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Monday, March 9, 2015

Deer watching is a favorite pasttime

CHMusings: Deer eating grass
She looks to be enjoying her feast of emerging green grass. I just can't stop watching!
I remember the first time my husband John and I came to Arkansas on vacation. It was 1997. He knew then that this is where he wanted us to live. I came around a short time later and have never regretted our decision.

At the time, we had never heard of Bull Shoals Lake, Lake Norfork, or the Twin Lakes area. We never even considered moving far away from where we had spent our entire lives, until that one week in May when a friend of ours talked us into meeting him at a cabin on Bull Shoals Lake. Our lives changed forever that week.

Somebody recently asked what we did on vacation. Did we fish? Did we go boating? I said we drove around, just taking in the beauty and serenity of the area.

One moment that really stood out in our minds, and we have often laughed about it; we were traveling on some dirt road somewhere, when we came upon two deer standing in somebody's front yard. We parked our car and just watched them. We were awestruck. We couldn't believe how lucky people were to live in a place where deer just hang out in the front yard.

I have to admit, the first time a herd of deer came to our front yard, we relived that early amazement. There are lots of deer here and they visit often. It isn't uncommon to drop what we're doing and just gaze out the window at them. They are such beautiful animals.
CHMusings: Deer in the garden
Who us? they ask as they rummage through the perennial bed.

They can also be naughty. These two know, at right, are standing in what will soon be the perennial flower bed. I have lost vegetables, flowers, and trees every year from the deer feasting where they don't belong.

I get angry for the moment, but can't help but get over it easily. After all, they were here first. We are honored and humbled that these still wild animals let us share the forest with them.

CHMusings: Oh deer, a baby bump
Could that be a baby bump?
One of the biggest thrills for me came in the last two years, when the herd decided they could trust us. They spent time here, not just eating, but lying in the tall grasses, but bringing their fawns here to play.

Baby animals are something to be hold, but spindly-legged baby fawns in your own back yard are extra special. I call them deer puppies because they play like puppies.

Since it is springtime, it is entirely possible that this mama will bring her little ones before long. Deer tend to have their young in close proximity to where they were born. I know there were babies born in our woods in the past.

CHMusings: Deer grow up
Spots are still visible on one of these yearlings
There were two fawns we watched all summer. We even named them Bristol and Pistol. They often romped through the backyard close to their mother's watchful eye. It got to the point where we saw them almost every day.

Once the weather started getting colder, their characteristic baby spots became obscured by a thicker, more weather-appropriate fur. On this warm pre-spring day, I watched these two, at right. They look awfully familiar. Upon closer examination of this photo, I noticed the faint spots on one of them. I believe these yearlings are those same baby fawns we enjoyed all last year. I have such a fondness for them. So they eat a flower or two. I can always plant more.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

2015 just has to get better

We've all heard the adage, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."

I've been taking that advice. I haven't had anything nice to say since this year began. 

English: This is used to pee in the bathroom.

In mid-January, I was awakened by a strange gurgling sound. I hopped out of bed, sleuthing my way toward the sound, tracking it to the master bathroom. I'm being dramatic; the bathroom is steps from my bed. The toilet water was bubbling, which accounted for the noise it was making. It sounded like when a five-gallon water jug is hoisted atop a dispenser, turned upside down and poured into the container. 

A quick flush revealed that none of the three toilets in our house were working. I plunged and plunged, but to no avail. A visit from the roto-rooter man the next following morning did the trick. We have a septic system and have learned the hard way that one-ply toilet paper is really a beautiful and necessary thing. Truthfully, I'm thrilled at how long one roll lasts. We could probably go out to dinner on the savings from no longer using those wasteful wads of triple ply tissue.

A few days later, came the next crisis. I convinced my husband that he needed to go to the Emergency Room. I had taken his blood pressure and gasped at the numbers. I took him to there on Friday, July 16. He was treated for a hypertensive emergency. Once stabilized, they admitted him for observation overnight. His blood pressure began to normalize and I picked him up. The next morning, I noticed he had all the classic signs of a stroke during the night. His right side was weakened substantially. He is unable to walk or use his right arm. We went to the doctor's office where he was diagnosed. 

Helping him get to the doctor was difficult because he couldn't walk. He had no strength on his right side. All his muscles were affected, including his speech. Thanks to family members who live close by, we were able to get to numerous doctor visits, see specialists, and go to the hospital for tests. He even saw a speech and physical therapists.

One Saturday I was running some errands. I crested a hill on a two-lane highway when suddenly the power in my car slowly ebbed away until the speedometer went to 0. I coasted to a small parking lot just off the side of the road despite the difficulty of no power steering. 

When the car stopped, I checked my purse for my cell phone, knowing that I didn't have it. I had left it in my coat pocket--the coat I wasn't wearing because we were enjoying one of those rare 70ยบ winter days. I couldn't even close the car window. I tried several times to restart the car, but it was definitely dead. I started walking until I looked behind me and saw an elderly lady going to her mailbox. I called out to her, to ask if I could use her phone. She was very sweet, as so many of the folks are in this part of the country. I followed as she led me to her kitchen. There, I called my husband's sister and brother-in-law who had already been so helpful. I hated to ask one more thing of them, but I didn't have much choice. They came promptly to pick me up and drive me home. Once there, I called a towing company to tow my car home. 

When I tried to start each of our other two vehicles, they too were dead. I couldn't believe it. No way to get my husband to the doctor; no way to get groceries. I was not happy!

We have a battery charger, which I've recently learned is about 50 years old. It no longer had enough power to get the truck started. So, our brother-in-law brought over his battery charger. Both vehicles--the pickup and the recently-purchased Volkswagen--were soon up and running. 

On top of all this, the last few weeks of winter have been brutal. We live in a hollow, downhill from the road. The dead vehicle--the one with 4-wheel drive--is the one that would have made it up the hill. So, needless to say we have been housebound. I tried to keep the vehicles running, by starting them often and letting them run for awhile. We were pretty well-stocked with all we needed, so I wasn't too worried about it. 

One day, after two days of warm temperatures that caused some of the ice in the driveway to melt, I decided it would be good to get to the store to stock up on groceries. Neither vehicle would start. I was furious, even though the VW was my own fault. The headlight switch was on. I have no idea or explanation as to how that occurred. I used the old battery charger to get it going again. We have since ordered a new one online and expect it to arrive by UPS any day now. 

The truck, parked in the garage is old and the battery has That isn't necessarily a bad thing, since both of us are homebodies and John can't leave the house without help anyway. As long as we have the essentials, I'm fine with staying home. Besides, I could use the down time. With John out of commission, I've taken over his chores and helping him with his daily routine. We've sorta settled into a decent rhythm though and things are getting better. At least we aren't running to doctor appointments four times per week, or to the hospital for tests. 

John has just started in-home physical therapy. That is rather hectic with nurses and two different therapists coming three times per week, but he is making progress. And, I don't have to worry about the cars not starting and missing an appointment. 

There is a bright spot. With my doing all the shopping and cooking, John has never been healthier. His beer and pizza diet has been replaced by meals that include healthy fruits and vegetables. Beer and pizza is a treat now, rather than a staple. I think it will make a big difference in his life -- and mine too. 

I'm hoping 2015 has gotten all the nastiness out of its system and we can settle into a more peaceful, quiet, and enjoyable life. Now, if only this weather would cooperate. Winter storm Thor is right outside my window. Giant snowflakes are gently falling onto the late winter landscape. Daffodils, crocuses, and hyacinths have popped out of the ground already and are poised to dazzle us in a short time. Ya know, things are already looking up around here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Autumn reflections

CHMusings: bucksDays are getting shorter. All the windows in the house are open and gentle breezes are wafting through the house. I feel like I can breathe once again. I love the fresh air. The air conditioner is getting a needed break.

The hot, humid weather of summer has given way to Autumn's cooler temperatures and low humidity. It is positively beautiful outside.

It is time to reflect on the summer.

We've had plenty of visitors this year. It is always a thrill to enjoy the wildlife.

After all, we recognize that we moved into their habitat.
We are honored to share with them, although I do believe they took a little unfair advantage this year, resulting in our dismal gardening feats. In fact, chalk up the summer of 2014 as a total bust.

While these young bucks were just passing through, it was the  rest of the family that seemingly caused all the problems. 

CHMusings: Fawns 1
These resident fawns, and their mother, who didn't accompany them on this particular jaunt, were the real culprits in our garden failure.

CHMusings: Fawns 2They had a voracious appetite and ate everything in sight. Sometimes I caught them and could scold them until they moved away, but sometimes I didn't. From the Mimosa sapling to the cone flowers, petunias, geraniums, and everything else we planted, it was open season on greenery at our house.

My vegetable garden didn't fare much better, as we had planned to install a new picket fence around the raised beds, but never got around to it. In addition to the deer, the squirrels picked the tomatoes clean long before they ripened. Even the plants in containers on the deck didn't have a chance. The total lack of rain didn't help things either.

When all is said and done, it was not a good year.

Just the other day I went out to plant some fall perennials only to be eaten alive by chiggers. This is never a pleasant experience! I spent an entire week of absolute misery with all the home remedies I could find. The only thing that really works is Benadryl and time, and scratching. 

I'm happy to report that indoors life was so much better. In addition to revamping the sun porch, as previously mentioned, I also finished a quilt I've been working on for more than two years.

The entire year is rapidly coming to a close. It goes without saying that time is moving way to swiftly these days.

Sadly, some of our best friends--the hummingbirds--will probably be moving on soon. This little guy is likely one of the last hummingbirds we'll see for a while. Looks like it is time to make more food; now is not the time to run out since they will need all the energy they can get before their long journey southward.

We've already seen some migratory activity as the Starlings from the north stopped at our bird feeders.

Twice every year, we see an abundance of these. They are very animated and make their appearance obvious. Their  chatter is so loud in the woods that it is as if the trees are talking to one another. The first time I experienced their 'landing' I was amazed, by the shear number of them.

I dread the winter coming, but anticipate a beautiful Autumn. There really is no time like Autumn in the Ozarks. It is almost as exciting as the Spring.
Oh, I think I feel a little Spring Fever coming on!


Friday, August 8, 2014

Color is motivating; my personal story of color choice

Color makes me happy. I love surrounding myself with my favorite colors, except that lately, it is getting more difficult to decide just which color is now my favorite. I lean toward the pinks and purples, but lately, I'm drawn to yellows and greens. And even more recently, I'm taken with blue tones.

When my husband and I decided to rejuvenate our sun porch, I had just figured we would paint the walls pink. That room has been pink since we moved here. It is based on a pink flamingos theme, which we both love. We had a couple strings of pink flamingo lights we bought years ago. They added warmth at night, with a festive touch. We also had several candle holders and other little items that we have collected over the years. I always loved the color, so pink in that room was a no-brainer. Or so I thought. 

Initially we were just going to paint just the walls. But my husband's sister decided to replace the flooring in her new house. The laminate flooring she was replacing was in like new condition, so we took it for our back room. 

We had never done a floor before. Suffice it to say, it was a little more challenging with so many of the pieces cut. We had to sort through them to determine what went where. We were a little worried there would be enough uncut pieces to finish. As it turned out, there was one full piece left over. And the most astounding thing to me, was that on the last course, the fit was perfect, including the last piece. No cutting necessary. 

Once we ripped out the carpeting, I sat in the room and looked around. I noticed some of the paintings John and I had done when we took a painting class a few years ago. His girl with the pearl earring just happened to have an aqua scarf. The water in my girl on the beach was so turquoise. Then I noticed the base of my pink flamingo candle holders--were aqua and white. It became clear that I could keep my pink flamingo theme but with the walls turquoise, it would work out great. 

I am learning more about color through my experience with quilting. I opened up my monochromatic preference in color with a two-color quilt-- turquoise and yellow.-- (Now I wish I would have made it turquoise and pink.) I googled the color combination and loved the examples I saw. 

So hubby and I took our little pet flamingo to Home Depot and picked out a color paint to match the base of the flamingo. We also got a nice white tone for the accent wall and door. 

I started thinking about this color. I've never painted a room this color before, and I have painted many, many rooms in my life. Still, turquoise is no stranger to me. It was the color of the dress I wore to both my eight grade and high school graduations. One of my favorite spring jackets, made of looped mohair, was turquoise. A sweater I knitted for my mother-in-law was turquoise. I'm sure there are lots more examples of how my entire life has had this color in it. I never would have thought of pairing it with pink. But now, I love the colors of this room. Apparently, so do its occupants.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I may be a quilter, but I knit and crochet too

I may be spending lots of time quilting these days, but it wasn't always that way. I have been knitting and crocheting for years; decades; hmm--half a century--even.

This is my latest project, a knitted baby afghan. I really enjoyed making this. 
knitted baby afghan
Knitted baby afghan

I first learned to knit when I was in fifth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Angela Amorosi, was my inspiration. I was so impressed by her. During our reading and study time, she would usually work on her knitting. She made the most beautiful sweaters, some of which she wore. I remember once asking her about a project she was working on. She said it was a sweater for her daughter. Iwas a large piece, the back of the sweater. They are made much like other garments in pieces that are then sewn together. Hers was almost finished because it was huge. I loved watching her as she moved the needles back and forth and wrapped the yarn around them with the precision of a military drill team. She worked so quickly that it was hard to keep up with just exactly which needle went where. 

During that school year, way back in the early 60's, I asked Mrs. Amorosi plenty of questions. She was always patient with her answers. I think she liked teaching knitting as well as any subject she taught. I did well in her class. She was a good teacher.

By the time I had gotten to her class, I had already known a little about knitting. My father knew how to knit. He was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He took up knitting when he was on a ship for months at a time. He started a blue sampler afghan way back before I knew him, but he never finished it. I wanted to finish it for him. While he gave me some instruction, I never saw him pick up knitting needles. My mother could crochet, but she didn't knit. During the summer between my fifth and sixth grades, using all the tips I'd picked up along the way, I taught myself to knit. There were no You Tube videos back then. Learning is so much easier these days. 

I never did finish that sampler afghan, and don't really know what ever happened to it. Several years later, I found an updated pattern book with sample stitches just like the ones my father had. I bought the book along with all the yarn I needed to make an entire afghan. I selected three different colors: yellow-orange, red-orange, and dark brown. Those were really hot colors back then. I alternated the colors of each sampler square, and then crocheted around each of them with the brown yarn. The effect was like the sashing on a patchwork quilt. It really turned out nice. I gave it to my dad when it was finished. That afghan was never far from his chair. My mother tells me that up until the day he went in the hospital the final time, he covered up with that afghan. My mother is 85 now, and she is using it. Talk about getting the good out of a project...

Suffice it to say I have been doing needlework for a very long time.

Crocheted baby blanket
Baby afghan
Baby afghan
Jenny's afghan
Adult afghan
More than a year ago, I decided it would be worthwhile to make something while I watched TV in the evenings. I made a few baby blankets for friends, those shown on the left. Then my daughter decided she loved one of them, so requested I make her an adult-sized one with the same pattern. She picked out the variegated green yarn. I believe I made it about three times the width as the baby afghan and as long as she is tall. 

When that was finished I decided to make more baby items, so just in case I ever needed them, I would have them all ready-made. Perhaps I would even sell them one day. 

Up until that time, all the things I was making were crocheted. Crocheting is easier, and goes faster. But there is something about knitting that I have always loved. So, I found a pattern that was perfect. It had a cable stitch in it and a filigree-like stripe. It was beautiful. I had some extra yarn left from my other projects, so I set out to make a knitted cable baby afghan. It was done on double pointed needles. I happened to have a pair of those in just the right size. I have a wide variety of knitting needles and crochet hooks in just about every size. 

I'm really pleased with how the above blanket turned out, as well as all the other items too. 

purple and white striped baby blanket
A purple striped baby blanket

Crocheted baby outfit
Matching sweater, hat, and contrasting blanket
I just made the lavender and white striped blanket to keep me occupied during commercials. It was the only one in the book of patterns that I hadn't made already. It is an old book and I've been using it for years. 

The blue and white outfit is one of my favorite patterns. It uses more yarn than most because of the stitch, but I love the look of it. I love making it. I have done several. In fact, I made one for my son, about 33 years ago. It remains my favorite pattern. 

If I don't have babies to give them to, or I don't sell them, they will always make nice lap warmers or cat blankets.

Friday, July 11, 2014

How I came to love cats

Happy Birthday to my girls.

my cats
My four kittens have grown up
Seven years ago, was a day I will always remember--such a happy event--the birth of five kittens on the front porch. One of them, the runt of the litter and last one born didn't make it. Rusty, is buried in the cedar grove just west of the house along with my most beloved feline companion ever, Emily. Ironically, she died just three years ago on this very day, one of the worst days I've ever experienced. There was no celebration for the girls that year--just tears.

But today is about them. 

My love of cats started long ago, despite my family always having dogs; not cats.

When I was a youngster living on a dead-end street in a Chicago neighborhood, there was a lady down the street who we kids in the neighborhood mockingly called Crazy Annie.

Everyone knows someone like her, the quintessential old spinster who always had lots of cats and kittens. Annie was certainly a little quirky. I laugh a little, because I think I have become her.

My memories of Annie are pretty vague. The one thing I remember about her, other than the cats that followed her everywhere, was that Annie used to reward us neighborhood kids for retrieving seeds from her Four O’Clock plants. I suppose she saved them to plant the following year.

When we followed her inside to collect our pay--pennies for whole jars of seeds, her house was always dark – blinds were always drawn. There was a kind of glow in her living room as the sunshine tried to blaze its way through her heavy velvet drapes.

As an adult, I've almost always had a cat. My first experience was an old tom cat that wandered into the courtyard of my apartment complex. I used to put milk in a saucer for him, so he kept coming back. I was smitten with him. 

There have been many subsequent trips to the humane society.

About 8 years ago, it was a stray cat that appeared--my husband John and I named her Timi. 

Timi, who was a small, obviously young Calico with muted colors. She seemingly appeared out of nowhere one night. Apparently she chose us. It was almost like she was stalking us. She knew which room we occupied because she peered in the window at us, pacing back and forth on the brick ledge just outside the glass, always meowing. When we were outside, she followed us and was always affectionate. She showed up in the morning at whatever door we opened to let out our dog Sam. It was almost as if she knew. And, Timi was very vocal about her desire to become friends.

We put food out for her. It wasn’t long before she won our hearts. She never went too far from the house. Finally, it started getting colder outside, so we decided to let her come into the house. She even made friends with Emily, who was about 10 at the time.

In the spring, we noticed a change in Timi. She became restless, and wanted to go outside. While we debated about what to do, Timi made the decision for us. We awoke one morning to find the screen broken out of a back porch window. Timi was gone.

But she soon reappeared. Only this time, she wasn’t exactly alone. It was apparent that Timi was pregnant. She was always very affectionate, especially toward John. But he wasn’t as quick to embrace the idea of little kittens as I was. I couldn’t wait. Timi must have sensed that too, so during her pregnancy it was my lap she wanted to claim. I was more than happy to oblige. I can’t resist baby animals, but I am most fond of kittens.

I read all I could on the Internet about the feline birthing process. Timi was a very young cat and I hoped her instincts would guide her. But if not, I was ready to help. I sensed when she was very close to giving birth. I was afraid she might want to have her kittens in private, which is customary for cats. But, she actually came to get me when the time had come. I was at my computer when she jumped up high latching her claws into the window screen. She seemed frantic.

I played midwife to Timi’s five kittens who were born in a newspaper-lined box next to the swing on the front porch.

John wanted no part of this process, but was just inside the house. 

I was in awe as Timi knew exactly what to do. I gingerly moved the first kitten to another box, while Timi gave birth to the next one. This went on until there were finally five in the litter. I put them back into the box with their mother. I didn't know what I would do with seven cats in the house but I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to part with any of them.

Since John and I had difficulty agreeing on the names for our own two children, I figured it would be really hard to come up with five more names. So, we decided to name them for NASCAR drivers.

The first born was Ryan, named for Ryan Newman, our favorite driver. The others were Kenni (Kenny Wallace); Junior, (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.); Kasey, (Kasey Kahne); and Rusty (Rusty Wallace).

The birth went well, taking about three hours. Timi did great. She was very attentive and caring – showing signs of being an excellent mother.

We were not without issues, however, as Junior was born with a deformed right front paw. Turns out, that although she is smaller than the others,
she is also the toughest. Rusty, was probably the prettiest one--with markings not unlike her mother--lived only 11 days. The others are all variations of grey and white.

We guessed that Ryan was the only male in the bunch, but were surprised to learn that she too was a female. All of our NASCAR-named kittens are girls! Too late now, they know their names.

It has been an absolute joy to experience the development of these little critters. Kittens seem to develop on an accelerated schedule, with visible changes almost daily.

Each has a personality all her own. Ryan has stayed true to her early beginnings, as the sweet, cuddly one. She is also similar to her namesake, known as the Rocketman. Ryan is happiest when she is 'flying' around the house. She loves to roost in high places, like the top of the entertainment center, on top of the book case, or perched on the top of the bedroom door. Kasey is the scaredy-cat, who jumps at any unfamiliar sound, though jumps first and with all four feet. She seems to be taking on the characteristic of alpha cat, or top dog, which to me, is just another word for trouble-maker. Junior is the tough one, a fierce competitor with her siblings. She isn’t afraid of anything, despite her disability. Early on, she worked hard at keeping up with the others, doing what they did, even if it wasn’t always graceful. Kenni is the biggest cat who loves mealtime. She is the most mellow one, who goes along with whatever the others do, but would never consider doing it first.

It has been such a joy to watch these siblings interact with their mother and each other. Timi, who started this as a youngster herself, has grown into a mature and protective mother, using her instincts to teach. For a time, she played with them. Timi is content to stay outside now, except to eat. She is definitely an outside cat. The others are inside cats. 

She is friends with raccoons, runs with the deer and is a good mouse and snake hunter. 

We are comforted to know she won’t have more kittens, despite the affection we have for these. It just wouldn't be responsible to allow her to be outside without having first been spayed. They all went to the vet together to get spayed.

Because Timi was a stray cat, our local Humane Society helped with the cost of spaying. We will support them in the future, any way we can.

Had we not given Timi a home, she might be having a second litter. And since her four kittens are females, they would likely have had kittens of their own as well, had we not intervened. And on and on it goes. It is hard to imagine that so many unwanted cats are born each year. It is even harder to imagine how many of them have to be killed because there is no one to take them all in.

As I look around the house, a cat in nearly every view, I think back to my younger days, and of Annie, the neighbor with lots of cats.

This was a woman who was kind to young children. She paid us pennies to collect seeds from her perennials that would probably have reseeded themselves anyway. Her action taught us that work paid rewards and that we should be diligent in our endeavors. I remember carefully picking only the ripe, plump, black seeds and leaving the rest for another time.

Annie befriended us. She brought us into her home. Those were days of innocence when neighbors were not to be feared. And, she let us pet her cats. In doing so, she showed us she trusted us. They were obviously very important to her. That first feeling of silky fur on my hands must have made an impression.

I’ve thought of Annie from time to time, wondering what ever became of her. I never even knew her last name. Sadly, there was much I didn’t know about her. I think if I knew her now, I would like her. There is one thing I know for sure; Annie wasn’t crazy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It's the little things

new ceiling fan
What a difference it makes to have a new ceiling fan just off the kitchen.

When we downsized from a five-bedroom house in the Chicago suburbs to our Ozarks country ranch house, I had no place for a sewing room. So, I claimed this little breakfast nook in our little house, as my sewing area. 

Its prominent feature is a huge window that faces south. Not only does it offer wonderful natural light, but has a great view of the backyard and a busy bird feeder right off the deck. The sunshine though, does make that space pretty warm. 

Yesterday, my husband and I installed a new ceiling fan. 

What a difference. I'd say this is our best and easiest home improvement fix in a long time. 

Not only will it enhance my sewing experience, but cooking should be greatly improved as well. There are no windows near the business-end of our galley-like kitchen. I think about those Christmas dinners when the turkey roasts in the oven for hours. Or there is the prep for Thanksgiving when non-stop cooking fills a holiday table with plenty of good food. 
Installing a ceiling fan was such an easy, inexpensive solution. I am all about problem-solving. This little solution really fills the bill.