Sunday, September 27, 2009

But I Have A Counter!

I lived in this house for ten years without a kitchen of any kind. I purchased the house when it was just a shell; it had been empty for 20 years and had never been updated. No electrical service, no running water, no heat. It was just as it was when it was built in 1917 from the fallen chestnut trees cut from this very property killed by the blight. It is home.

So, when I completed the first phase of the kitchen, I was in my last year of graduate school and was working full-time teaching at the community college. It was a hectic time! My son was in high school and keeping up with him and myself was a challenge. Thus, most of the renovation decisions were made by my brother who is a historical resorationist. He liked green, so I had a green counter, walls, and SINK when I came home one day! Ack! My lovely butcher block countertops and white, single-basin sink were gone!

I lived with this arrangement for ten years, keeping my beloved sink in storage, waiting for the day to switch it out. The existing hole was just too big for me to make the switch and I had to wait until I could replace the counter. So, there it was. My lovely sink in storage and the horrible green sink taunting me every time I went to the kitchen.

Now, I am finally able to switch the countertop and sink out. No one every took more delight in demolition than I did when the green sink went out the back door! The butcherblock countertop slid right into place; perfect! We carried the sink into the kitchen and got ready to install it. The metal rim which holds the sink had been damaged! Oh no! Lengthy discussions were held on how we might save it. Nothing would work. We would have to have a new rim or a new sink.

About two dozen phone calls, one 200 mile round trip to collect a rim that didn't fit, and a lot of crying later, I realized I would have to find another single-bowl sink. Fortunately, two hours on the internet was all it required and the sink is now on its way. In the meantime, I am using my grandmother's enamel wash basin and doing dishes in the bathtub.

It will be ten days before the new sink is delivered, but I can wait. It has been many years since I really liked my kitchen. This week, I have decided, I will repaint it the creme and deep red I so loved in the previous kitchen. And, looking on the bright side, at least I have a counter!

What kind of renovation challenges have you faced?

Added later: Do you think dangling over the tub edge whilst washing the dishes can count for an ab workout?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Do You Ever Get THE Blues?

Yesterday, for all its promise in the morning, was a dud of a day.

I picked up my new kitchen counters. Yah!

They are filling the floor of the kitchen until the carpenter installs them. And, the dining room is full of boxes from the cabinets and the makeshift cabinets which shall soon be replaced with REAL cabinets. Boo!

I had a man call wanting to buy two bucks. Yah!

I think he may plan to eat them. Boo!

I have been moderately successful with my new eating plan. Yah!

My son baked a chocolate POUND cake. Boo!

Don's arm is improving daily. He is now able to push things like the mower and the TV remote. Yah!

He is still home. All day. Every day. And watching TV. All day. Every day. Boo!

And so it goes.

Do you ever feel like you just want to get in your car and drive to the nearest bed and breakfast (I'd never run away to a Holiday Inn. Not romantic enough!) and just hide your head for a three-day weekend? Have you ever wanted to be like that fella in the play who pretended he couldn't hear so that folks wouldn't talk to him?

I think I will have more cake now....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Where is my Heathcliff?

The past few days have been very foggy here at Lazy Bee Farm. As the temperature begins to slide downward, the New River has yet to cool off as much and so a dense fog develops along the hollows. It is a lovely fog. Thick, grey, cool, it brings to mind the lovely stories of the darling Bronte sisters. I watch for Heathcliff to emerge from the fog, coming to find 'his Catherine.' Sigh. Don't we all want our own Heathcliff?? Dark, brooding, energetic... But I digress.

While I find it highly romantic, it does call to mind the old wive's tale that the number of fogs in August indicate the number of snows in the coming winter. Should this be true, I will not be out of the hollow again until May. We have been swamped in more days than not this past August. Nearly every day has been foggy until mid-morning. Lovely for me; terrible for everything else.

Our tomatoes failed us terribly; even the things that are supposed to love love love the cool weather, such as cabbage, have failed to thrive. In short, we have potatoes and apples and little more on the farm this year. I am putting in a fall garden and plan to try the Eliot Coleman four season plan this year. It is the goal to avoid that over-the-top manner I usually try. Believe me, I am the person who plants every space on the farm and then whines that I can't keep up. Getting older means that maybe I am getting smarter. This time, the plan is to have a small space, in the potato bed by the old chicken coop, with just a few things -- greens, parsnips, and cabbage. We'll see how it goes.

It is nearly time to add more blueberries as well. Have you ever browsed the Ison's website? Their orchard and berry plants are the best I have ever seen. Twenty-five years ago we planted an orchard (750 nectarines) and 10 acres of blueberries at the family farm (Happy Hollow Farm) in Mt. Airy. I think we lost two plants. Last year, I made the commitment to add U-Pick berries here at Lazy Bee Farm. I planted 60 blueberry bushes and only lost two plants. This year, I will add another 60 plants. It is a three year plan, so there will be 180 total plants, or about three acres, of berries here. We are planting an orchard as well. We add 12 trees a year, with the final goal being a small U-Pick orchard of three acres as well. While the market may not ever rebound, I can have confidence that God will nurish my little Eden here on earth!

In the meantime, I will make another cup of tea, build my garden in the air, and try to remember where I put my snow shoes!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

15 seconds until you're dinner...

Sunday I moved Ms. Turkey Lurkey from her shared pen with Helen, the blind duck, and George, her mate. Well, move makes it sound like I opened the pen and she sashayed right out and to the coop. She didn't. And I have the bruises to prove it.

Jane jokingly remarked that I sure had problems with escaping animals; however, such was not the case with Ms. Lurkey. She was determined to remain with her friends. She didn't care if it was wet; she didn't care if the pen was small. She was happy and settled, thank you very much. She had decorated and didn't want to relocate.

When I entered the pen, I reached down to lift her, as I do all the birds, with her wings penned against her body so she wouldn't hurt herself. Yeah. Right. I couldn't lift her! Seems that her svelte figure belied the fact that she is a stout 50-plus pounder. Yep. All 50-plus pounds of her. I know because I can lift a 50 pound feed sack with one arm. I couldn't budge her.

One wing sprang free as I attempted to struggle to lift her. Honestly, I felt as though I was one of the denied Knights trying to pull Excalibur from the stone. I tried to re-pen her wing, but she flogged the tar out of me, striking me cleanly on the jaw, causing me to not only let go, but to see stars as I fell against the pen!

She strutted off, making her sweet little chirps as she waddled away. I spit blood on the ground, rubbed my injured check, and tried to plan my next attack.

Again, I walked slowly to her. She turned her back, luring me into the confidence that she was going easy this time. I reached down. She nailed me again, slinging me against the pen one more time.

She waddled off, chirping happily as I again spit blood on the ground.

Don was watching all this from the safety of OUTSIDE the pen. As he still can't use his right arm, he was trying to give moral support.

"Maybe if you try from the other side?" he offered.

Silly city boy! I thought. She can see from both eyes.

I pondered her a minute longer, trying to find her weak point. Then, I remembered my classical literature.

Slowly, I again walked up to her turned back. But this time, instead of reaching for her, I snatched her by the ankles and turned her head over heels and lifted her. Barely.

She flogged the air, turning to strike me. I just held her higher and proudly strode to the chicken coop. She yelled; she threatened; she flogged. I held tight. I didn't dare let go!

When we finally got to the coop, I set her face down in the dirt.

"Here you are!" I called cheerfully. "Even turkeys have Achilles tendons, eh?"

She rolled over and gave me the stink eye. Then, she fluffed herself up, trying to regain her lost dignity, and coolly eyed the dumbfounded hens. Curious, they carefully hopped over toward her, only to be repelled by her flapping wings.

Don't you know the chickens lived hard that night?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Grandma's dishes

Twice a year our everyday dishes are switched out. For spring and summer we use Lenox Butterfly Meadow; but, for fall and winter we switch to Grandma's heavy brown Hull dishes. The dishes were made in the USA and Grandma Arrington, who paired socks for more than 60 years at Spencer's, would take a little of her pay and purchase another plate, cup, or serving piece. One of my fondest memories is of Grandma filling a small plate with several of her steaming hot biscuits along with butter and honey swirled together, and sitting me down at her kitchen table because I "looked hongry."
Grandma would give me coffee, more cream and sugar than coffee, to be honest. I would feel so grown up as I would sip from the heavy mug while listening to Grandma and Grandpa talk about their neighbors, their jobs, or their churches. They never attended the same one; this was a sticking point in their relationship until their deaths. There was always a steaming perculator on the countertop full of coffee so strong that it would make your nose burn. There are probably less than three days that I can ever think of there not being a cup of it in Grandpa's hands while a filterless cigarette dangled from the other. Even today, the combination of those smells brings back my childhood and the feel of their kitchen.

The dishes provide not only the touchstone to my Grandmother, long since among those whose name "was called up yonder", to quote her favorite hymn, but also a reminder of simpler times, family times. There was a place in the past when families met every Sunday for dinner with the "folks" and all the aunts, uncles, and cousins would be there. Tables would groan under the many dishes served, jokes told, games played as we learned about each other and our family. Stories, oral histories, would be shared, such as the one of Great-Grandpa John, who was Scot-Irish, accidentially giving the minister a $10 bill instead of the $1 he intended and how Great-Grandma Ziporah had to literally hold him to keep him from wrestling it from the Preacher's hand.

The dishes remind me, too, of the importance of tradition. These were Grandma's every day dishes. And, so, they are mine. They are meant to be used, enjoyed, and, perhaps, broken. They are just "things." The truly important reminder is just that, they are things. The real importance is the memory of hands that had turned more than a million pairs of socks, picking up and admiring a cup, plate, or dish, purchasing it and then filling it again and again with lovingly prepared food. There is the treasure. I miss you, Grandma.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I want to garden like Tom!

Yesterday I took a class to Montecello and Montpelier. What inspirational homes! While the tour of Montecello was more like a forced march, "Come along! We have another group behind us!" it was still enjoyable. My students were fascinated by the alcove beds, the polygraph machine which created duplicates of handwritten documents, and the gardens. We were all inspired by the lovely vegetable garden, which although it was being put to bed, was still striking. Full of old fashioned veggies, the garden was so well maintained and organized, I wanted to come home and till under everything in my yard and redo it all!

And, we won't even discuss the flower gardens! So lovely! So many old varieties were in residence in the garden. We walked, compared and took a ton of photos. I was impressed that students wanted to "take a picture to show my Mom!" of the gardens. No wonder I love this class so much! They are great!

The point of the day was to learn more about how that sense of place informs our understanding of the literature we are reading in "Women in Literature." While Montecello is more about Mr. Jefferson, Montpelier is all about Dolley Madison. I would have loved to have known her! What a personality and such energy! Did you know that she had a special seat in Congress throughout her life so that she could come and observe the goings on? And, were you aware that she instituted the Inaugural Ball and the White House Easter Egg Roll?

Perhaps the most surprising discovery of the day was that my students, by and large, and never traveled in their own state! They knew little of the history of the people who were national leaders nor about their lives! What a great experience to hear on the drive home that, "This was cool! Can we do another trip?" And, btw, they are COLLEGE students! Isn't this just too wonderful?

Do you travel in your own state? Do you know about your state's history?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bless this house

There is a wonderful junque store near us, "Polly World", where one may find any number of things from lovely glass to fireplace inserts to mismatched dishes to very old farm implements. Polly and Jack are the kind of people who never know a stranger and that make you always feel as though they were waiting just for you to come visit!
A few months ago, Don and I were "visiting" (read: shopping) and a fella came in with a box of his mother's treasures. Momma had gone home to the Lord and he had been cleaning out the house. We could already tell he was single and that he had no sisters because this lovely piece was in the box of goodies he brought in. I nearly cried to think that Momma had worked so hard on this (as well as on the lace, aprons, tablecloths, and other wonderful hand created delights) and now it would left with strangers. It felt as though I was watching someone set out a dog on the highway. I was physically ill.
And, so, you know that I had to talk to him and find out about Momma and how old the piece might be and so forth. Polly could tell I wanted the piece desparately; she understands the love I have for wonderful hand created things. It is what I do and I desparately hope that someone will treasure what I leave behind. It is like Aunt Jane says in Aunt Jane of Kentucky: "Honey, cooking and cleaning don't last, but a bit of calerker will. Ain't that the saddest thing to understand?"
Polly couldn't make me a price right then, but she remembered me and tucked this away for my next visit. Words cannot express my sheer delight that this, along with several other wonders, have come to my house to live. Although I have no daughters, I have a wonderful son who understands the importance of textiles, especially hand created ones. He will make sure that my goodies are loved or place in a loving home.
Who could ask for more? I hope Momma would be pleased.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Bringing in feed for the goats is seldom easy and never fun. We try to buy two weeks at a time, so we are hauling in 5 50-lb. sacks at a time. It becomes a match of wits as we struggle to bring IN the food while keeping the goats IN as well. Chalk it up to poor fence planning and not having an easy way to close off the back door of the milking parlor. We have to open the gate to get to the door. This is usually when the goats, in the guise of eating hay and watching the chickens, lay their plans to escape.

Today was no exception. I drove the Forester to the fence and backed up. Pulling my cart around, I unloaded the feed into the cart, only to discover that the handle had pulled loose. So, I was reduced to carrying the sacks from the car to the milking parlor. Fortunately, John came in just in time and he carried most of the bags for me. So my job was to "distract" the goats so that he could get in without being bushwacked.

While I was waylaying the bucks, the does, led by Mary, the roundest pygmy you have seen, made a break by pushing the gate open and heading for parts unknown. When I found them, they were having a leisurely meal of the duck's cracked corn. Mary had wiped out the bowl while Clara was trying to find a way into the cracked corn bag. Lucy had scooted to the space between the coop and the toolshed and was enjoying the geranuims in the window box. Mia was working her way into the turkey lot and Clarice was hiding behind the clothesline eating a delectable meal of goldenrod.

Frustrated, I began to take each one to the barn. After 20 minutes, everyone was where they should be, bellies full of what they most likely shouldn't have had, but at least they were in the fence. As I began to milk, I thought, "why didn't I just open the milking parlor door? They would have come right to the door."

Sometimes the goats are just smarter than I am.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pigs charged with breaking and entering....

More than a few years ago, my husband and I decided that we wanted to raise pigs. Don't ask me why. It makes no sense to me now, but it did then. We purchased a lovely Yorkshire pig named Wilma. She had many husbands named Fred all of whom died tragically in a butcher shop accident. Anyhow, this particular year we had bought four gilts (young female pigs) and let Fred have a harem. Ultimately, we ended up with more than 60 darling pink and white piglets. Little did we know that they had a strong criminal gene.

Shortly after the gilts and Wilma had farrowed, we decided we needed a short vacation. We recruited our friend Tony to check in on the girls and feed them twice a day. They knew him well and so we just knew it would be an uneventful week. We packed the van, loaded up the children, and off we went, merrily to Dillsboro for a few days of R and R.

The second day, we returned to find a message on the chalk board mounted on our cabin's front door. It was short and sweet: "Call home immediately, please!"

My husband rushed to the lodge manager's office, and called home, thinking that the house had burned to the ground or we had been robbed. If only it had been that easy.

When he returned to the cabin, he was wiping his eyes.

"Oh no!" I thought. "Someone is dead..."

Then he sat down, his head in his hands, and his shoulders were shaking. By now I was beside myself trying to think of what could be so terrible. My parents? His? The house? What?

Finally, I couldn't stand it. "What is wrong?" I demanded.

He lifted his head and I realized he had laughed so hard he was still weeping.

"It is the pigs," he struggled to say and he collapsed into giggles again.


"Yeah; they got out."

He snorted.

"And ran down the road."

He chuckled, struggling to maintain some composure.

"And broke into Paul's store. Knocked the door clear off the hinges, according to the Highway Patrol."

He fell back into the chair and started laughing uncontrollably.

"Then they preceeded to eat an entire bushel of tomatoes in a box on the floor, knocked over the bread counter and ate all the bread. Then, they ran out on the Parkway."

By this time I was sitting and giggling.

"Is that all? Is everyone okay and back home?" I asked.

"Nopers. It gets worse.. or better... it really depends on who you ask."

"What!??" I demanded.

"The State Police, the Blue Ridge Parkway Rangers, and the County Sheriff's deputies are trying to wrangle the pigs off the road, but they can't seem to get all of 'em in one place at one time. Traffic is stopped on the Parkway while they chase the pigs. Seems it has created quite a mess. Tony thinks we need to come home to get the pigs in."

He was laughing so hard that he couldn't finish his sentence.

"Well? Does anyone know whose pigs they are? Are we going home?"

He lifted an eyebrow and wiped away another tear.

"What do you think? If we stay here, no one will know they are OUR pigs. Maybe things will calm down by the time we get home. What do you say?"

"Fine by me; how about BBQ for dinner?"

Even now, I have visions of 60-plus pigs, mouths ringed in tomatoes, wearing black shirts and masks holding up cars on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Did I mention that we no longer have pigs?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Isn't this cunning?

Today we had to run to Miller Bee Supply to pick up a few things to get ready to spin honey. I adore going to visit Beverly and Presley. They are such interesting people and make you feel so very at home! The saddest thing to me is that we live more than an hour and several mountains apart. Beverly and I always plan to "meet for lunch" but with their growing business and Don and I working, there just doesn't ever seem to be time. Isn't that how life is?

Anyhow, whilst there, I spotted the most adorable bee items! Beverly's Pennsylvania niece is creating these wonderful pieces in her spare time. Now, bear in mind this little lady works a demanding job, but still has time to create the most precious goodies. This is called a "light's out jar." Can you guess why?

If you lift the top, which will fit either a taper on one side or a tea light on the other, you can store candles and matches for those times when "the lights go out!" Isn't that just too dear? I was so smitten that I just had to have one. So, dear Don antied up and got me this little treasure. Beverly also had canisters which resembled a bee hive with charming gardens and beeskep (of course!) detailed on the lids. Hive bird houses, tea light holders, and the most adorable ceramic flowers with bees lit on them filled out the collection. I wish I could have had every one of them!

A few nights ago, when Don went to feed the bucks, he came back with a little charmer. What do you think? It is a mushroom! Although I created my very first, and so far only, shitake log this spring, I think if I found this growing on it, I wouldn't eat it. Would you?? By the next morning, the 'shroom was gone, but I have to wonder... I believe in fairy rings. What kind of "fairy" do you think made this? All I can think of is Johnny Depp or Shakespeare's witches in "the play" (MacBeth).
So, all this is really to show off my newfound skill! I can post pictures now! Hooray! Oh, the things we can see now! What fun!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Morning has broken

The best part of my day has to be the time between 5 and 6 a.m. I have an 8 a.m. class and an hour drive before I get to work, so I have, ironically, become an early riser. As a teen-ager and young adult, I always worked a third shift job because I was wired to be a late night person. Mornings made me break out in hives....

Living out in the country as we do, we have no near neighbors for more than three miles, if you don't count the monstrousity being built on the ridge which is a summer and vacation home. We are all alone in our little hollow and always will be as I own most of what I see here. Thus, it is quiet here. So quiet that you can hear the cycadas, crickets, deer crashing in the woods, and the turkeys gobble. Woodpeckers live in our bottom meadow and we regularly hear them chipping at the dead trees for a delicious breakfast of fresh bugs.

This morning there is a magical mist on the meadow between the house and the woods which form my southern boundry. It is in this meadow that the does live and the chicken coop is nestled. My potato bed and garden are in the edge of this meadow, so it is a very snuggly feeling to look out and see all this sweeping off to the south. The mist gave everything a feeling that the Irish in me relates with fairies and all things magic between this world and the next.

The dogs sleepily come to breakfast as do the cats. The does low softly, calling 'good morning' to me. Chickens sing their soft song as they slowly wake up and the rooster announces that dawn is nearly here.

I love this time of day because of the sense of promise. The day is fresh, shrouded as my meadow in the mist, wrapped in what Emily Dickinson called "possibility." Once I open my college email, once I get on campus, my day slips away. It is too busy for me. Meetings, students, classes, paperwork, and all the various things that fill the day keep me from even finding time to take a walk. Lunch is often grabbed between writing lab and club meetings. Often, even in the bathroom, a student will ask, "Is that you? I recognize your shoes."

And yet, between 5 and 6 a.m., my life is quiet. I sit with my friend, God, and we talk for a little bit. I savor my breakfast and day dream of quiet summer mornings, crisp fall mornings, promised snow days, and spring break. I build my castles in the air. And, until the sun melts the mist, my life is my own.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Grandma's Frugal

Yesterday I went with a friend to a local restuarant for a baked potato and, while we were talking, our favorite server rushed past, arms and hands full. Just as she turned the corner, down went her apron -- right to her feet. She stopped to look at it and I laughed out loud. Then we all, my friend, the other servers and I, all just roared and I giggled, "Lucky it wasn't your pants!"

This got us to talking about funny wardrobe malfunctions that we have all had when I remembered my Great-Grandmother Gunter. She was Scot-Irish and that alone should tell you how very "careful" she was with a penny, much less a dollar. While she was a terrible housekeeper and cook (except Irish soda bread, for crying out loud), she would walk five miles to see a good horse or fight. She would have her shoes resoled until there was nothing to attach the new sole to.

Once, when I was quite small, maybe six or seven, we were in downtown Mt. Airy (think: Mayberry) and walking past Rose's when, Grandma's panties fell down around her ankles! Seems that she had worn them until the elastic was gone and she had tied a knot in them to keep them up. But, as she had walked, the knot worked out and, whosh, down they came! She stood there for a minute looking down; then, she looked around. Carefully, she stepped out of her drawers, took one shoe, looped a leg opening around the toe, and kicked them under the Chevy parked on the street. Then, tucking her purse under her arm, she said in her terse, Scot-Irish accented voice, "Let's go, wee one."

I dared not giggle.... until I got home.

Grandma went home to the Lord more than 40 years ago, but I can still see those panties wadded up on the ground and her stepping out of them. I guess it is a small wonder that she didn't pick 'em up and tuck them in her purse for 'next time!'

What is your favorite wardrobe malfunction?