. Not always, mind you. Only when repair people aren't around.

The first repair visit was a fiasco. The guy reshuffled the top shelf and left.

I called back. On the advice of the Sears phone rep, I bumped up the temperature in the freezer and waited for the return of the repair guy, promised for the next day.

He never came. Sears had several versions of why not, but it's clear that he just blew me off. Would next week be good for me?

Unpleasantness ensued, punctuated by decidedly unladylike language.

So they rescheduled for the next day, when Younger Son would have to supervise again. By then, the fridge temperature was fine (because the freezer was set too high) and there wasn't any frozen food (because it's in the trash) so the guy left without touching it again. He offered to order a new thermostat, probably just to shut me up.

I don't know what to do now. I'd love to return the thing, but there's a scratch already, probably from Gatsby jumping on top of it, plus a hefty restocking fee.

Whatever its issue is, it seems to have infected the new stove. That was working great until Thanksgiving day, when the oven started overheating. Between the too-cold fridge and the too-hot oven, I ended up with fifteen pounds of turkey jerky. If you soaked it in gravy long enough it was edible, but this was not the holiday experience I was hoping for.

In the process, the nonstick finish bubbled and chipped off my Kitchenaid turkey roaster pan. I loved that pan. It's never been used on the stovetop, and the oven wasn't that hot.

Meanwhile, the first time I tried baked potatoes in the new microwave, it overheated and burned out. Lowe's said they'd never seen that happen before. I'm afraid to use the replacement.

We've also had to exchange a dehumidifier that wasn't taking accurate readings ... and a carbon monoxide detector that wouldn't light up ... and curtains that weren't actually the length the package said they were. Even a loaf of bakery bread I bought for the holiday was solid, inedible dough inside.

So what the hell? Am I under some kind of appliance curse, or is everything just made like junk now?

P.S. We managed to have a great Thanksgiving anyway, which just goes to show you that it's not about the stuff. As long as there's family and love, the rest is just gravy. So to speak. Hope your holiday was wonderful too!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Just Shoot Me. Please.

OK, so here we are on final countdown to the biggest, most complicated, most emotionally loaded meal of the entire year, with company on the way, and my brand new, fancy schmancy, ridiculously overpriced refrigerator is freezing everything.

Yes, folks, I got your frozen celery, your frosty cheese, your solid-state salad dressings, your milk slushies ... whatever flavor of ice your little heart desires. I do not, however, have a turkey that is anywhere close to thawing out by Thursday.

Why me, God, why me?

After ten minutes of suffering through the robot phone lady and the holding pattern in the Sears service center, I convinced a rep that I had done all the tweakage recommended in the operating manual to no avail. Four days later, today, a service person was dispatched.

According to Younger Son, who supervised the process in my absence, the guy moved some bread away from a blower in the back of the fridge and declared the problem solved. Or, if not, we should "wait about four days to see if it gets better."

Oh HELL no. And now the thing is even colder.

Back on the phone after work, back through the robot lady, to another rep who -- miracle of miracles -- will send somebody out tomorrow. This will pretty much wreck my plans for my day off, but at this point I'm feeling lucky not to be waiting four days for the damn thing to make up its mind what temperature it wants to be. I already know what my temperature is: boiling.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dashing Through the Snow

Yesterday's dawn cast a rosy glow on the first snow of the season. Cold and clear and beautiful, it was nevertheless a day I had dreaded. Would I be able to get down the long, icy driveway in winter?

Past the pines at the top of the drive, taking it nice and slow...

A quick stop to admire the view...

One more curve to the left, and then it's a straight shot through to the main road. Where the real problems begin.

The driveway was a piece of cake, but it seems the snowplows don't consider our little back-road to be a high priority.

It's a good thing I allowed an extra 20 minutes to get to work, because I needed every one of them. I had to fly low once I hit the highway to make up the time. And this is just a couple of inches of the white stuff. Some years they measure it in feet around here.

I wonder where I could get a dogsled?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hello, Dolly

Pilot Son wandered into my office today and casually remarked that he'd found a man doll in the woods.

Me: "A what?"

He: "A man doll. It's made out of a black plastic garbage bag, and it's hanging from a tree."

Me: "You mean, like, a voodoo doll?"

He: "Nah. It's wearing a Carhartt jacket and a hunting vest."

This I had to see.

The last time I walked the woods, birds and squirrels were scolding from the thickets and golden leaves were whispering their goodbyes. Today it was strangely empty, silent except for the sound of distant gunfire. It is deer season, and all the wildlings are making themselves scarce.

At the far edge of the woods, just beyond our property line, this is what we found. We can only imagine that a hunter hung it there so that deer would become used to its presence, and might not be spooked at the sight of a real man in similar dress.

Creepy, is it not?

Whispers from the Cellar*

Once in a while, in my line of work, I find myself on the phone with a customer from my home state of West Virginia. Good natured banter always ensues, as we are a friendly and clannish folk. The customer relays news from home, and I dutifully lament my loss at having left the place. Yesterday, though, the usual script took a surprising turn.

At the end of the call, the client recited the first line of the West Virginia state song: "Oh the West Virginia hills, how majestic and how grand." To which I found myself adding, without hesitation, the next line: "With their summits bathed in glory like our Prince Immanuel's land."

Where the HELL did that come from? I haven't sung that song since grade school. In the '50s.

But wait, there's more: Today on public radio, I heard that researchers have discovered that baby boomer brains are still carrying around an extra load of carbon 14 from the nuclear bomb tests done when we were babies. Some parts of people regenerate completely over time, but the brain just keeps packing new stuff into its original equipment. Hmm. Permanent, radioactive memories. This explains so much.

So it seems I have reached the age where I can't remember whether I took a pill with the glass of water I am still holding in my hand, but factoids from half a century ago are on speed dial. Nature has a cruel sense of humor, and she loves to screw with old people.

*Reprinted from the other blog, Maraca.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wait, Wait, I'm Not Ready!

Me and my big mouth. I've been saying all along that I wanted this house to be a gathering place for family and friends. And I meant it, I really did, but I was kind of hoping to finish moving in before people started showing up.

Today the elder son asked if it would be OK if a friend of his came out this weekend to calibrate the new sight on his muzzle loader. Um ... OK, I guess, as long as he doesn't shoot any animals. And the younger son wants to have "a few people" in tomorrow night. Well ... I'm working Saturday, so as long as there's no loud music late, I guess ... plan on getting pizza though, 'cause I'm not cooking.

Having guests has always been kind of a formal thing in my family. Nobody ever got past my mother's front room without an invitation and/or a few weeks advance notice. The place had to be perfect, and clean, and stocked with homemade goodies before anyone could see it. Needless to say, we didn't have a lot of company.

On the other hand, I envy friends whose homes are always open and welcoming, where impromptu gatherings can happen at any time. That's the kind of place I want this to be. I'm just having a little difficulty getting past the fussy-hosting thing.

OK, big deep breath ... from now on, I'm saying YES.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Welcoming Committee
Havenwood Welcoming Committee

At long last we are officially, irrevocably moved in. And now that I'm here, I can't figure out what took me so long.

Friday, my brother in law and his wife arrived with a van, a fresh load of enthusiasm, good humor, and that family's typically boundless energy. Their arrival was like the sun breaking through storm clouds.

By the end of the day on Saturday, the four guys had packed, loaded, moved, unloaded, and set up all the big pieces, and we women had done the same with the contents of the kitchen and dining areas. My sister in law's goal was to have everything put away by quitting time, and to have no boxes left lying around. Due mostly to her determination and stamina, that's exactly where we stood at day's end. The place actually looks like a home now, and is organized well enough to be comfortable.

We topped things off with a well-deserved dinner at a local steak house. We hadn't been out to a restaurant dinner since we took on the new mortgage, and it felt like a real treat.

Sunday morning we christened the new stove with its first splatters of bacon grease and bread crumbs, and shared a big farm breakfast around our own kitchen table. We watched the deer between sips of coffee and laughter.

Errands, sorting, and rearranging occupied most of Sunday and Monday. There's a lot more stuff to sort through at the old place, but none of it is necessary. It can come over in small batches as we get to it, if it comes over at all. Goodwill may be in for quite a windfall.

Pilot Son has decided to try staying in the old house alone for a while, and is considering buying it from us. That could work out to be a win-win for all of us, given the current housing market.

Funny, isn't it, how dreading a thing can take more energy than the actual doing of it. And in the end, sometimes, if you're really lucky, it turns out there really wasn't anything to dread in the first place. It's been a long, long journey to get here. A whole lifetime, in fact. But it feels like we've finally come home.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Moving: We're Doin' It Rong

When my older son was a toddler, on a day when I was apparently asleep at the wheel, he decided it might be fun to poop on the bathroom carpet. So he did. And then, he tried to clean it up. I got involved at the point where loud wails began to emanate from behind the bathroom door. The kid, the carpet, and the walls were covered in poop, and all he could get out between sobs was, "I don't know what to do! I don't know what to do!"

So. It's kinda like that.

It's a week into the moving project, and all we've managed to do so far is to spread all of our s*** all over the place in two houses. And I don't know what to do.

The last time we moved ourselves, all our stuff fit in the back of a VW van. Every time since, hubby's company sent movers. A crew of burly men would descend on the house, wrap and box everything in the place, and load it into a truck. Our possessions would magically reappear a few days later in a new house in a new state, where a new set of burly men would perform the whole process in reverse. God, I miss those guys.

Part of this situation is due to a difference of opinion on how to proceed. My feeling was that we should move everything we don't need first, and keep the old place livable 'til the last. His approach involved tearing apart everything big and camping out in the new place while we reconstructed a workable home. As a result, nothing much has actually gotten moved at all.

We're down to the wire now. Relatives are arriving Friday night to help us load a rental truck. It would be good if we had it all in boxes to load by then. I'd say the odds are 50/50 at best.

I'm told this computer setup is getting packed tomorrow, ready or not. I've spent a few days throwing my body between the hubby and my desk, but there's just no way to fend him off any longer. So this may be the last post for a while. Pray for me.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Honey of a Blog: Linda's Bees

Linda's Bees is currently listed in Blogs of Note, and it certainly deserves the honor. I wish I had seen it before I gave away my beehive; I just might have held onto it.

Read just a few posts, and you'll see how fascinating beekeeping is. She has tons of great photos, too, up close and personal. I especially enjoyed the post where she dusts the hive with powdered sugar, and it looks like it's filled with little ghostie bees.

Check it out, why don'tcha?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Friendship Award

I'm honored to say that Kiva at Eclectic Granny tapped me for this friendship award. (Can you see I'm blushing?)

The award asks that we answer four questions:

1. Do you have the same friends since childhood?
I have two childhood friends whom I write at Christmastime, but we all live in different parts of the country now. I envy people who live in small towns and have lifelong friends nearby.

2. What do you value most about your friends?
I enjoy the companionship, and knowing that we're there for each other in a pinch.

3. Are your friends your sounding boards?
My online friends are my soundingboards, rather than my "real world" friends, interestingly enough.

4. What is your favorite activity to share with your friends?
I love to do lunch.

I'm passing this one along to three lovely ladies who stepped in this week to offer their encouragement and support when I needed it most. Faced with the reality of moving to the new house, I suddenly found that I needed a little hug and a shove. Special thanks and this award go to Spookydragonfly of Wishnik Woods, Ramblingwoods of Rambling Woods ~ The Road Less Traveled, and Sally at Sallyacious. Your loving replies meant more than you know.

P.S. OH! I want to add Kathy, AKA Mutualaide to the list, too. Kathy is a wonderful friend to have. If you haven't met her yet, you should stop by her place, Flamingo Feathers and say hi.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Synchronicity Strikes Again

Pearls Before Swine

Sometimes the universe plunks down what you need exactly when you need it. This was in this morning's paper. Ain't life a gas?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sweet Sorrow

This is getting ridiculous. We've owned the new house for a month, and we still aren't actually living there.

Want to hear something even more ridiculous? I'm still in no hurry to move. In fact, this is becoming something of a personal crisis.

I've really enjoyed going out there to play in the woods and putter around, but I've been just as happy to leave again at the end of the day. Our old place has been home for over twenty years, after all. It's familiar and comfortable, filled with happy memories and our handmade details. Until this year, I did not expect ever to leave it.

Then too, our pilot son lives here when he is in town, but he has elected not to move with us. He's looking at homes closer to the airport. I know it's past time for him to have his own place, and that having him back for this extra year has been a bonus. But I am so sad to think we will never again be all together as one family, under one roof.

The hubby is having the time of his life out there already, and he's champing at the bit to get moved in so he can spend evenings working around the place. Our younger son is ready whenever we are. I am the only one dragging my feet.

For better or worse, the moving van is reserved for next weekend. I'm trying to focus on all the new projects and possibilities ahead. There are so many things to look forward to, I know, and I should be the happiest woman on earth. But I just can't seem to let go.

Am I nuts?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Look, Quick ...

Bird Mushroom Flickrsize

Did you see a white bird on the tree trunk at first glance? So did I!

It's yet another kind of mushroom, though, growing back in the woods behind the house. I think it's gorgeous. Here's a closeup:

Bird Mushroom Closeup2

And a view from beneath the "wings":

Bird Mushroom Underside

I hope you guys like mushrooms as much as I do, because I don't think I'm ever going to get tired of them. The variety, the colors, the architectural quality ... I find them exquisite. Add to that their ephemeral nature and the fact that most of them are made of poison, and then you tell me what beats a 'shroom for an intriguing subject.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fabulous Fall Decor Award!

Hey Ma, look what Kim from Wishnik Woods gave me! It's Havenwood's first award, and I'm so flattered. Thanks, Kim, for thinking of me.

The rules are to pick up and post the award and to pass it along to six deserving recipients. With so many of my favorite blogs looking gorgeous in autumn colors right now, this is going to be eeeeeeeeasy.

Rambling Woods is a good choice, with beautiful photos and and almost daily updates on the seasonal changes around the pond.

Then there is Carly at Ellipsis. Carly LIVES for autumn. You're likely to find a touch of fall there any time of year.

Ellen at The Happy Wonderer has got it goin' on, with pumpkins, kids, and Halloween decorations galore.

Work of the Poet, home of Mary's "Ruby Tuesday" meme is featuring Halloween this week.

The order of the day is autumn leaves and country fun over at Five Green Acres.

And finally, a neat blog I've recently found, Our Little Acre. There you'll find a nifty corn maze, among other great fall stuff. I guess I'll have to come out of lurk mode and introduce myself over there... ::Running a comb through my hair and checking my jeans for rips in Bad Places::

Monday, October 20, 2008

Into the Woods

Yesterday was a perfect autumn day. The air was cool, the trees were aglow with sunlight, and the wind made the whole forest rustle. Come along with me for a walk in the woods?

We'll stop by the pond first, to admire the watercolor reflections there. No frogs today; it's getting cold for them, I think.

Autumn Pond

Just beyond the pond stand some lovely old trees, all decked out for fall.

Pond Trees2

The red maple marks the trail head, standing like a great, flaming gate to a secret world.

Trail Head

Passing under the guardian tree, we enter the cool, quiet woods.

Trail Head Maple2

An archway of saplings makes for a fine, welcoming entrance.

Trail Arches2

Stand still for a minute, and listen to the leaves as they rustle and fall:

Falling Leaves from My Maracas on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sunny, With a Chance of Turkeys

I've seen turkey feathers in the fields and woods around here since day one. The turkeys themselves, though, have been another story.

Wiley and shy, wild turkeys are seldom seen out in the open. Still, I'd heard tales ... "Mom, there were turkeys crossing the road as I drove in today!" ... "Vick, you should have been here this morning. There were twenty turkeys in the front yard!" ... turkeys at the pond ... turkeys in the friggin' trees ... and I hadn't seen a one. Until yesterday. When I didn't have my camera.

There I was, see, checking out the new stove and fridge that had been installed in my absence that day. From the corner of my eye, through the kitchen window, I spotted something large and dark moving at the far end of the pasture. So I grabbed my binoculars and finally caught sight of these turkeys I'd heard so much about. I just had to try to get a closer look.

Now, I'm thinking that turkeys don't fly if they don't have to. They're inside the fence, and there's only one gate. I should be able to just sort of casually sneak up on them. So off I went, strolling toward the pasture and through the gate, hands in pockets, not looking directly at my quarry. I felt like Elmer Fudd stalking a wabbit.

Most of the birds ignored me, but two of them were already watching me intently. I feigned interest in the manure pile for a while, trying to look like a fellow bug browser. They didn't buy it. The flock moved a little further back in the field. Now and then, I'd take a peek at them through the binoculars. Admire the manure. Peek again.

Time for a closer stroll. By the time I got about halfway to the flock, several of them were focused entirely on me. I suddenly realized that these were damn big birds. And I began to question how close I really wanted to get to an angry wild turkey.

While I pondered the possibility of being attacked by turkeys, the birds decided they'd had enough. One by one, they strutted over to the fence and flew up onto a wooden railing. Several of them sat there for a while, looking me over, before drifting down into the woods and melting into the shadows. I would have killed for a camera, but somehow I think I would have missed the moment if I'd had one.

So all you get to see today are the feathers we've collected, as proof that the gobblers are out there. Until now, that's all I had, too.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mystery Solved!

I am so ashamed of myself. West Virginia born and raised, and I didn't know a ramp when I saw one.

Research on the onion garlic (oops - I meant to say garlic chives) introduced at last week's herb class led me to photos of my mystery plant, and it turns out they are the related plant known as ramsons, AKA ramps. Ramps are wild leeks prized in the south for pungent, tasty spring dishes. And West Virginia is the ramp capital of the world. It is home to a number of famous "ramp feeds," foremost among them the annual event in Richwood. There, hundreds of people come from miles around to enjoy ramps with the traditional sides of bacon, beans and cornbread.

Now in all fairness, we were townies. We lived in the suburbs in Charleston. Ramp feeds were something we saw on the news, and they happened out in the country. We were good with that, because ... well, because people who do eat ramps stink for days. We are talking way beyond garlic here. The ramp isn't just on your breath; it actually permeates your system, and is excreted from the skin as well, so that your personal stench cloud extends for a few feet in all directions. But those who love them swear it's worth a few days in exile.

I remember my dad, a country boy at heart, coming home from business in the hills a few times after having partaken. He was indeed impressively odiferous. My mother would fuss and scold about it, but he just endured her displeasure with a sheepish grin. I don't think he was the least bit sorry. When I realized what my "exotic wildflowers" were, I could almost hear him laughing at me from Heaven.

So will I fry up a mess o' ramps this spring? I don't think my coworkers would appreciate it, but we'll see. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Herb Gardening 101

I've long thought that I would enjoy having an herb garden. It intrigues me to think of plants having powers to heal and protect, and I like the earthy flavors of culinary herbs. So of course I signed up for a three-part presentation a master gardener is doing at the local library, starting tonight. Surprisingly enough, the hubby agreed to go along.

Unfortunately, the presentation was a bit disappointing, lacking any semblance of cohesion. The presenter seemed to forget what point she was trying to make, and went off on tangents that reduced the speech to a collection of random facts. Still, she obviously knew her stuff, and I did learn a thing or two. First among them, that I have to wait for spring to plant them, and that I'll need to be able to overwinter quite a few of them indoors. I thought they were hardier than that.

The room was full of interesting people though, and I hope they all come back for the rest of the meetings. We had three other master gardeners in attendance, including a couple who run a perennial business and want to add herbs to their stock. There was a woman who claimed to be a shaman and a practitioner of holistic healing. There were people looking to spice up their cooking, and people who were just curious about the topic.

One of the women in attendance brought with her a bag of green stems to give away, the plants I'm holding in the photo. She said they were seed heads of garlic chives. Do they not look a whole lot like the mystery plant from a couple of posts ago? The ones in the woods are bigger, and their seeds are rounder, but otherwise they're the same. The woodlings grow from a bulb that sits on top of the ground and looks a lot like a clove of garlic. I think I'm getting close to identifying them, based on a chance encounter. What are the odds?

Actually, this sort of thing has been happening a lot with this house. There have been so many serendipitous events, so many coincidences and lucky breaks. I'm taking it all as a Good Sign.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

To Bee or Not To Bee

When we bought the new place, we inherited a bee hive. Actually, we inherited quite a few, but most were paper wasps and yellow jackets that have since been evicted. This one, however was a honey bee hive, and I wasn't at all sure what to do with it. I didn't want to harm the little beasties, but I didn't want them stinging us, either.

So off I went to the library, where I checked out Beekeeping for Dummies. Fascinating creatures, bees, but they're not exactly low maintenance. And a lot of that maintenance involves opening the hive and poking around in there. I didn't have to read very far before deciding this wasn't going to be a whole hunk o' fun. So now what?

The librarian suggested the Humane Society, and they suggested Critter Gitter, and the guy who gits critters suggested his next door neighbor, who just happens to be a beekeeper. Score!

Bee Guy called within hours, ecstatic at the prospect of relieving me of my bees. He was in his truck before we were even off the phone. Anticipating an exciting afternoon, I rounded up the guys and we set off to meet him at the house.

As luck would have it, it was rainy and cold, so all of the bees were hunkered down in the hive. Bee Guy arrived with a dolly and a smoker, and we retreated to what seemed like a safe distance, prepared to witness The Battle of the Bees.

It never happened. Bee Guy simply waded into the tall grass we'd been afraid to mow, picked up the box, and carted it off to his truck. We couldn't believe it. The hive didn't even notice, much less object, that some dude was making off with their whole nest. The entire event took all of five minutes.

The only bees we saw were the few visible when he opened the top to show us the inside of the box. He offered to open the next layer, where there would be a lot more, but he allowed as how that could get "a bit stingy." We opted to avoid the stinginess.

So Bee Guy got a new hive, which he will rent to farmers for pollination. The bees got somebody to take care of them. And we got the bees removed for free plus a big jar of honey as a thank-you gift. Don't you love it when things work out?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Name That Plant

Anybody know what this is? They're the only thing that seems happy to grow in our woods, besides the mushrooms. They're just a stem with this array of green orbs on top, which are now opening to reveal black seeds. They grow in large groups.

I've never seen anything like them. Have you? (Click the photo to enlarge it.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Death to Contact Paper

Why does everything have to be so friggin' hard?

I thought it would be great to have so many kitchen cabinets. That was before I tried to clean the buggers. The finish is so grubby that they require actual scrubbing, and in the twenty years they've been there I don't think anybody has ever removed the drawers and cleaned out the frames. But that's only the half of it.

The issue here is Contact Paper. There are three different patterns. One of them is the normal stuff that peels off. Two are on there with what has to be some kind of industrial glue. And it. is. everywhere.

It took all my strength to get it ripped off of two drawer bottoms, and the sticky residue that was left is just not coming off. I've tried everything I can think of, and none of it has any effect on the goo.

Given that we're planning to replace these somewhere along the way, I think I'm just going to have to buy new paper and stick it on top of the old, worn out stuff. Man, I hate that idea.

No point here, by the way. Just venting.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kiva, This One's for You

I double-posted the mushroom photos, here and on Maraca, as few people have found Havenwood yet. Over there, my friend Kiva left a comment that gave me pause:

"I definitely like the results of your new set priorities. I've never seen so many different types of mushrooms in one single area. I especially like the orange color on that one mushroom.

Do you think the mosquitoes were actually fairies teasing you?

Motherly nag: If they were mosquitoes, you better get some insect repellent with Deet in it. It's not good to be bitten. They carry all sort of nasty things including West Nile."

Oh ... yeah. West Nile. I forgot about that. Way back when I was a kid, mosquito bites were a minor nuisance and a badge of honor. We'd count them, and the kid with the most bites won.

So how serious could it be, really? I did a quick Google, and discovered that while most people have mild symptoms, the few who have severe reactions are in deep poo-doo. And people over 50 are more likely to have severe symptoms. (Great. Another reason to love getting old.)

I rummaged out the black fly defensive gear left from vacation this summer, and now I wear it all and douse it in industrial strength Deet before I go mucking around in the woods. It may not be pretty, but it's much more attractive than a hospital gown, don't you think? Now, I just have to convince my kids to take precautions.

Kiva, thanks for the motherly nag. Moms always do know best.

P.S. Hanna at This Garden Is Illegal recommends Mosquito Dunks, among other things. You can bet I'll be stocking up on those, too. Thanks, Hanna!


We has dem! Honest to goodness bluebirds -- not jays, bluebirds! Yesterday, three of them perched on the fence posts, hunting. They'd watch the ground for a bit, then dive down and then fly back up to the post with a tasty morsel. I must have sat there with my binoculars for twenty minutes, enchanted.

I do not, however, have any photos of them; my camera just can't zoom that far. I'm hoping Santa will remedy that problem, but he may be tapped out by then. Dang.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Good Fit for Fairies


These mushrooms grow along the pine border in the background of the photo in my last post. They are huge, at least eight to ten inches tall and equally as wide. The day after this was taken, the one in the foreground had a bite out of it, probably nibbled by one of the many deer that come through there every day.

The fields and woods around here are just studded with all kinds of amazing mushrooms. Recent heavy rains have brought in a bumper crop of them, and I simply can't resist a daily foray into the underbrush in search of the exotic and vaguely mysterious little creatures.

Egg Yolk Mushroom

This one and the next are also inhabitants of the pine line. The one above is about three inches tall, shares the edge of the path with the big boys above, and looks like an egg yolk hovering just above the ground. The next one is about six inches tall, and seems to prefer the deep shade back near the tree trunks. See the others in the background?

Amanita Muscaria

Unfortunately, the rains have also increased the mosquito population to nearly intolerable levels. As long as I keep up a brisk walk, I'm relatively safe. But within seconds of stopping for a photograph I am enveloped in a stabbing, buzzing swarm. The last outing cost me 16 new bites. Totally worth it:


Is this cute, or what. It's only about an inch high, and is growing all alone in the middle of a mossy path around the pond. Deeper in the woods, these mottled brown fellows grow among the roots of oaks and beeches...

Brown Bitten Mushroom

Apparently, given all the bites around the edges, some small animal finds them tasty. Below, on an old rotting log, these fragile, ethereal beauties jostle for light like a flight of angels hurrying home to Heaven.

Ethereal Mushrooms

It is difficult to pay attention to camera settings while being eaten alive, so these could be better, I'm sure. Dedication to the perfect shot only carries me so far. But these are my favorites to date, and I hope you like them too.

There is so much work to be done here, and running off to the woods with a camera while cabinets need scrubbing would have been unthinkable a short while ago. However, under my new set of priorities, pleasurable pursuits trump domestic duties. Because I say so.

Clearing the Decks

It's been an exhausting, exciting few days getting ready to move into the new place. The hubby has worked dawn to dusk doing roof repairs, installing a new well tank, and swapping out old, corroded faucets for new ones.

For fun, he takes the new tractor for a spin, poking around for things he can mow, move, or bulldoze. With the water off in the house for the plumbing projects, I haven't gotten much done yet. It's frustrating, but what're ya gonna do.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Welcome to Havenwood

Hello there! Come in and make yourself at home.

This is our un-retirement place in the country, where I've always wanted to be. There are 20 acres divided between woods, wetland woods, tall grass and prairie remnant, and a naturally occurring pond. Plunked in the middle of it all is a typical suburban style house with a bit of garden and a veggie patch.

We are working with the land to preserve native species of all kinds, avoiding chemicals and exploring green ways of living.

We're also taking up hobbies new and old: photography, woodworking, cooking and baking, pottery and gardening.

I hope you'll stop by often and share your own stories. Again, welcome!

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: It's Ours!

We closed on the new house today!

I'm still half thrilled and half terrified. We spent the whole day there, the hubby mowing weeds and me exploring nooks and crannies, airing the place out and deciding on paint colors. Now, at last, this is beginning to feel real.

There are some fairly major things that still need doing, foremost among them being pumping out the septic tank and putting in a radon remediation system in the basement. I'll need kitchen appliances, too, which is a whole other post. But I'm excited about all the possibilities of life in the country.

The really nice thing about this place is the variety. There are irrigated open spaces for growing things, a fenced pasture and barn, plus acres of woods and a pond.

Oh yeah. This is gonna be fun.

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(Click photos to enlarge.)