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!


Friday, February 7, 2020

What's on the Frame

    I needed a break from the large rug I'm hooking so I decided to hook some table mats and chair pads. I also wanted to play with some dye recipes. I borrowed one of my friend, Eleanor's dye books titled, "Vermont Folk Rugs". It came with a swatch set and I think ALL the colors are divine. This is my favorite recipe book yet! So far, I have dyed Buttermilk, Mad River, and Mustard Seed. My wool came out just like the swatch samples. Sometimes, due to water ph, mineral content of the water, or variety of wool, individual results don't always match the swatches. Not so in my case and I was feeling lucky. I also dyed some straight up Khaki Drab from Cushing because it is one of my favorites. It comes out especially nice when dyed over camel colored wool.  I also dyed some Buttermilk Paint Red and Antique Black from Emma Lou Lais and Barb Carroll's book.  Because I was hooking small rugs, I could play around with the new colors I made. Fun, Fun, Fun!

     For patterns, I used Pat Cross' book, Purely Primitive, to hook the Antique Pennies and Two Stars. I used, Wool Rug Hooking by Tara Darr to hook the Bouquet of Love. Lastly, the bunny rug was a pattern included in a Rug Hooking Magazine from 2010. Each rug was a joy to hook.

Background is Buttermilk, borders and pennies are Khaki Drab and Antique Black along with a textured gold wool. (The photograph looks a bit washed out.)
Stars are hooked with Buttermilk on a Buttermilk Paint Red background. Border is a very dark green textured wool.

The red heart was a swatch set I dyed last summer using the jar dyeing method. These swatches were a lot of fun and turned out great, too.
The bunny is hooked with a Parchment hand dyed wool on an Antique Black background with textured wool flowers. It's fresh off the frame and hasn't been steamed or bound yet.
     I now have a set of mats on my frame that are destined to be gifts, so I can't show those. : ) Once those are finished I will get back to my big rug. That rug is a design by Anne Bond called, The Woods. (Her patterns are available at Visions of Ewe) I liked the color color palette she used in her design so I bought the wool kit from her which is a combination of hand dyed, over dyed and textured wool.
     Alas, I have ended up with more rugs than a body needs. Some are destined as gifts, some I keep for our home, and I have opened an etsy shop, CurlyWillowRugs, to sell the overflow. A home overflowing with primitive hooked rugs is a good thing, I say. I am in my happy place!


Friday, January 31, 2020

The Story of a Girl and Her Horse

    Once upon a time there was a girl who thought she was a horse. When she was two years old, she taught herself how to gallop like the horses that lived in the field near her house. As the years went by, she tied make-believe rope halters around her neck so her little sister could ride on her back. She taped real horse shoes to her hands with duck tape and ran around the house on all four of her hooves. She made obstacles from tree branches in the yard and ran in circles, jumping over them. She gladly volunteered to be the horse who pulled little sister around the yard in the red wagon. She knew how to whinny and neigh to sound like a real horse. She recognized every horse by color in the movies she watched. She only read horse books, played only with horse toys and was happiest when she was near the horses. I began to call her the horse whisperer.

about 2007

     As she grew older, she took riding lessons. She learned how to properly care for horses and how to judge horses in competition. She earned lots of blue ribbons in riding and judging competitions. But one thing was greatly lacking; the girl did not have a horse of her own. Her deepest desire was to one day have her own horse. When the girl was twelve years old she got a job at a horse farm. She mucked out horse stalls and kept the stables nice and clean. The horses messed their stalls over and over again and every morning the girl shoveled the mess out. She shoveled their messes for weeks and months and years. She never complained about the hard work. She saved the money she earned and bought her first horse. The horse was an Arabian mix from a long line of beautiful horses. Her name was Vandella. The girl brought Vandella home. She paid for all the horse's care and feeding and took very, very good care of her. They became best friends and Vandella was always there to be with the girl on all of her happiest days and on all of her hardest days.
     Of course, the girl grew up. She became very busy at school and she fell in love and planned to be married. Vandella was still happy but the girl didn't have much time to spend with her anymore. The girl felt bad for Vandella so she decided to ask someone she trusted to find a good home for her. It needed to be a home where someone would love her and take care of her just as the girl had done herself. After a while, the person said Vandella had a new home and the girl could rest easy that Vandella was happy and safe. The girl got married and life went on. She still thought about Vandella often.
     One day, the girl saw a photograph of a horse for sale. In the background of that photograph was another horse and she recognized it to be Vandella! She couldn't believe her luck in seeing her there. She contacted the owner to ask about the horse in the background of the picture and they kept in touch because of their mutual interest in Vandella. Sadly, the girl learned over time that it wasn't a good home for Vandella. Her trusted person had misled her when he said Vandella went to a good home. Vandella wasn't being fed enough and one day the girl found out that Vandella was badly injured. It looked like Vandella might die. The heartbroken girl begged the owner to please sell Vandella back to her. The horse needed veterinarian care and a safe place to live and the owner wasn't able to provide that. The girl offered the owner a lot of money and even though Vandella wasn't valuable anymore because of her injuries, the owner wouldn't sell her back to the girl. The girl became desperate to save Vandella and make up for her deep regret that she caused Vandella to go to a bad home. She asked a lawyer to help her get Vandella back. They went to court and asked a judge to give Vandella back to the girl but she lost her case. She left the courtroom in tears that day, brokenhearted with the knowledge that she would never be able to help Vandella or care for her again. She tried to forget this painful experience and to trust that God would take care of his creature in her stead.

Vandella injured 2012

     Months later, the girl saw in the news that Vandella's owner was arrested for doing bad things to children and she went to jail. Still, the girl did not know what had happened to Vandella or who was caring for her. More years went by. The girl never stopped thinking about her horse nor stopped searching for her. A few times each month the girl scoured online ads in hopes of seeing Vandella. One day, many years later, the girl saw a picture of a horse for sale on craigslist. Her heart started racing and her mind exploded with unbelief! It was a picture of Vandella...for sale! The girl didn't know who placed the ad and she was afraid it might be the awful owner who might recognize her if she called about the horse. She wasn't sure what to do but she feared someone would buy the horse for slaughter so she threw caution to the wind and called to ask if she could see the horse. The next day she went to the farm and there was Vandella! She was owned by a nice man who had too many horses and only a muddy paddock in which to keep them. He said that he bought Vandella from the previous owner because that person wanted money for drugs. After all those years of searching and yearning, things happened very quickly. The girl bought Vandella from the nice man on the spot. Within days, she got the proper paperwork from the vet, found a good stable where Vandella could live with lots of rolling fields and grass for her to eat, and she brought Vandella home.
     The girl now shares Vandella with her own little girl, who also has come to love the horse. The little girl pulls up grass to feed Vandella just like her mommy did all those years ago. The girl's heart is happy because now she can be sure that Vandella will live out the rest of her years in peace and comfort.
     The girl isn't sure if Vandella remembers her. The poor horse suffered much trauma and was focused on survival for many years. But, she comes right up to the girl and takes treats from her hand. She is an old horse now. She was only eight years old when the girl first bought her and now she is twenty. She is still a beautiful and spirited horse who has proven that she is tough. I saw her myself yesterday and it did my heart good. I offer prayers of thanksgiving to God for granting my little girl one of the desires of her heart. Here is a story with a happy ending.
Vandella in her younger years.
2006: The girl being a horse : )

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Longer I Stayed Away...

...the harder it was to return.

That was one huge hiccup in life these past six months.

     Ongoing vertigo issues prevented me from doing most of the things I enjoyed. One of the frustrating effects of the disorder was the inability to write anything more complex than a shopping list. It was/is very hard to form complex thoughts and then put them to paper. I'm not sure why this is but it's odd and quirky and very frustrating.
     This past week is the first time I feel almost "normal". What better place to try and get back into writing mode than here. After taking two months off in September and October from everything, I was able to slowly start getting back into life. The family all came here in November for their annual visit and it was a grand time. My sister and her family even came from New York and DC. Steve and I impulsively bought a go-cart at an estate sale just before everyone came. Young and old alike had a blast racing that thing around the fields. It was a bumpy, teeth knocking ride but I've not seen bigger smiles yet. We kept the bonfire burning, and prepared more food in two weeks than we've had since. Oh how I miss everyone when they are gone!
     After that visit, Christmas came and went quietly and now we are into mid-winter. This year winter is very mild but still dark and damp. I go around the house each late afternoon turning on lights and candle lights to make the dark corners cheery.
     I got back to my rug hooking just before Christmas. I am now home a lot more so I have been hooking a lot. I am pleased that I can enjoy my craft again and I am making up for lost time. So much so, that I opened an Etsy shop, CurlyWillowRugs. I named the shop after the curly willow tree growing in our front yard. The twists and turns of the loops in hooked rugs remind me of the way those curly branches grow on the tree. : ) My shelves of wool are like a full box of sharpened Crayola crayons and it's impossible not to create. My fellow hookers have been a great support and I love the women in our rug hooking group. Our monthly meetings remind me of an old fashioned quilting bee. We are now over thirty hookers strong and the talent within these women is amazing. I am also humbled by the grace, both physical and divine, that these women display. Not one of us is alone in our trials in life and some of these women are truly long suffering. Not only do we laugh and create together but we support one another in true, loving friendship. If anyone local would like to learn how to make hooked rugs, you are welcome at our monthly gatherings. Contact me for more information.
     Here are a few photos to capture the good memories of these past few months.

Tess, Audrey, Me, Claire, Chelsea. Chelsea's baby is due any day!

Steve and me and the lighting of the bonfire.
A rare photo with all the grandchildren on one chair. (Even in one state!)

Blue Ridge Ruggers during a lunch break

Some of our beautiful members