Wednesday, October 7, 2020

A Picnic on The Blue Ridge Parkway

      The Blue Ridge Mountains are beautiful in every season. They surround our home and provide us with an outdoor playground that all levels of abilities can enjoy. Anything from simple walks to challenging mountain climbs and everything in between can be found here. Even a short drive in the car enables us to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. 
     A drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of my favorite leisurely past times. We have driven it for an entire day, all the way down to Blowing Rock, NC. But even within a short, thirty minute drive we can look out over spectacular mountain vistas and picnic in one of dozens of overlooks. The Peaks of Otter is a tourist destination within that distance. I began to take it for granted and avoid it over the years of living here. On a recent drive, we decided to stop and reacquaint ourselves with this pretty area. I was reminded of the beauty and serenity of the place, even amidst crowds of people. Normally I like to steer clear of crowded places in the great outdoors. I prefer the quiet and serenity of nature. However, walking around the lake at Peaks of Otter during this social distancing pandemic reminded me of what it looks like to see happy people enjoying the great outdoors in a carefree way. As I observed people fishing, sitting on the grass, and walking around the lake I thought to myself, "How normal everything is!" 
     Our drive and picnic were the simplest of things but it couldn't have been more uplifting for me that day.
An overlook with a dizzying view!

I wasn't expecting to see The Devil's Marbleyard. It's the white, scarred area off to the right. We hiked it several years ago. The climbing portion of that hike was a challenge for me but the view from the top made it worth the effort. Some of the boulders on that rock field were the size of cars.

Boulder strewn woods

Well look at that! The white blaze shows that we found ourselves on the Applachian Trail.
 
Abbott Lake at Peaks of Otter


This view on Abbott Lake shows the Peaks of Otter Lodge. It's not a very attractive structure, being made of cinder block, but a friend told me they updated the guest rooms. I peeked in the restaurant and it was very busy this day.

There is a one mile walking trail the circumference of the lake.


Polly Wood's Ordinary served as a roadside Inn in the early 1800's.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Closing Up Summer and Harvesting What Remains

      
The morning fog lays along the James River down in the valley.

     By the time August comes to an end, most of us are ready to bid farewell to the heat and humidity. We start wishing for crisp morning air, pumpkins, and hearty fall suppers. Here in Virginia, summer lingers all the way through September. Toward the very end of that month, hints of fall have finally arrived. Morning fog now sits low in the valleys and bales of hay dot the cut fields, giving us certainty that summer is closing. 
     Another sign that fall is upon us is the loud thumping sound of black walnuts hitting the ground when they drop off the trees. If you happen to have a metal roof on your house or outbuilding with a black walnut tree overhanging, then you are in for a startle every time one falls. Black walnut trees are native to Virginia and I see them everywhere. We have two at the back of our property. They drop tennis ball size hulls that are bright green. Inside is the wrinkled walnut shell itself. The outer husks turn black and soft throughout the fall and stain everything they touch. The squirrels love them and I find interesting shell halves discarded all over the field where they have nibbled way portions of shell and left interesting shell sculptures behind. They nut meat is favored by many folks and is sold for a hefty price per pound. Personally, I do not like the strong, pungent flavor of the black walnut and I leave them all to the squirrels. As fall rolls on, we gather them up and burn them in our bonfires. I have to be careful when mowing because those large, hard husks will shoot out from the mower like a projectile. One good use for the shells that I am familiar with is using them for dye. Many rug hookers and fiber artists use black walnut in a similar way to tea staining. To age or tone down a finished piece, we spray it with black walnut dye. It's easy to make the dye but it is a messy, smelly process that many don't want to bother with. In that case, you can buy black walnut crystals and simply mix that with water and voila!
     Now that the weather is cool, Steve and I have taken up our evening walks again. The roadside is abundant with bittersweet and we've gathered a bit for the house and a bit to share. It grows like a parasitic weed along every sunny roadside fence and tree but I cannot seem to get it to grow on our property. There must be secret to it that I am not aware of.
     I always think of fall and harvest time, not January or spring time, as the beginning of something new. So here I am saying goodbye to summer, reflecting back on all the good things that have come to pass, and feeling ready for the crisp days and cozy evenings that lie ahead.

Hay bales wait for gathering

Our first bonfire of the season

We had to pick carefully around our garden resident.

Steve harvested hops for his beer making this year.

     


    
    
     

 

 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Beautiful Things

 

It was a productive summer for rug hooking. I made two largish rugs, four chair pads, and a couple of small mats. The chair pads went to my sister and the rug above, "An Abundant Towne Garden" pattern by Karen Kahle, I kept for myself. I hand-dyed most of the wool for this and it turned out to be a large project overall. I thought it would be nice to change the rugs on this wall with the seasons. This is now my summer rug. (It is also my Covid rug because I began it in March and finished it when Phase One began in Virginia in June.) I already have a fall rug that had been hangng in this spot for a long time so that season is already taken care of. Next I will consider what to hook as a winter rug and a spring rug.

 

The next rug I hooked was an American Flag pattern by Maggie Bonanomi. I hand-dyed the red, blue, and Fraktur Black background for this rug. People ask me all the time, "How long did it take you to make this?" I never keep track of actual hours but I do know that I listened to two, ten-hour audio books and many podcasts along with some quiet time while I hooked. I decided to offer this rug for sale in my etsy shop because I simply can't keep them all.
 

I give away some rugs to my daughters and family when it seems like a good match. The rugs tend to let me know where they belong. I feel the same way about the rugs I sell. I know they will speak to someone in particular and find the right home.


A good example of this is "The Woods" rug pattern by Anne Bond that I hooked last fall. I had a vision of where I was going to lay it in my home even before I started making it. After it was completed I tried it in many different places around the house and it just didn't "fit" anywhere. I was disappointed because I loved the rug, it was expensive to make, not to mention all the days and months it took to make it. I rolled it up and tucked it away in hopes that I would find a place for it. One day I decided to just list it in my shop. About a week later, my daughter Audrey showed me a photo of the dining room she was arranging in her home. I went with her to purchase the table from an antique shop. As she described her chairs and color scheme, I thought of The Woods rug and I knew where it belonged. I asked her if she would like it and when she said yes, I removed it from my etsy shop. It's perfect!

Aside from hooking, the vegetable and flower garden has kept us busy. We canned a lot of salsa, pickles, dilly beans, and hot peppers. We ate tomatoes and green beans with every meal for two months and never tired of them. Come January, I will longingly think of the tomato, mayo, salt and pepper, on white bread sandwiches I ate for lunch, sometimes for days in a row.

We vacationed in the mountains of New York State on beautiful Lake George with my sister and brother-in-law. We kept the grass mowed, the plants watered, and all the things that summer brings with it in upkeep. We stayed home more than usual but not so much that we went insane. We found the right balance for us. It will soon turn to fall and I will look for inspiration to keep the house cozy and cook from a different menu. I will change the closets out from summer to winter and Steve will cut firewood for the wood stove. Life will move forward, as it tends to do. : )


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Westward Ho!

     Just a few days after we returned from New Hampshire, it was time to fly to Colorado to visit Daughter #1! Claire and her family moved to CO last summer. At Christmas she asked if our gift to them could be for Steve and I to fly out for a visit. It seemed more like we were on the receiving end of this gift but, oh well. : )
     I have never been farther west than St. Louis so this was a first for me. Of course, what caught my attention the most were the Rocky mountains. We live in mountains in Virginia but compared to the Rockies, our Blue Ridge Mountains are foothills. (Steve and I had a discussion on mountains and agreed that one really cannot compare because each range has its own geography and personality.) I was fascinated with those mountains and it was hard to take my eyes off of them whenever we went out. It was wonderful to see our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. They showered us with cards and drawings and snuggles and laughs. Claire and Daniel also took us sightseeing as much as we were able. The corona virus was announced as a pandemic while we were away from home. Schools, businesses, and practically everything else began shutting down each day that we were there. It was disconcerting to have this happen while we were so far away from our home. We weren't planning to be gone for long but part of me felt compelled to return home to prepare for whatever was to come. In the end, we remained calm, enjoyed our visit, and observed how Coloradans responded to the pandemic.
     Fortunately, Colorado is a place where they embrace the outdoors and much leisure time is spent in the wide open. No one shut down nature and our excursions focused mainly on that. On our first day, (before businesses closed) we walked around downtown Boulder and visited a wonderful bookstore. The next day, we went to see Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The weather was mainly cool and a little bit snowy/rainy. Whenever the sun came out, it quickly warmed up. Soon after we left Red Rocks, they announced their closure.

Pedestrian shops at Pearl Street, Boulder, Co
Approaching Red Rocks (queue the Flintstones theme song)

The entrance and ticket booth. There is a museum and restaurant below.

The amphitheater was much larger than I expected. It was beautifully worked into the natural landscape. I was told folks gather for yoga here and I noticed people walk up and down the steps for a workout.

I would like to return for a concert one day, although the juxtaposition of the place had a dizzying effect on me.
 Later that afternoon, Claire took Steve, Mari and I to the beautiful Boulder Dushanbe Tea House. We had afternoon tea and it was lovely.

Click on the link in the paragraph above to read about the intricate workmanship of artisans who created this building in Tajikistan.

Afternoon tea

He ended up ordering a beer.
      The next day Daniel drove us all up to the Rocky Mountain National Park. We reached an elevation of around 9,600 feet. The frosty trees were beautiful and although the ground was snow covered, the sunshine was warm. The magnificence and beauty of the mountains are hard to capture in photographs. It was hard for me to take my eyes off the peaks nor to keep my mind from wondering about the earliest humans to cross those monumental mountains on foot.
     Claire packed hot chocolate and snacks and we took a nice hike around Bear Lake. Other portions and trails in the park were closed for the winter season.
Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park


Snowball fight in the parking lot!
During our down time, Mari and I sewed little woodland animals from felt. Then, we turned a shoe box into a forest home for them. Steve took the boys on bicycle rides and played Frisbee. We all played board games, Matthew built a huge train track, we watched evening movies, and cooked dinners.

Mari is good at drawing mazes for Steve and I to solve.
     On our last day, we hiked a trail on the Enchanted Mesa near the Flatirons outside Boulder. It was a beautiful day and many, many people were outdoors. By this day, all schools, restaurants and even ski mountains had closed due to the Cornona virus. Steve missed his chance to ski in Colorado by one day. We'll just have to go back. : )

Enchanted Mesa Trail


Flatirons in the background.

Overlooking Boulder, Co

Everywhere there is a backdrop of mountains. (The Flatirons are actually considered foothills.)


Thursday, March 5, 2020

It Is COLD Up There!

     A subscription to Yankee Magazine is one of my favorite indulgences. Ever since we left the northeast and migrated south, portions of my beloved New England will not let me go. Yankee Magazine helps me feel connected to my past even though the nostalgia of longing for the home that is not only far away in distance but also in years, makes me sad. The issue before last actually made me cry for the homesickness and I decided I wasn't going to subscribe any more because it was self torture. (I say this in good humor as I laugh at my ridiculousness.)
     Anyway... The latest issue of Yankee Magazine had a wonderful article about sugaring time in New England. Come March, the maple sap is running and the sugar shacks are gearing up for the ancient harvesting of maple syrup. The magazine article told about some of the best places to see the syrup process in action, where to taste, and what to bake with the syrup, etc. I read the article (with longing) and set it aside thinking one day I will get up north during sugaring time.
     A few days later, it came to pass that I felt needed in New Hampshire where our second daughter just had a baby, her third boy. I was originally going to visit them a little bit later in the season, toward spring, but it turned out to be best for me to go sooner. I can't make the twelve hour drive by myself anymore and I was thankful that Steve offered to take the time off from work to drive me to New York and then I would continue across Vermont to New Hampshire on my own while he spent the week with his dad. And just like that, I found myself in the heart of New England when I least expected it.
     The realization that we were in the north dawned on me when I woke up that Saturday morning in New York and saw snow flurries out the window. We had left daffodils and bursting buds behind in Virginia and here I was facing freezing temperatures with only a rain jacket. I quickly realized how "soft" I had become living in the south for the past twenty years and I was annoyed with myself for allowing it to happen.  Later that morning, as I drove up and over the Green Mountains behind a snow plow, I recalled how hearty we had been raised in this harsh, wintry climate. A few inches of snow was nothing and road-salt encrusted cars were a fact of life. Yet, here I was with Virginia plates, wearing only sneakers and my late mother-in-law's LL Bean barn coat that my father-in-law gave me because I was so ill prepared. (Thank you, Jane!), following a snow plow that I couldn't remember if I was allowed to pass or not. I pep-talked my way over one hundred and eighty snowy, mountainous miles alone with, "You can do this.", "This is who you are.", "This is nothing.", and "Isn't this great?!" As I came down the other side of the mountain and the roads cleared, I relaxed and embraced this wonderful opportunity that was before me. I enjoyed the spectacular scenery, I stopped to buy cider donuts at a roadside market, and I popped into a little junk shop and poked around. I was finally beginning to feel confident in my old element.
     Arriving at my daughter's house made every anxious, white knuckle driving moment worth it. I embraced my grandsons whom I had not seen since last November and I began to try to be useful. As the week progressed, it turned out to be providential that I was there and we endured some worrisome moments. Finally, as the week came to a close and we could breath easy that we had gotten through the hardest part of the week, it came to pass that we would be paying a visit to...a sugar shack! Chelsea's friends own Kearsarge Mountain Farm and they make about six hundred gallons of maple syrup each year. The boys needed to get outside so we planned to go see the baby lambs and the sugar shack. It was a cold and blustery day, typical of early March. Old snow and ice patches dotted the muddy landscape and the dampness reached into our bones. As I was introduced to two generations of the family who owns the farm I was struck by how hale and hearty they were. The younger generation, Sam, spent the entire time outside with us wearing only a heavy hooded sweatshirt. I stood shivering in a turtleneck, fleece vest, wool scarf, gloves, and Jane's barn coat. Sam's mom, who is about my age, fed the animals and chatted with us about all the goings on like it was every day that she stood in the freezing wind- because she does. They plant greenhouses of vegetables, raise cows and sheep, and make the syrup. Life is never on hold due to the weather.
     I admit, I was glad to get into the car and crank the heater up when it was time to go. (Did I mention how COLD it is up here?! Even when it's not cold, it's cold.) On the drive home, Hugo and I chatted about how nice it would be if we could have maple syrup for lunch. Back at the house Chelsea suggested we make waffles and I got right on it. The boys were so excited about lunch and I tell you, waffles never tasted so good. Maybe it was the fresh air from the morning spent outside or maybe it was the maple syrup that was only just bottled a day or two earlier, but we inhaled those waffles and licked our plates. It was perfect. Or maybe it was the fact that I drove six hundred miles to get here and I don't get to have this any old time I want that made it special. Whatever is was, I won't take it for granted, I'll always be homesick for it, and I may just have to keep my subscription to Yankee Magazine going a while longer.

The reason for my visit.

Mud season!
Aren't they the cutest things!
The back of the sugar shack and the wood that will fuel the boiler to make the syrup.

Maple syrup shots with lunch. (Chelsea's idea) A toast to New England!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

You Yellowbellied Sapsucker! Welcoming and Repelling Nature's Nuisances

 

     We love living out in the country and every day I am grateful for our quiet life out here. Along with the peace and quiet is the gift of nature and a menagerie of wildlife visiting our fields. We are entertained by the variety of birds, by watching hawks soar in the wind drafts, and seeing the does with their fawns every spring. Even hearing the spine shivering sound of coyotes at night has its entertainment value. What I do struggle with is when that wildlife and I come to odds.
     Obviously, I realize this abundant wildlife was here first and it cannot help but do what instinct commands it to do. Our goal is to not be a hindrance to our furry and feathered visitors. In fact we like to make their lives a little easier. We keep water out for birds, we plant flowers for bees, and throw old apples in the fields for deer to find. We steer clear of bird's nests in the spring and allow rabbits to burrow and make nests in our vegetable garden. We even leave the mice alone that winter over in the shed. But, there is a line (or two, no three...actually four lines) that I will not tolerate these cute animals to cross.
Number One: Mice are not allowed to nest in our lawnmower engine and chew up the wires.
Number Two: Deer are not allowed to eat my flowers and shrubs.
Number Three: If you mice think you're going to live inside the house, you are wrong.
Number Four: Kill our trees and I declare war.
     Over the years, we have discovered what works and what doesn't for keeping nature from crossing those four lines. Overall, I try to plant deer resistant varieties of flowers and shrubs. It's the best and easiest route to go. However, there are times that we are given plants and trees as gifts and there are some varieties that I would simply enjoy growing so, I need to be prepared.
     First off, mice in the house are going to die. In our younger years, Steve built soup-can mouse traps with spring loaded lids and we would catch and release those mice. But one year, we had such a large infestation of mice in the house that mousetraps had to be employed. The bottom line, spring loaded mouse traps work. The traps are awful and I hate to do it but, mice in the kitchen and in our food have to go. To date, we have not found anything that works to keep the mice out of our mower engine. We've tried mothballs, and aluminum foil wrapped around motor parts. Someone suggested peppermint oil and I bought some but we haven't tried it yet.
     To prevent deer and rabbits from eating our landscape plantings, I once tried hanging Irish Spring soap everywhere. When I was finished hanging it, the whole yard smelled like an Irish Spring. Apparently, it smelled so good that the little creatures nibbled the bars of soap. I found the tiniest teeth marks on the bars of soap. When that didn't work, I tried mixing up a concoction of garlic, eggs, and water to spray on trees and plants. It stank to high heaven. It may have worked but, it was so stinky and the globs of egg kept clogging the sprayer hose that I found it was too difficult to work with. I ended up finding a spray at our local co-op called, Deer Off. It works. The down side of Deer Off is that it has to be reapplied after heavy rains, but one bottle will last a season and it's worth the cost. Just try not to get it on your clothes because it stinks too.
     Our biggest challenge is that we are constantly at battle to keep the few trees that we have alive. The crab apple and decorative plum are always under attack by Japanese beetles. The crab apple are also prone to black spot and tent caterpillars. Another problem we've encountered is that the deer will rub their antlers on young trees in late summer and break the saplings down like toothpicks. The deer also nibble tender trees like our corkscrew willow. Our solution for the deer has been to wrap tree trunks with a little fence of chicken wire. The Deer Off prevents them from nibbling tender branches. To get the black spot under control, I sprayed an anti-fungal on the fruit trees. The Japanese beetles can't be controlled because those trees are too big to spray so the beetles will simply do their damage, much to my dismay.
     This year, we encountered a brand new, alarming nuisance for which we scrambled to control right away. We thought a woodpecker was damaging our three maple trees but, it turns out it is a sapsucker. Sapsuckers peck at trees like woodpeckers but, they are looking for sap and not bugs. Over the last year, that bird has done so much damage to our forty-foot maple tree that large branches are dead. It pecks holes all around the large branches to get at the sap and the scoring it creates around the branches is preventing those branches from being fed nutrients. Almost every time I looked out the window, I would see this bird pecking at the tree. It was literally killing our huge maple trees! I quickly researched some remedies and came up with this shiny reflective tape to try called Brite Way bird repellent tape. We tied it around the tree branches as far up as our ladder would reach. The idea is that the sparkles of light and crackly sound of the tape as it flutters in the breeze will repel woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and a few other varieties of birds. (It is very sparkly and it glints in the sun all the way to my eyes inside the house.) So far, I have not spotted the sapsucker on the tree again. Some folks also recommend placing an artificial owl or snake near the tree and I may do that as well. I hope this does the trick.
     As I walk our fields and take stock of what is going on, I can tell the moles are still happily in residence near the tree line because my feet sink down into their tunnels. The groundhogs have excavated some nice homes near the mailbox, and the birds are nesting in our front porch lights again. I also made a mental note that the raspberries have a root fungus and the insects that killed all the leaves on a new shrub will have to be identified and dealt with very soon. Spring is just around the corner and it surges with an energy that both delights and challenges.
     Finally, I read this morning that some friends in the county spotted a black panther in their neighbor's field. These folks are reliable sources whose word I trust. We have caught glimpses ourselves of "something" darting off the road once or twice in our seventeen years living here. At the time, it happened so quickly that we could only tell what it wasn't. It wasn't a dog, cat, fox, coyote, or any other animal familiar to us. One of them had a tail that was long like a cat's and it was dark colored. We never got a long enough look to identify it. Many folks have reported bobcats and panthers in the area so we strongly believe they exist. We certainly have had bears in the yard and each time has been exciting to see. I am in awe of the variety of nature with which we are blessed to coexist in our little corner of the world. I can only strive to stay out of their way as much as possible. My only request is that they don't kill the trees.



    

Friday, February 14, 2020

♪ ♪ Love, Love, Love ♪ ♪

   
   
     I'm thinking of the Beatles' song, "All You Need Is Love", this Valentine's Day.
It's been a joyful, love-filled week with news of the birth of our newest grandchild, Eliot. Our family members from New Hampshire to Colorado to Virginia have all been leaning in close to our phones to exchange news and to watch videos and photos of the new baby and proud big brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I certainly long to hold him and cover him in grandmotherly kisses. With seven hundred miles and winter between us, I am inpatient for a road trip.
     Here in Virginia, we've had the sixth rainiest February on record. Mild temperatures have buds and daffodils popping up too early. The migratory birds are returning to the fields. I know they are heading north and heralding spring as they fly in that direction. It's like watching a parade go by and you know that folks at the farther end are still in for the treat of it.
     Our youngest daughter is our unofficial family photographer. Several years ago, at a Thanksgiving gathering, she was prepping us all for a photo and right before she snapped the shutter she said, "OK, love each other!" Since then, that quote has been repeated many times over in our family. I think of it a lot these days. Love each other!