Friday, February 26, 2010

My Toy Box

Well...it's ANOTHER day of wind and snow.  According to the Weather Service, we now have a BLIZZARD.  I sometimes think  the changing terminology is being used simply as a wake-up call after being flogged these past few weeks to the point where nobody's paying attention.  One look out the window, though, and I know that's not the case.  The snow is horizontal, driven by a cruel wind.

So, it's still another day mostly inside just off the one-lane road.  Of course, we still have to go out and milk a cow and feed all the animals.  But that is only a brief trip out and then we're back inside until this evening.  So, what do I do on a day like this?  I play in my toy box where all manner of tools and supplies invite exploration.  Sewing machine, knitting machine, spinning wheel, card weaving, crochet tools and supplies, tons of wool roving, dyes,yarn, emboridery..add to that a stack of puzzles, and of course, my China books, five in all--and I'm good 'til spring!

There's a fire in the woodstove downstairs, and up here I have clear vinyl-covered windows that allow me to see things like the huge red-tailed hawk roosting in the Catalpa tree this morning, awaiting a mealtime opportunity.  The snowflakes eddy around the corners of the house; I can see a whole host of songbirds gathering in our picnic shelter where MM has just spread a new coating of seeds for them; and it's just plain cozy up here.  MM's busy on the computer, tracking economic gloom and doom, political intrigues and fascinating scientific news which he shares with me from time to time.  Later on, maybe while we're watching the late afternoon Olympics, we'll have a pan of our home-grown popcorn--oh, so much better than store-bought!

Might as well enjoy this suspension of mobility--even as the endless winter continues.  It's a chance to re-group, re-build, breathe gently.  Gardening season isn't far away; we're right on the cusp.  And, that's when things really speed up around here.  Busyness will soon return, and, if we're lucky,  we'll remember this as having been an opportunity, rather than an imposition. 

Thank you everyone for your comments! I've so enjoyed them!  Have a lovely weekend!  See you Monday!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Old Soldiers Never (really) Die

Ours is an old homestead, dating back to the 1800's.  As such, we have many old trees here which give us shade and cooling in the summer, and artistry in the winter.  I especially love the big old gnarly ones, standing like sentinels which have, for one reason or another died.  Despite their leafless form, they continue, year after year to give of themselves.   
There's a Butternut that still stands despite its having lost its top years ago. It's riddled with woodpecker holes and crumbling bark, just right for more woodpeckers!


Two old maples guard the outer yard-- their interiors carved out by time but which continue to produce modest tops each year.

A Catalpa has been the centerpiece of our yard, but  sadly, died a couple of years ago, traumatized by  late hard freeze.








A locust with a top that is now mostly grapevines, giving it the look of having had some kind of haircut that went wildly awry.

                  
And one-half of a mulberry trunk which, while still living, has dropped to the ground and now provides us with a curved, leafy arch as it continues its life in this new form.



Most people probably would regard these old soldiers as having long passed their prime with the message that they should be cut down, dragged off to the tree graveyard or used for firewood and the yard "cleaned up."

But, no.  I am not a subscriber to the "neat yard" philosophy.  Instead I treasure these fallen-but-still-standing, once-living beings, as much (but in a different way) as I do the living trees that so generously shade us in the summer.  These old soldiers provide an artistic backdrop for squirrels, birds, and other animals.  Each tree continues to give in its own quiet way, now providing holes for bird nests, perches for preening, shelter from the storms and in the case of the mulberry, which continues to grow, tasty fruit that brings more birds in from surrounding edges.  Nesting space is widely available here, with food and water close at hand.  Each tree becomes a complete habitat, not just for songbirds, but for hawks in search of a meal and yes, for the odd black snake which must eat, too, and, in season, hunts through the upper stories for eggs, tree frogs and insects.  The trunks become platforms upon which the Virginia Creeper climbs, and artful structures upon which grow all manner of interesting fungus.  Insects make their homes within the rotting wood, providing food for the growing baby birds.  Each old tree is a food web top to bottom.

The souls of these trees are still with us, serving a purpose beyond their original life.  They offer a humble structure for countless other lives well beyond what most would call their "useful" and "productive" period.  But to prune them out would be to curtail an important phase in the natural progression.  Instead, we value the contributions of the old guard for their beauty, their functionality, and for the comfort we find simply looking at them and realizing all they've witnessed.  When we do cut them out, as will be necessary at some point, they will have lived a full cycle, as their tiny seedlings beneath, grow to take their place.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Try to Remember


Imagine it's summer.  The picnic table is full of good food and good friends!  The sun is warming you through and through.  The sounds of laughter echo all around.  The fields are green...oh-so-green!  A gentle breeze threads its way through thickly leaved trees.  Flowers are everywhere! 





A glorious sunset touches your heart beyond words. 

Savor those memories of a
lazy June afternoon...
Put on this feeling, like a down-filled vest.
Try it out...reach!  Color it crazy!  A riot of color! It's there...somewhere!  

Rest assured:  courageous snowdrops are peeking through the snow this morning.  The two-inch shoots of daffodils are firmly committed to rising above it all...

We will get through this.  Promise! 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Learning About China

One of the neat things about being "retired" is the amount of time I have now to choose what I want to do.  That must explain the resentment members of Congress--the ones who are trying to kill Medicare and Social Security--have for us "elderly."  They're just jealous!

MM and I love learning!  We read lots and allow our curiosity to lead us on paths of exploration and discovery.  We don't need a reason except that we want to know...

After ranting awhile back, here, about "Made in China" I got to thinking about the fact that I know practically nothing about a country which, in area, is the size of the U. S. and whose population at 1.25 billion, represents 1/5 of the people on earth, and grows between 12 and 13 million every year! 

MM and I lived in Hong Kong (which is truly not China) for six weeks in the early 1970's.  One day,  out of curiosity, we took a bus out into what was then called The New Territories.  Development was in its infancy or non-existent. The bus was filled to over-capacity.  We were the only non-Orientals on the bus.

People chattered loudly over the unmufflered popping and banging of the engine, enjoying the ride and each others' company enormously.  About ten minutes out, however, the bus, on a rather steep incline quit and started to roll backward.  The driver, mashed the brake hard, and with what appeared to be a well-rehearsed routine, jumped out, ran to the back, opened the luggage compartment and got out a stick about 4 feet long and 2 inches square; he slammed the luggage door shut and promptly stuck the stick up against the bumper expecting it to hold that bus!  Surprisingly, it did.   Meanwhile all passengers were filing out.  We joined the throng.  Milling around outside, everyone seemed to take the event in stride, some even reassuring MM and me that things would be fine by one means or another:  smiling, patting us on the shoulder--we all speak the same language, really.  Of course, here we are, out in the midst of the "real" China, "alone" and wondering where we will go from "here" which is "where?"  Finally, another bus arrived, our driver flagged it down, we were loaded on and we continued on our circuit of New Territories back to the bus station and then back to our residence. It was a tiny slice of the real China.

Exploration.  Discovery.  Sharing. Throughout our time in Hong Kong we went everywhere by ourselves.  We met the Chinese people, asked questions (as best we could) and learned much.  I had taken a Time-Life Chinese cookbook with me on one day of exploration for us.  We went into a market that was a cornucopia of unfamiliar food items for sale.  There were barrels of dried mushrooms, shrimp, lichee nuts--dozens and dozens of unknown ingredients for a meal.  We wandered through the aisles, comparing pictures in the book to what was in each container.  Browsing, we felt a "presence" behind us and turned to see three store employees following us, trying to peer over our shoulder.

Apparently, we had gotten the proprietor's attention.  Through various sign language improvisations, and sharing the book with them, they understood that we had a "cookbook."  They pronounced it carefully "COOKbook" several times and then became animated with the knowledge of what we were doing.  They then took us on a complete tour of the "grocery" store, looking in our cookbook and comparing and teaching us what was what.  The tour lasted well over an hour and we came away with an inspired sense that we ARE all connected, all human, and we are all very similar to one another.

These are but meager experiences, though.  Practically microscopic--even irrelevant, today--when compared to China as a country.

With China emerging to become what will probably be the largest economy in the world by 2015 (or so) it would seem that we need to know more about them.  With that thought in mind, we decided to start a "personal study" of China.  I went to Amazon and chose five books.  Three were by the same author, Peter Hessler; another is Rob Gifford's (of NPR) China Road.  Finally, a BEAUTIFUL book entitled, simply "China" which is an easily digested "first" book on China's landscape, history, people, and culture.  I love beautiful books and this one, published by DK (Dorling Kindersley) is bound in brocade, if you can imagine!  I've never seen a book quite like it.  At $26 it was an absolute steal!

MM and I are reading the books out loud, taking turns, learning, exploring, discovering.  It is humbling, believe me!  For example, in the year 130 BCE (Before the Christian Era) the Chinese had invented a seismograph that  indicated the direction where an earthquake had occurred; they invented paper; they took the first census of China in the year 2 CE (Christian Era)(some 57,000,000 people0; they built the first multi-story buildings, housing their domesticated animals on the ground floor and living in the upper stories.  And these are just tiny fragments of a history that spans 7000-plus years.  And now, in today's world, the Chinese are making their presence known.

I've watched them in this Olympics and in the aerial ski competition, for example, they are accurate and polished.  They're learning, and learning fast.

As Americans, we've always "enjoyed" (a note of sarcasm here) "superiority" and have not taken the time or the effort to understand other cultures.  THEY speak OUR language and well they should, has been the prevailing attitude.  Let's face it:  we're arrogant.  We've been too comforable in our own egos and comparative wealth, expecting others in this world to come to us, convinced that America invented everything. 

This can't continue.  We need to learn from other cultures in order that we can hold this planet together and guard its environmental future. 

Surely, in all that time--7,000 years (compared to our puny 244 years)--the Chinese have gained some wisdom that we all can use--especially to have lasted all that time and be once again "on the rise." 

I truly want to know more.

Monday, February 22, 2010

They're Baaaack!

It's a wake!  And it's a sure sign of spring!  Their timing has always been superb.  Their reputation, though, is mixed.  Some associate them with death.  Others assign a predator label to them, accusing them of killing small animals for food which, for the most part, they don't do).  On the whole, they are not destructive, but instead, are nature's clean-up crew, eating leftovers--carrion and roadkills, and minding their own business as the janitors of our environment.

Locally, here in the U. S. we often call them buzzards.  More correctly ascribed is the term, "vulture."  Interestingly, my blogger friend, Ruta of Ruta's Ramblings who lives in North Devon UK had a photo in her blog of what she called a "buzzard" and which to me, clearly was a "hawk."  It seems that in the UK, what we over here call "raptors" are called buzzards, whereas in the U. S. "buzzards" are not raptors, but vultures.  Have I got you confused yet?!  If you want comparative information, go to the following websites:

Common Buzzard  and  Vultures 

I think humans find these birds somewhat repugnant.  In fact, they do look...well....ugly--even "spooky"--with their naked heads and prominent beaks.  But, they are an engineering marvel! Their featherless heads enable the birds to delve deep into a carcass without loading up a feathered surface with offal,thus giving them the opportunity to stay relatively clean.  Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures share the same territory here just off the one-lane road, and they often search for food (in a "scents") together, each using its primary search tools:  Turkey Vultures have an exceptional sense of smell whereas the Black Vulture rely more on their keen eyesight.  The two species often share if the food source is large enough.  The Turkey Vulture often can smell a meal even it if is buried and vultures' long sharp claws are perfectly capable of unearthing the object of the search.  I heard of one instance where a boat-owner in the south had had the leather seats ripped apart by a group of vultures...that's how long the scent was attractive to these birds.

Vultures don't flock.  A few will "hang out" together, though, and such a group is called a "wake" or a "committee."  They do not build nests.  Rather they lay their eggs in a hollow tree, or even in a protected spot on the ground.  From Wikipedia, "Vulture stomach acid is exceptionally corrosive, allowing them to safely digest putrid carcasses infected with Botulinum toxin, hog cholera, and anthrax bacteria that would be lethal to other scavengers.  This also enables them to use their reeking, corrosive vomit as a defensive projectile when threatened.  Vultures urinate straight down their legs; the uric acid kills bacteria accumulated from walking through carcasses, and also acts as an evaporative cooling mechanism."  

To me, this is simply fascinating as these birds are DESIGNED to be "kings (and queens) of the road(kills)!

By now, though, I know you're saying, "Eeeewwwww!"  But both Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures are pure joy to observe as they soar and wheel high above our heads, finding thermals and gliding over us all summer long, searching for leftovers:  the dead 'possum, or 'coon, or deer.  As farmers we probably have dreaded their presence at one time or another for it can signal a tragedy.  When we kept sheep, a "wake" of vultures was a harbinger of loss.

Vultures are so efficient in their clean-up!  There is little left after they have done their work.  The bones are picked clean and whatever is left is ready for the rodents to take over, making use of the vitamins and minerals in the bones.

Late in the fall, when indications are that winter is setting in, the vultures take to the skies and "migrate" a rather short distance south, to avoid the worst of the weather.  But they are usually among the first birds to return.

Yesterday, I caught sight of two vultures, soaring just above the pines in the East Pasture.  They are a sign for winter-sore eyes!  So, today, I celebrate their return!  Spring cannot be far away!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sun Up!

I don't usually post on weekends, but I just took this photo of
this morning's SUNrise.  What a celebration!  I know we're not
out of the woods, yet, but it's a welcome breather.
See you Monday!

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Sun Will Come Out (Today and) Tomorrow...!

I'm peeking out between icicles.  A vase of artificial sunflowers sits on the window ledge.  Today, the temperature is supposed to hit the mid-30's.  I just looked and it's 36 degrees!!  Furthermore, it's supposed to be....what was the term they used to use?  "Sunny?"  And tomorrow in the mid-40's?  And sunny?  Is it over?  Did we get "through it?"  Did we make it?

I've always gotten a huge snicker when in the past folks who come here for the first time have looked about and said something along the lines of, "It' so beautiful here!  But...how do you get out in the winter?" To which I've replied somewhat smugly, maybe even flippantly, "We don't."  A winter like this one, though, gives cause for pause.

We've never seriously had to test whether "getting out" was important.  We haven't known whether there was some compelling reason to BE out there, beyond the one-lane road ...something we would need, an emergency of some kind...  With a healthy pile of library books and our freezers and basement full of food, who could want for more?  Our thought was that we could get along thank-you-very-much, with our own resources here on the farm.

The verdict?  On the whole, we've done pretty well.  The unread library book pile is non-existent, now, and the Olympics helped a lot!  I've run out of dishwasher detergent, but I can wash dishes by hand; I thought I was running out of sugar, but found a stash I'd overlooked.  The baking powder ran out, but I can make my own and have the ingredients for that.  So, aside from needing one delivery of animal feed, which taxed our muscles and in which we relied on the generosity of a couple of feed store employees-- and wishing we'd gotten a lot more firewood prior to winter, we've been OK. Of course, there were always friends, (thank you Debbi) checking in with us to make sure we were all right and/or needed something.   And thank goodness our health is strong and we've been very careful going about the everyday tasks and making certain to do them safely and thoughtfully.  I am adamant about sprinkling sawdust (from MM's table saw) on icy patches (not salt as that kills the plants next to the walkways so as to create an eco-friendly, non-skid surface).

Of course, we are always attentive to the fact that an ambulance ride out of here would not have been pretty if an emergency had occurred.  In past years, we've parked the car at the bottom of our driveway, thus making it easier to get out.  The snowplows from both counties turn around in our generous driveway, just off the one-lane road.  Sometimes they leave behind a huge snowbank that for awhile cannot be surmounted.  This time we didn't drive the car down.  Consequently, it's been a point of some concern that we really could not move either vehicle, no matter what the need, in this much snow.

But, again, overall, we've been fortunate, and in most cases, well-planned.  We have not been off the farm since January 15th.

I believe this harsh winter has taught me a few lessons, one of which is that improvisation and creative thinking are two of the most important components of one's mental tool kit.  I've also kept an upbeat attitude knowing that any kind of negativity robs the spirit and depletes the postitive reserves quickly.  There have been a couple of times when things were definitely tough.  Outside, milking the cow I have personally tested the weather bureau's  wind chill figure forecasts and have found them to be spot-on! And, primitive as it may appear, a piece of black plastic tied into a pouch shape, with a length of rope tied to it, for dragging heavy items like firewood and animal feed, works better than a sled.  With a person on each side, the black plastic slides easily over the snow.  Three things made the sled unusable:  brittleness of the plastic in VERY cold temperatures; the depth of the snow, and the small size of the sled's carrying capacity.  We had to devise something that would mold to the contours of the snow and still slide.  It worked like a charm.

There were 19 other lives dependent upon us for food and water.  That's something to think about.  If this is indeed "the end" of the long winter, we'll wind up with a few--not many--leftover hay bales.  That would be amazing!

Would we want a snowblower?  It never occurred to me that we would ever need/want one.  I've never even looked at snowblowers, thinking them to be a serious waste of fuel, noisy like snowmachines, expensive, and believing that it would be a once-in-a-hundred chances that we'd ever use it--not to mention I've always thought they were for lazy people who could use a little shoveling exercise.  Our good friend in Idaho is always chiding MM about not looking at snowblowers. Anyone out there have one?  What do you think?

Finally, I am a great one for making lists.  So, I am starting work on one now for next winter.  It's called "Additional Things To Do to be Well-Prepared for Winter!


Let's hope a gentle spring melt is on the way.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone, and thank you so much for your comments and your wisdom.  I am delighted to have you drop in now and again and share conversations!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Oh, What Webs They Weave!

Spiders.  So many of them in the world!  They scurry fast and if they're big, I must admit they scare the daylights out of me. In the fall, just before winter, they sense the need to claim warmth and shelter, and living close to the earth as we do here just off the one-lane road, we obviously must clamp down on the number of boarders we can take in during the upcoming cold weather.  So, yes, if truth be told I annihilate them, but only when they come inside. They hide in the wood we bring in, they zip under the doormats, build homes in the corners of the windows, and even emerge in early fall through the drainpipes into sinks.  I should be ashamed of my housekeeping, right?

Well, I'm not. It's one of the little things one accepts as being quite natural out here JOTOLR.  As much as (humanly) possible I avoid using insect sprays in the belief that I would be asphyxiating and poisoning MM and me just as much as the potential target.  Even for the dratted flies in the summer, I use the old remedy:  flypaper.  Yes they're ugly (changing them frequently avoids that) but it's environmentally friendly, easy to dispose of, and there are better versions of that product today than in the past.) And I have fly swatters tucked about the house for corporal flogging when needed on flies, beetles and spiders, too.

On the other hand, I am a devotee of the spiders' WEBS.  That is to say, I admire them for their highly engineered and wondrous beauty.  The tensile strength of spider silk is actually greater than the same weight of steel and has much greater elasticity.  Its microstructure is under investigation for possible applications in industry, including bullet-proof vests and artifical tendons.  About 30,000 species of spiders have been named so far, representing what is believed to be about one fourth of the total. 

I love to photograph spider webs.  They always present such a challenge to a photographer as the tiniest of breezes sets the structure in motion and it's difficult to get a photo that is properly in focus.

As gardeners, we love and need spiders.  They often live in the soil and pop out unexpectedly, but they are our companions, helping us to grow our own food,  since their diet is comprised of many pests we seek to eradicate. As wood-gatherers, as housekeepers, out here in the country, living side by side with animals of all kinds, one learns to cultivate an attitude toward living things in general, other than "bugs" or "germs" that need to be doused with Raid or Lysol.  There's no ability to be selective in what you kill when you broadcast sprays.

We lived in Australia back in the early 1970's near now-famous Cairns (which had not yet been "discovered")  The little house we bought had a version of "outdoor" plumbing.  The commode had modern, flush-type plumbing.  It was just a little "outside" house.  It even had a regular door knob with a lock on it.  The first time I went out to use the facilities, I shut the door, sat down, and there, on the back of the door, looking at me, was the biggest dad-gummed spider I'd ever seen.  That sucker was at least five inches across.  I just know the people in Jakarta heard my scream.  MM came flying out, burst through the door, took one look and headed back out.  "Just sit still!" he hollered. "I'm getting a shovel to kill it!" And kill it he did.  But you know the sad part of the story?  We shouldn't have killed the spider.  Turned out (we learned from the neighbors) the spider was not only harmless to humans, but the old (now my age!) couple from whom we bought the house, had cultivated those spiders for years, as semi-pets that kept the outside toilet free of other less-desirable insects.  Those spiders were built-in environmentally friendly insecticides.  And we (dumbos) blew this effective system to smithereens. 

Spiders are Arachnids.  The name derives from Greek mythology.  Arachne was a peasant girl who became an expert spinner and weaver of cloth.  (I am a handspinner, too, but not as good as either Arachne or spiders.)  No human could spin or weave as well as Arachne.  She became famous throughout Greece.  But she also became arrogant, boasting that she was better even than Athena, goddess of wisdom who invented spinning and weaving.  So Athena took offense and decided to put an end to her rival's claims.  She disguised herself as an old woman and came to earth and challenged Arachne to a weaving contest.  Arachne's work, it turned out, was every bit as good as Athena's.  Arachne boasted that she had produced the superior cloth.  Whereupon the goddess revealed her true identity, tore apart Arachne's weaving and beat her with the shuttle from the loom.  Out of despair, Arachne took a rope and hanged herself.  But ultimately, Athena took pity on her and changed the rope into a web, and then turned Arachne into a spider.

The moral of the story seems to suggest that one should not be overly prideful of one's abilities and boasting may result in overconfidence, which could then result in a vastly different and perhaps unpleasant outcome than what had been intended.  Olympians, take note!

See you again tomorrow...on the WORLD WIDE WEB.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mixed Greens and Other Choices...

Today's post has a small assortment of short items and I'm curious what you think...

First. Watching the Olympics Men's Short Figure Skating competition last night, I noticed for the first time the backdrop for the arena contained NO ADVERTISING.  We didn't have to stare at some corporation's logo all night long.  Instead. the ice arena is lined with the stylized scene that has come to symbolize these Olympics.  Cool shades of aqua, light greens, deeper blues...mountains, trees, skiers, skaters, snowboarders...no Toshiba, no BMW, nothing at all to smack of commercialism.  Just art.  How lovely is that?!  How REFRESHING!!

Next thing to know:  the official website for the Olympics is simply fabulous.  If you haven't checked it out, and want to know results and schedules, check it out:  Official Vancouver Olympics website

You can see immediately that I am not a subscriber to the "Glitch Olympics" snarkiness that seems to be going around.  Even with some mess-ups, when you get that many new people into a new-to-them space, with that much technology at work/play...you're bound to have a few "glitches."  Overall, it's been very fine. It's pretty fabulous that British Columbia went all out to make this a GREEN Olympics.Solar Power News  The fact that the ice surfacing machines failed isn't Vancouver's fault.  I applaud them for the far-sighted approach to creating this venue.  It will be Vancouver's to use from now on, and they can build on this creative foundation of environmental sensitivity.  GO CANADA!!

Second.  MM came across an interesting article that originated from CNN Money.  It's about choices.

Do you like having LOTS of choices when you go shopping?  Now, think carefully before you answer.  Let's put it another way:  do you really need 20 DIFFERENT KINDS of say, toothpaste from which to choose; or bran flakes, or insect spray?  Honestly?  My answer is no. Because it's so long between purchases of toothpaste, by the time I am shopping for it again, there seem to be another ten "kinds" added to the shelf, and it takes me forever to locate/choose a tube of toothpaste.  Do I want Tartar Control?  How about Fresh Breath?  Whitener?  All of these?  The Original?  Gel?  Fat tubes? Skinny Tubes?  Baking Soda (yuck!) and then....we go to the mouthwashes...!

Guess what?  Walmart is reducing name brand shelf space.  Translated:  your favorite brand may no longer be on Walmart's shelves.  According to CNN, many retailers in repsonse to slow sales, are reducing the CHOICES you will have on the shelves.  Walmart's house brand, Great Value is replacing many "top" selling brands.  Among the stores that are cutting out big brands are CVS, Walgreens, Kroger and Target.  Get used to having fewer choices.  Retailers are feeling the pressure of a declining consumer base as customers look for "good deals" rather than "brand names."  Here is a sampling of the shelf-space reductions by Walmart alone:  toilet paper, -44%; mouthwash, -39%; household wipes, -25%; bar soap, -24%; salad dressing, -14%; chlorine bleach, -9%.  So, do we need all these choices?  Tell me what you really think.

Third.  Those of you who watched the men's figure skating last night--did you like the way the competition unfolded? Did you find the skating beautiful, graceful, artistic?  Here's my three cents worth:  initially, as the skaters were arriving, I've never seen so many glum faces on competitors prior to the opening of an event.  They all looked like they were heading for a funeral!  Then,into their performances, I've never witnessed so many windmilling arms.  The skating itself seemed frenetic and fraught with stress and strain.  Few managed to stay upright for their entire presentation.  Those dratted (useless) jumps at the beginning were something to be gotten through, by the audience and the skaters and the judges.  And not a smile to be found anywhere during the presentations except on the face of the first skater, Florent Amodio of France, who also had (IMHO) the most graceful and passionate performance of the lot (and scored 11th).

All this arm flailing and jumping seems to me to defeat the whole image of figure skating.  It makes something ragged out of something that should be smooth and easy on the eyes.  We turned it off before it was over and went to bed, bored with the sameness of it (every skater did the same thing, over and over)(certainly not a spectator sport, at least in this segment.)  Beats "school figures" though...that was REALLY boring!

Finally, just a note:  my pictures today are simply to remind you there is a color green out there somewhere, sometime, somehow....and to remind you to work toward a GREEN EARTH.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Grass IS Growing Under Our Feet

It is!  I checked.  Yesterday, desperate to see something green out here just off the one-lane road, I dug down through the ice and snow and burrowed under a small log.  There they were!  Green, vibrant --albeit tiny--blades of grass, letting me know that they, and I, are still alive after winter's rage!
As we look out on a landscape of unrelieved whiteness, it's hard to remember that things are working as they should be.  We long for the sight of something green, something yellow, something gaudy...something besides the tedium of white. 

But winter is for regrouping, reorganizing and just as much so for plants, even as they continue to grow beneath the surface of the deep cold.  They are gathering strength for the coming season.  Many will lie dormant for months well after winter has released its grip in response to nature's metronome.

The world of non-flowering plants is especially fascinating and includes some of the most interesting but poorly understood individuals of the plant world.  Lichens, for example, are the pioneer plants that convert weathered rock into soil, yet we hardly notice them.

We treasure the edible fungi.  And we are curious about other species we know to be deadly.  There are more than 350,000 plant species that can be labeled as non-flowering.  About one third reproduces without bearing flowers.  Included in this humble and majestic group are the lichens, algae, fungi, mosses, liverworts, and hornworts, ferns, and conifers, to name just a few.  They range from microscopic to the largest of all trees, the Sequoias.

One of my favorite fungi are the puffballs which we find in the meadow come fall.  These are the ones you kicked as a kid, just to watch them "puff" out great smokey clouds of black spores into the air.  When they first emerge, though, they are solid, pure white inside and....delicious!  It's such a surprise because seemingly overnight, they appear in the pasture and they are often huge!  The photo shows a puffball I harvested (and ate!)(yes, I'm still here!)with a quarter beside it to give an idea of size.

Another edible and very popular group of fungi in this region (for those who know how to harvest them) are morels.  These are found in the spring in open woods and along stream banks.  Some mushrooms are quite easy to cultivate like these Oyster mushrooms.  Shitakes which are cultivated on oak logs, are highly prized, as well.


Lichens grow where other plants don't:  on rocks.  We used to have a huge patch of "elephant ear" lichens on a group of limestone rocks at the back of our property, but I would have to imagine that deer eventually ate it because it's no long there.  They were--as their name would indicate--huge.  Lichens are also found on tree trunks, logs, sand and bare soil, as is moss, which is a whole 'nother subject unto itself.  We'll explore that one of these days!

Simple building blocks of our environment, we pay scant attention to them.  Sometimes it's rewarding to re-focus and "see" in another way, perhaps look in a different direction, and open our eyes to new realms of wonder.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Please, Thank You, and Civility

Dear and Gentle Readers!

Did you have a lovely Valentine's Day?  Ours was perfect!  No chocolate.  No diamonds.  No Hallmark card.  No flowers.  After 42 years of wedded-ness (and I did not say "wedded bliss" as I am too opinionated for that!  Bliss comes with forebearance!) I'm afraid I would simply be insulted to receive any of those phoney purchased expressions of "love."  As far as I'm concerned, as Garrison Keillor used to say, "There's two things that money can't buy:  love and homegrown tomatoes."

Admittedly, MM and I have both had our "louder" moments out here just off the one-lane road where the neighbors can't hear us!  Mostly, though, such eruptions are directed at farm events and plans gone awry, things like moving pigs from one place to another or rabbits munching the early lettuce...things like that.  Not a big deal.  Over the years, we've tried to be...well...at least polite, civil to one another, even if at rare times it's a smile through gritted teeth.  You know the old saying, "It's not who's right; it's who's left?"  We've always maintained that it's better to give over being right in exchange for the precious gift of an enduring marriage/friendship.  MM maintains that he always has the last word(s):  "Yes, Ma'am."

So, here I go again.  Sticking my foot in my mouth:  Valentine's Day (thank goodness it's over with for another year) IMHO is nothing more than a commerical "have-to" phoney gift-giving mandate cranked up by the likes of jewelers, card-sellers, etc. to pad their balance sheet in this sagging financial quarter. There, I said it. I feel better. Seriously, as a kid, I was a little on the plump side.  I got way fewer Valentines than the "more popular" kids did.  So, maybe I have a psychological antipathy toward hearts and flowers.  But I can't help but wonder what percentage of each diamond necklace and each pair of diamond earrings purchased paid for Kay's MASSIVE advertising campaign prior to February 14 with  those gushy so-called "romantic" love-for-sale ads.

Just picture me, JOTOLR--raggedy yellow rainsuit, Sorels, ratty gloves (those in the picture, though were made specially for me-- for handling my camera--by my dear friend, Debbi. Check out her blog at Knit Run Repeat ) ----wearing a diamond necklace and earrings to go feed the cows? 


Why, during the winter, THE COWS wear their own diamond-studded fur coats.  They simply would not be impressed with such finery.

Branching off a little from the love theme:    did you --or do you-- teach your kids manners when they were little?  Please, thank you, and all that?  Sure you did.  Of course, being 65, I was brought up in the era when men doffed their caps/hats to women when they met them; they opened car doors for women; and, of course, it was women and children first...a la Titanic.  But I truly think we're on the Titanic now as far as civility and manners go.  It's every man, woman and child for themselves.  Yes, we teach our children to have manners....what about ADULTS?  MM and I don't watch a lot of TV, but when we do, we have to endure an alarming number of those horribly violent commercials.  we're struck by just how much violence there is on the tube these days.  It's jarring. Personally, I think it bespeaks a society in pain.

I'm wondering if a remedial course for adults, in manners, would help our society.  Can you picture a crime-and-violence ridden program in which the actors say, "Excuse me, I'm so sorry I have to kill you," or "my sincere apologies for dumping and demolishing your cart of vegetables as I was running to escape the law?"

Something is deeply wrong with the way we are behaving toward one another.  A large percentage of us were most likely taught politeness and civility when we were children--please, thank you, yes, ma'am, no sir.  It's when we become adults that things seem to fall apart.  It's almost as if being an adult gives us license to be uncivil and impolite, to fling insults at our fellow citizens at random, and in essence, have verbal tantrums and exhibit our more atavistic side.  I don't enjoy this.

What I have been enjoying is the Olympics.  Haven't you?  And one of the things I've noticed is the politeness and civility.  Not phoney, purchased junk-jewelry politeness and saccharine love, but real people politeness.  These are genuine, tough, positive, dedicated, polite, civil young people who are competing mostly against themselves.  They provide role models, not just for young folks, but for us oldsters, too.

Politeness begets politeness.  Civility begets civility.  It's hard to scream at someone who doesn't raise their voice in return.  It gets lonely when you realize you're screaming at air.  Maybe we could have a national conversation, here? How about a campaign for manners and civility...?  Perhaps that would help us stop yelling at one another, and start listening...?  Tell me what you think!

Friday, February 12, 2010

What a Wonderful World

                                            I see trees of green, red roses, too.


I see them bloom for me and for you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white

The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night...

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky

Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shakin' hands, sayin' "How do you do?"
They're really saying, "I love you."

I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
                                                   George Weiss/Bob Thiele/Louis Armstrong

I love you all!  Happy Valentine's Day!  See you next week!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bittersweet

Two eggs today!  Whoopee!  Maybe spring's not that far away.  Five hens, two eggs.  When I get three a day, spring's definitely on the horizon! 

Admittedly, this Pollyanna's enthusiasm for winter has diminished a bit these last few days, what with the blizzard conditions, kneecap deep snow, and a shrinking complement of animal feed in the midst of a driveway that cannot be penetrated successfully.  Hence, the photo of Bittersweet at the end of this post, symbolizing the dichotomy of winter's tight grip on us at the moment. 

First a little data on American Bittersweet.  It's a vining member of the nightshade family, blooms late and carries over into winter with lovely clusters of bright red-orange seed pods.  It only grows where winters are cold.  It's always a delight to find clusters of the seedpods, which offer a sharp contrast against the grey trunks of small saplings and sometimes even rather tall trees, which host its rise.  

So, yes.  I still love snow and winter and I wouldn't want to live or reside anywhere else.  This is part of the adventure and we pay our dues to be a member of this club. 
As you know, we pride ourselves on being self-sufficient JOTOLR.  In fact, we planned for the possibility of an extended snow event long before it began.  We put up way more hay than we ever thought we'd need.  For the little bit of commerical feed we require for the pigs since we had a corn crop failure last summer...we bought ahead.  Twice.  Well...it still wasn't enough.  We called the feed store and asked if someone could deliver to our gate.  A couple of very generous store employees who live somewhat near us agreed to bring a restorative feed supply to us.  How grateful we were to get it.  Nonetheless, it still meant we had to haul it up...yes, UP...to the storage location.  We've been doing it in small leaps...MM with the slick-on-the-snow plastic, me with the yellow sled.  You sure can't say we don't have a fitness training program/gym right here in our own back yard.  It's half a mile from the road to the storage locale.  Together, we just got the last of 350 pounds hauled  up and tucked away.  We're sitting here enjoying a cup of Chai and savoring this bittersweet moment...the beauty and the beast of winter.



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Commenting on the Comments

First, thank you for your comments!  It's good to hear from you!  Some follow-ups:
Thomas:  I am feeding the birds.  They seem to like the scratch we give the chickens, so that will tide them over until the weather decides they have natural food once again. And until I can grow sunflowers again!

And, I really enjoyed your commentary and your "take" on light pollution  and especially your own experience with circadian rhythms.  With respect to those dusk-to-dawn lights, we did the same thing when we first bought our farm. We had it turned off.  We should have taken the pole down, but didn't, and that light was turned back on practically the minute we sold that side of the road, by the new "city" owner.

Elora (the OTHER Elora) from A Canadian in Italy:  Yes, exactly right on the telescope opportunities that seem to be declining. And it's really sad.  Instead, kids see stars on the computer.  Right?  Not! I was surprised that Genoa has fallen into the light trap, Elora.  Somehow "old world" or "lovely old world" just doesn't conjur up light pollution for me!  Maybe Vancouver is actually getting a handle on it...you think?

Ruta:  I'm going to suggest that everyone jump over to your website and have a look at the beautiful pictures "of your corner or the world." Go to:              

                              http://www.notesfromnorthdevon.blogspot.com/

Her pictures from yesterday show a pristine landscape.  If you go back several postings you'll be enchanted as I am.  You'll immediately see what an unspoiled sky Ruta must have!  It rather reminds me of West Virginia, but aside from the clouds (I used to live in Washington State, so I know what you mean, Ruta, about cloudy vistas!), it must be a glorious view!

Everyone:  You know, I accidentally came across an ad by a company that makes wind turbines.  Perhaps you've heard of Vestas?  It's a Danish company.  Their ad for wind power showed a horribly light-polluted large city, somewhere, with all kinds of sky glow and mega-lights everywhere.  The ad claimed that windpower could deliver the same amount of energy, needed to run cities, and that it was non-polluting.  Well, I got upset and emailed them. It was NOT non-polluting.   Not expecting a reply, I then came across that same picture but in this case, it was used by the International Dark Sky Association of an example of the worst of the worst in light-wasting behavior on the part of municipalities. I contacted Vestas and showed them the IDA photo.   By serendipity, at the same time, National Geographic's cover article in November 2008 was entitled Our Vanishing Night. It had the same picture as well (casting it in a bad light!) Between IDA and National Geographic and me...we managed to get Vestas to thinking about their responsibilities with respect to light pollution, not just coal-fired plants.  And you know what?  They dumped that ad within a month.  So, it pays to complain.

Again, thank you!  Your comments make my day!
Elora

Technology for Rural America

WARNING: TWBAR (this will be a rant)
I have a very up-to-date computer.  You can see it's a flat screen.  A Dell Vostro 220 purchased August 2009.  Carefully selected by my computer guru.  This wonderful guru assembled and installed everything he knew I would need and want for techno-whiz work/play in the arena of photography, writing, and blogging.  Everything, that is, except what he could NOT install:  normal people's broadband or high speed Internet--whatever it's called.  That's because it's not available out here just off the one-lane road. 

Yep.  Still on dial-up.  The audio comes in blurts, burps and spurts.  It sounds like someone is choking and in desperate need of the Heimlich Maneuver.  Alternately, videos are SUPER slow-moving, disconnected forward thrusts that fizzle mid-motion.

You want to know the funniest part?  The life-saving instructions for the Heimlich Maneuver on the computer are--guess what?  A video!  On dial-up, we're dead!

Why is this?  How is it that our so-called government can wage wars that we don't want, against our wishes, but they can't afford to make sure every citizen has affordable healthcare and the "opportunity" to come into the 21st century?  Something is truly rotten here.

You know, Third World countries (translated: undeveloped) even have broadband!  On that basis alone, Southeastern West Virginia should qualify.

Have you ever heard of the Rural Electrification program that was instituted during the New Deal? 

Here's from Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rural_electrification#Technology

"Rural electrification is the process of bringing electrical power to rural and remote areas.  Electricity is used not only for lighting and household purposes, but it also allows for mechanization of many farming operations, such as threshing, milking, and hoisting grain for storage; in areas facing labor shortages this allowed for greater productivity at reduced cost.  One famous program was the New Deal's Rural Electrification Administration in the United States, which pioneered many of the themes still practiced in other countries.  Worldwide more than 3.6 billion people do not have access to electricity, of which 83% live in rural areas."

Today, we are still reaping the benefits of this far-reaching and fair program that brought people in America who lived in rural areas, into the 20th century.

We should be doing the same thing, today, only in terms of technology.  Think how this would change the rural "landscape" in terms of working remote.  Long commutes might just become a thing of the past.  There's absolutely no reason whatsoever that the Verizons of this world should not be brought to heel in this respect.  It should not be a "for-profit" game; instead, corporations should be forced to cough up these kinds of needed services, free to the hinterlands that don't fit their "business model" of profitability.  It should be part and parcel of their being ABLE to do business here.  Out here, just off the one-lane road, we have always paid the highest telephone rates in the country. 

Am I angry?  You betcha!  Verizon hornswaggled me for three years, telling me that broadband was "just around the corner," or "on the way" but that they just needed a little more data, perhaps a better idea of just WHO in our area "wanted" broadband.  So, would I please take a little survey in my neck of the woods as to who "wanted" broadband.  Duh! Gullible me.  I fell for their dodgy ruse.  I did three separate surveys and each time came up with at least 75 families who "wanted" broadband.  Each time, I called to check on the results,and Verizon claimed never to have received these surveys.  But broadband was still on the horizon...somewhere.....if you could squint hard enough to see it...

This morning I received what I know to be a wonderful audio file from one of my favorite bloggers, Fred First of Fragments From Floyd. Check it out!  It's a fabulous blog.  I put my oar in on his comments, today, to tell him I was happy for him as he turns the corner onto more sophisticated elements of blogging. Fred is a great artist, wordsmith and human being.  He's going techno, upgrading his blog to be able to offer classy audio, video (I think) on his WordPress-based website.  It's what he SHOULD do!  But I am sad because I know as he gets comfortable with it, more and more of his offerings will fall into that genre, and I will be the poorer as I am less and less able to access them.

For starters, it took a half hour for me to "receive" his email with attachments.  I haven't even gone any further with it.  During the receiving period, I could work on writing my blog for this morning on Word; I could ssssssllllllloooowwwwwllllllyyyyy access iGoogle; but other than that, everything computer came to a standstill until that email had cleared.

It wasn't Fred's fault!  It was only a test.  If this had been an emergency...you would have been directed to view the video of the Heimlich Maneuver...and you know where that got us.

Finally....this doesn't address the waiting....and waiting.....and waiting.  It's challenging being a blogger on dial-up!  And when it's a snow day, like today, there are more people than ever online and it's even slower.....So, I am knitting.  Seriously.  I decided to do a little multi-tasking here and see if I couldn't spend the waiting, and waiting and...doing something constructive instead of gnashing my teeth and using less than ladylike language(remember I am 65 years of age and Mother taught me those silly principles of "being ladylike.)  I am halfway through a knitted wool glove I started less than a week ago.  It's right here beside my computer.

Whatever happened to a government that cares about its people?  Did we ever have it?  Or am I remembering a fairy tale that never existed except in my mind?  Please, gentle readers, tell me your thoughts. Where did America go?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Let There Be LESS Light

Yesterday, dear readers, I directed your attention to an article in the Denver Post about the city of Colorado Springs having to cut services due to budgetary concerns.

One of the services getting the ax is street lights.  And you know what?  That's absolutely wonderful news!

This country could do with probably less than half the street lights we currently have.  Think of the light pollution we could eliminate by reducing the number of street lights and making those that remain more efficient, and shielded. Both actions could save taxpayers unbelievable amounts of money while reducing light pollution significantly.

Sky glow.  What a pretty name for the horrifically wasteful, widespread, environmentally harmful dissemination of unused lighting.  Even out here, just off the one lane road, one neighbor has three of those high-powered street lamps on his farm; two other neighbors each have a "yard light."  Driving home in the "dark" I see all kinds of postage-stamp size yards, each--and some overlapping--with its own "security" light.  These are on all night long, all year long.  Even out here, way out here, I see sky glow from nearby teeny towns.  How much money could these little municipalities be saving?  Thousands of dollars!

West Virginia is a "heart of darkness" as far as star-gazing is concerned.  Ranked in the top tier of star-watching locations by the International Dark Sky Association, we are fortunate to be able to witness firsthand, astronomical events.  Comets, meteor showers, the planets, the Milky Way, the full moon...out here JOTOLR, on a clear night you CAN see forever.

The April 1997 issue of Blue Ridge Country magazine published my piece on the huge new radio telescope under construction at the time at Green Bank.  My article began this way:

"Coal is not West Virginia's only black resource.  Stand atop a ridge in the state's southern highlands on a clear, moonless night and look up at the sky.  Shake hands with Orion and drink in the splendor of the Big Dipper.  Sit awhile and watch the procession of constellations...Cassiopeia, Leo, Taurus, among them--climb the anthracite bowl of the heavens.  Those who should know say there are more than 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.  You'll swear you can see them all. 

'It's no secret to scientists who study the stars or to those who simply measure their beauty.  The uncluttered celestial canopy of the Mountain State's rural countryside provides a stellar array of opportunities for exploring the realms of the universe.

You know what, though?  Americans are afraid of the dark.  Yet we need darkness, not to mention the great beauty in dark skies, never seen by most.  Studies have shown that both humans and animals suffer as a result of unremitting light.  Sea turtles lose their way at nesting time; bats --consumers of copious quantities of insects--become confused; raptors on night patrol are mesmerized by all the light.  Practically all species are affected by light pollution.  Night routines are changed significantly as animals re-program themselves, adjusting to the overpowering hypnotic draw of light.  But, people are slow to let go of their mythologies.

Again, my own words, from Blue Ridge Country:

"Arguably, light pollution ranks low on the list of environmental threats.  But, because choices need not be made beween progress and preservation, reducing sky glow is an appealing task to tackle.  Saving and even restoring the dark sky can be a win-win situation for everyone.  Easy, cost-effective lighting methods are readily available that use energy efficiently and save consumers money.

"Wasted light energy in the name of "security" costs consumers in the United States over one billion dollars annually.  Obsolete outdoor fixtures, marketed when energy costs seemed inconsequential, send light upward, affording more protection to mischief-makers than to property owners.

"Particularly disconcerting is the proliferation of dusk-to-dawn yard lights that scour the rural countryside.  People for some reason feel "safer" under an all-night sun, believing that criminals dare not trespass in the presence of light.  Just the reverse may actually be true:  would-be burglars might never have noticed a rural dwelling were it not for the "security" light.  Once on the premises, those with harmful intent easily retreat to dark shadows."

So, there you have it.  I truly hope Colorado Springs follows through with its intent to douse the lights.  Sky glow is not pretty.  It robs us of some of life's most cherished experiences: connecting with our star-studded universe.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Serious Matter


So, what have you been doing, lately?  More like how have you been doing? Have you succumbed to Cabin Fever, yet?  Will we have to use a snow shovel even to find you?  Or maybe you've cocooned sufficiently to have reached the next stage of metamorphosis?  Feel like you're turning into a butterfly?  Or withering from an overdose of self-analysis and introspection? That's what being cooped up does! 

Me?  I've been inside-busy.  No different than usual.  I can always find something to do!  Lately, I've been trying a little knitting (I say "trying" because I am such a mediocre knitter.)  And alternating that with making some odd gifts for when I haven't got anything else to give.  These intricate little cat doorstops are a challenge to make, at least finger-wise, if not mentally. 


So, with a little "mental space" to spare, I've been contemplating some wide-ranging issues, and I hope you'll allow me to deal with something that's just a little out of my domain, so to speak.  

Specifically I ran across an article from the Denver Post this past weekend about Colorado Springs and its having to cut services that residents have always taken for granted, including 1/3 of all street lights, trash cans in the park, mowing, watering and fertilizing city park grass...the extensive list is pretty impressive.  Here's the link to the Denver Post:  http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_14303

It would seem that "Big City Life" is about to change.  A lot.  By law, cities MUST balance their budgets.  Unbalanced is not an option (unlike the federal government). So, "cutting services" isn't just "services."  More to the point, it's cutting jobs.  The real unemployment rate in this country is somewhere between 20-25% right now.

In that vein, I started wondering if Mom-ism will become popular once again, and if we'll get back to one job per family.  Well, in my Internet wanderings...I learned that stay-at-home Dads (SAHD) are the new wrinkle in today's economy.  True, many women have been rethinking the real value of their working outside the home, and many are being impelled for economic reasons...to continue.  It's the men who are being let go and find themselves at home.

A few have adjusted to the abrupt change in their lives, and have connected with one another via blogging.  Some have other interests--art, writing, building, woodworking--which they now have time to pursue.  Some meet--as women used to--at local coffeehouses or at libraries, even at homes, to chat a bit and reach out to one another.  Some have taken on volunteer activities as a way toward putting meaning in their changed lives.  Others have chosen to engage in learning of one kind or another that either improves their curriculum vitae or is simply joy-filled enrichment, either self-styled or through local universities and via the Internet.  But many have been unable to reach a fulfilling platform from which to launch the "rest" of their lives.

One difficulty seems to be that women generally speaking are "more crafty" than men.  On some level, women seem able to find satisfaction from doing things with their hands.  There are literally dozens of websites and blogs featuring sewing projects, knitting, paper crafting, cooking.

But, it doesn't seem to be as easy for men.  Not only has "purpose" taken on a whole new meaning for them, but men--without a dominant role in the income-producing sector--often feel devalued.  Maria Shriver has recently launched a research paper on the issue of women's taking the prominent role as income producers.

"For the first time in our nation's history," she says, "women now represent half of all workers and are becoming the primary breadwinners in more families than ever before." Shriver calls it a "seismic shift" in the economic and cultural landscape of America.

Of course, there's a lot of information on the web concerning this topic, and I'm only scratching the surface, but it's a topic that over time, I believe, will be in-your-face, as the economic situation worsens.  If you're interested in following the trail of research on the topic, try Googling terms such as "Female Breadwinner" and "Stay At Home Men.

Finally, it would seem to me that as a society, we're going to have to address these topics squarely.  Out here, living just off the one lane road, many friends have lost jobs as have friends of friends who are losing jobs.   We have serious problems on the horizon, and we will need to address them, as we reach out to help one another deal with them.