Posted by: morrowsl | June 7, 2018

From My Porch

The arrival of summer has never been the highlight of my year. I don’t like to be cold and wet. But I like to be hot and sweaty even less.
In winter, you can always put on more clothes or bundle up. In summer, you’re stuck with wearing clothes.

Period.

In winter, most things needing done outside get done no matter the time of day. I avoid going out if it’s raining or worse. And I layer in the effort to stay warm, but not overly so.
In summer, I try to get outside to do my chores really early, before the heat comes up. Or I wait until evening to work as the heat goes back down. I save the inside chores for midday, regardless of the time of year.

Since moving out to Remote though, I find I spend a lot more time outside regardless of the weather. There is such joy in seeing what Mother Nature has waiting for me to discover. Lately, it’s been my flowerbeds.

 

I have tried to mimic my sister’s flowerbeds, but we have different skills and different soil. So my results are never quite the same. Which only means I get to enjoy two totally different gardens.
But Sister alway has a good bed of Purple Coneflowers for the butterflies and bees. It seems I will have those in abundance as well. And the visitors are already signing in.

 

I have more spaces here for wildflowers and natives. The hill covering the storm shelter seems to be a very good spot for a wildflower area. I seeded it in early spring, from a big bag of seeds claiming to be “meadow flowers”, but much of the seed migrated with the rain. So I will seed again, this time from heirloom seeds packages, once I determine which flowers have self-seeded. There’s a huge stand of Mexican Hats just down the road from me that I plan to harvest seed from. And there’s Bee Balm all over the highways as well.

 

Another huge surprise has been a Mammoth Sunflower. I did not plant it. I have no idea how it managed to get where is it, aside from some winged gardener’s assistance. I know only that it is stunning and seems happy at the edge of the bed and I’m leaving it as long as possible.

 

No matter where I look these days, there are flowers. So much nicer than concrete!

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Posted by: morrowsl | May 25, 2018

One For The Mouse, One For The Crow…

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The bluebonnets are protected.

We sighted our garden quite awhile ago. But first one thing and then another kept us from doing much else. In fact, we’re much too late to plant at all for spring/summer this year and could be too late for a fall garden as well the way things are going right now.

But that’s ok. We have a good start on the hard stuff and anything we do to amend the soil just makes it better for when we finally do get to start planting.

The first order of business was to figure out how big the space should be. So, Mike tilled it up and we gave it a hard look. We’ll have three sections of planting area divided by walkways to make for easy access. I may yet put the worm bed in here as well. We’ll see

Once we knew where and how big, we needed to set the posts. Four wood 4x4s for the corner posts, set in concrete. That turned out to be the easy part. Getting the post hole digger on the tractor wasn’t. Turns out not all implements are created equally in size! Who knew? Eventually, we did get the auger installed and it made very quick work of the holes.
Then eleven t-posts, set by hand. Even as soft as the sand is here, those were NOT fun to get in the ground. Once the posts were all in place, we needed to make sure the 100 foot roll of welded wire was really 100 feet of welded wire. It turns out that shorting the bundle a foot or two is a widely acceptable practice.

Uh…

So, we rolled it out and did our best to stand it up. Once we realized there would be enough, we left it to relax a bit. The first order of business was to get the end of the roll securely affixed to the first corner post. We both hammered away and went through half a box of “steeples” (fence post staples) before we finally found a sure-fire technique. Once we had a way to hold the staple to the post without it bending or popping back out, this part was fairly easy.
Mike had discovered a little tool that looked like a badly sprung meat fork but was meant to twist the fence connectors onto the t-posts. While it wasn’t nearly as simple as the YouTube video showed, it was a lot easier than using pliers.

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The first of many “steeples” hammered in.

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Can’t wait till there’s green in that space!

It took us a couple of weeks, once we got all the components and actually started the build. Neither of us is willing to work in the heat of the day, so we took it easy and worked the cool mornings. Except the last day. We sweated through all our clothes and came into the house so exhausted, we both fell asleep in our chairs and woke up stinky and freezing!

But, it’s done!

Now to design and build the gates. Then we’ll haul in some well-composted soil we discovered by talking gardening with a local grower. I’ll spend most of the summer building beds and getting the soil in good shape. And hopefully, by late summer, I’ll have fall veggies started.

One for the mouse,
One for the crow.
One to rot,
And one to grow.

Posted by: morrowsl | May 25, 2018

Getting My Grow Groove Going

When we moved out here to Remote, I had so many plans for the things I would do!  I wanted a garden, of course, for vegetables and flowers.  I wanted the existing flowerbeds to overflow with colors and shapes and fragrances.  I wanted an herb bed.  A worm bed.  And possibly a berry patch.

A year here has taught me that something will always want exactly what I want.  And will get it no matter how hard I try to keep things protected.

The first menace, of course, was the transitory herd of wild hogs.  They blow through a couple of times a year, usually in spring and fall, tearing up the lawn and gardens at will.  Then they move on with the promise to return as soon as we’ve got things replanted and pretty again.

Then there are the ants.  EVERYWHERE.  Big ones.  Little ones.  Red.  Black.  Brown.  They bite and sting and get into the sugar bowl.  They march across the floor to the dog’s food bowl with little dinner napkins tied around their necks.  They have a six-lane interstate built across our driveway.  In TWO PLACES.  They are immune to poison.  And my tricks.

We also have an occasional armadillo.  A bunch of bunnies.  Captain and Mrs. Neighbor Boy’s Marauder Chicken Flock, plus a now solo guinea hen.  Pansy-eating deer.  Those pesky squirrels who can’t find anything on 21 acres except what I’ve planted.

Nothing much surprises me when I open my doors to go out to tend the green stuff.

In spite of it all, I am going forward with most of my plans.  I’ve made adjustments.  I’m staying flexible.

The existing flowerbeds are already filled with what appears to be the former homeowner’s version of pest-proofing.  She anchored the beds with Rose of Sharon and quince, dwarf crape myrtles, rosebushes, garden amaryllis, Texas sage, and a glorious Desert Willow.  For filler she used marigolds, purple jew, several kinds of garden lilies, and gladiolas.  I’ve added iris and rosemary, flame acanthus, coneflowers, day lilies, milkweed, coreopsis, thyme, and hands full of larkspur and zinnias.  Turk’s Cap in red and pink.  And sunflowers.
This mix will evolve as things either take or die.  I planted bluebonnets and none came back the second year.  I dug up glads and they just came back up a foot away from where they’d been.  I have cannas and yarrow and Gregg’s Mistflower.  And three lemons on the bush this year.  The blackfoot daisy didn’t make it.  But the Widow’s Tears I transplanted from the yard did.
All in all, the beds still look bare in places.  And like a jungle in others.  It needs balance.


Where last year I had zinnias almost four feet tall, this year there’s a huge sunflower.

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Mammoth sunflower getting ready to open.

There are multiple flowers on this one stalk.  The stalk is almost as tall as I am!

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Existing lilac tree

Half the fun of having so much bed space is figuring out how to fill it.  I’m not anywhere near finished.  And, since most of it is likely to get eaten anyway, I’ll just start over again next season!

Posted by: morrowsl | May 9, 2018

We Know Some Things, Because We’ve Seen Some Things

Three years ago, my niece convinced me to take a volunteer gig with a group supporting the MS150 ride.  For the uneducated, MS150 is a bicycle “ride”, not race, that covers 150 miles, takes two days to complete, and raises money and awareness for multiple sclerosis.  We were going to be working a rest stop at the end of the route on the second day.  I wrote about that experience here, You Wanna Fight?, so I’ll just add that, in the years since that first rest stop, much has changed.  With the group, the ride, and me.

Perhaps the biggest change from that first day is the addition of my daughter, Sheli, as a rider.  Thankfully, she doesn’t have MS.  Her interest comes in part from her need to find a fun and efficient way to exercise.  Cycling is one of, if not the, most efficient exercises there is.  However, all things being equal, I convinced her to volunteer after I got into it and the hook set deep.  As much as she enjoys being on the tent side of the event, she wanted to be out on the road with the biggest bike gang in the neighborhood.
Who could blame her?  Meat Fight has grown from a small group of cyclists, captained by a freshly diagnosed young man at the prime of his life, to a tsunami of cyclists, stretching across the nation, populated by folks with MS or riding for people with MS.  The current team numbers over two hundred strong.  Roughly half of them were at the start last Saturday.  It was my first time to be present for the beginning.  I’m usually at the end.

Another big change was the addition of my grandson, sign in hand, cheering his mom.

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Sheli’s cheering section

Their incredible fund-raising skills earned the Meat Fight team the spot at the front of the pack.  The size of the team earned them the opportunity to leave the start as one group, ahead of the rest of the riders.  Watching them riding by was a huge rush.  Unfortunately, at the same moment my daughter passed in front of my camera, a woman stepped in front of me and my lens autofocused on her!  Sheli was moving too fast for me to correct in time to get a shot of her face.

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Sheli Wright, rider #1304

I needed to get across town to the first day finish line.  And I would need to drop my grandson off with my husband before that.  I had about two hours.  And I wanted another chance to catch Sheli early in the ride.  Nothing to do but jump in the car and chase the pack!

In the years to come, I will be a lot smarter about getting out of the start area and beyond the pack.  As we were flying down the tollway, high above, the riders were flying down the service road, down below.  Each time we’d spy a large group, we’d both scan the crowd for a bright yellow bike.  It’s a lot harder than it sounds.  But we did manage a gazillion WOWs.

The first rest stop comes up some ten or so miles from the start.  I knew the intersection just south of it well, it being just north of where I exit often on my way to events including my granddaughters.  Being a ride start-day novice, I simply assumed I would be well ahead of the pack and have no problem getting where I needed to be.

WRONG!!

Each tollway exit as we moved north was closed by a police roadblock.  In the time it had taken us to get into the car and out of the start area, the pack had managed to move a lot farther over the route than I’d ever anticipated.  But surely they wouldn’t be close enough for the exit I needed to be blocked already.

Would they?

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Two Meat Fight riders coming up fast in my side mirror.

They would!

We sat in traffic for a what seemed like forever before the police took pity and stopped the cyclists to let the bottleneck clear.  I debated just going on and meeting Mike.  But I really wanted to try to catch Sheli again.  I crossed over 380 instead of turning right and drove on toward Rest Stop #1.
Then second-guessed myself and took a hard left at the cut-off.  Luckily, the road allows a wide spot for emergency stopping.  I parked, grabbed my camera, told my grandson to sit tight, and hoofed it to the intersection.

We’ve had a tremendous amount of rain lately which gave us a wonderfully cool morning with blankets of fog lying over the fields surrounding the rest stop.  My location put me shooting into the rising sun, which is never my strong suit.
The riders were moving up the little two-lane blacktop road to the sounds of birds calling and volunteers hollering, “Rest stop to the right!”  Try as I might, I wasn’t able to see jerseys well enough to know which were the ones I wanted.  And there are many yellow bikes!

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Lone cyclist leaving Rest Stop 1 in the morning fog

I returned to the van a bit disappointed.  Then I checked my phone.  There was a message from Sheli that she’d made the rest stop.  She was there!  I called, hoping she wasn’t already moving and the ringing phone would cause her to wreck.  Luckily, they were just getting ready to pull out again.  I told her we were across the intersection and would be watching for her.  We jumped out and took off for the safety of the parked squad car to wait.
Lots of riders passed.  Many not turning in.  I worried she’d be in a group that would meld into the oncoming riders and be lost to our eyes.  When I did see her, I knew there was no way to get a face shot, with the distance and the sun, so I took a series of the group and hoped I’d get at least a couple.  In the end, only my cell phone image caught her.  Even then, she was just behind the trees.

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Meat Fight group leaving Rest Stop 1

And then, they were gone.

We returned to the car and made our way toward town and breakfast for the boy and his Papa.  I grabbed a breakfast sandwich and a large coffee and headed to the lake.

Once at the team tent, things moved along at a clip.  We set up the remaining tables and set out food to be iced down and/or cooked.  This year we’d thrown in with another team from Richardson Bike Mart so our “village” was sizable.  Unlike years past, there would be tons of shade and chairs for the riders to relax and recover.  There was brisket and brats and burgers.  There were margaritas.  And plain water.  And ice cream sandwiches and popsicles.  And a vibe that permeates the entire village that just makes you happy to be there.

Throughout the day, the team members found their way to the tent.  Some with bandages.  Most with smiles.  All with stories from the road.  We welcomed them and fed them and listened to them telling tales.  It was like a family reunion, but you got to choose who was in the family!
At the end of the day, the National MS Society recognized and rewarded the team’s fund raising efforts.  We are a million dollar team!  Much like the ring of honor at Jerry World, only so much better, a framed Meat Fight jersey now hangs in the MS offices.

And next year, we’ll add another one!

Posted by: morrowsl | April 25, 2018

All Work and No Play

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Rescued from one of the barns on the farm.

Since moving to Remote, we’ve spent most of our time working.  We’re supposed to be retired.  But I’ve determined that to be a huge misnomer.  The idea of retirement when my parents were doing it meant moving to a small house on the lake, working for fun in the local café, gardening and feeding the birds and squirrels, and going fishing anytime they pleased.

The idea of retirement when Coop Daddy and I did it is a whole nuther beast.

Of course, part of that is due to the manner in which we moved.  We sold a farm and relocated much of it to our new property.  We didn’t sell a house, but moved much of it out here as well.  Prior to that, we spent an insane amount of time shedding both locations of all the excess that just wasn’t going to work, or fit, here.  We took so much stuff to one collection site they finally turned us away.  Not to worry, there were others more than happy to see us pull up.
It seems we made a gazillion trips out here with the truck and van packed to the doors.  We took a short break for our first Christmas, then hit it hard in hopes of being done by spring.

We’re still opening boxes now and then and exclaiming, “Oh, so THAT’S where that went!”

When we closed on the purchase of this place, we had a rough idea of what we wanted to do and needed to do.  Once we sold the farm, we had a better idea of what we were going to be able to afford to do and what would prove too expensive or wasteful.  We knew we wanted a storm shelter.  We knew we wanted a second barn.  We, or at least I, knew we wanted chickens and donkeys and bees.
We determined replacing the pool and its surrounding deck wasn’t cost effective, but did it anyway because neither of us wanted a three-foot wading pool with deck stairs that had been installed upside down and were too steep to be useful.  That pool has more than paid for itself already in relief from the heat of many summer afternoons.
The chickens have been a great addition.  They provide eggs for us, our family, and several friends.  The bees are still something I’d love to have and may yet consider in the years ahead.  The donkeys require a fence.  The fence was on the plan for Year One but got moved to Year Two and probably won’t see light of day until Year Four at the rate things change around here.
We’ve added the deck that negates mowing in the backyard.  We’ll have a garden that wants tilling instead.
My Year Two dishwasher will slip into Year Three, which doesn’t bother me a bit.  It can go into Year Twenty-three and I’ll be okay without it.
Along the way, we’ve had to deal with busted plumbing and old appliances, delays due to weather, and a good number of setbacks thanks to being exhausted.

Retirement, right?

What I’ve learned along the way is that time is going to keep moving, no matter how hard you work to stop it.  The choice to put my head down and plow forward has helped get me through most of the challenges my life has presented.  I often tell people I’m an ant.  I pick up my kernel of corn, hoist it over my head, and press on.  When that one is safely deposited, I go back for another.

Head down, body moving, time marching on.

This is not to say we never stop.  We do.  We spend almost as many days away from home as we get at home.  And much of that is time spent in the company of family and friends.

Still, it seems a shame to have such an amazing place to live and not spend a lot of time enjoying it.  To that end, I made a point to grab my camera a few times this week and step outside for a bit.  The rewards for hard work at many here at Remote.

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There’s plenty of prickly pear around here. Still, I like the idea of having it growing where I want, instead of just where it wants.

The previous owners did much to get the flowerbeds in.  We changed the irrigation and I’ve added a lot of perennials.  Those appeal to my lazy gardener side.

Along with the flowers, I wanted edibles.  Until the garden is up and running, I’m making do with fruit.  Last year the berries were a handful and only one lemon survived.  It’s a new year and there are blossoms on everything!

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It’s raining again, here at Remote.  The list of chores hasn’t gotten shorter as I’ve typed.  Time is marching, yet again.  I have things to do and the day’s half gone.  Retirement, right?

Posted by: morrowsl | February 24, 2018

Mother Nature Seems a Bit Pissed Off

Our local weather dude, Pete Delkus, knows his stuff.  He is right more often than he’s wrong.  Unlike the cable weathercasterwannabes, he only mentions “severe” when he sees there will be severe weather.  I have never heard weathergeddon come out of his mouth.  He is not into forecasting fear and doom.
Going into this week, the Delkus was talking “weather event”, which covers a lot of ground, as Pete was quick to point out.  He warned about freezing rain.  He cautioned about sleet.  He was very firm on rain.  He was not ruling out snow.  The only thing he didn’t say was we’d get it all in about a four hour period.
I’ve met Pete Delkus.  He’s a nice guy.  Approachable.  Friendly.  Funny.  Intelligent.  So, if he nailed every weather possibility in the coming weather event except duration, I am willing to forgive him.

Sunday, just ahead of the incoming weather, I raked a big pile of leaves into the chicken run.  This serves multiple purposes.  The leaves act as an insulator, helping the ground stay warm.  They also provide slip-free footing.  And they give the girls something to do.  I wanted all of that, since it looked like I was gonna need it.  In spite of having the windows open all day, I still tried to think ahead to extreme cold.  I washed all our heavy clothes, jackets, and gloves.

The rain started Monday evening, but our overnight total was a scant quarter inch.  By Tuesday morning it had started coming down in buckets.  I went down to deal with the chickens, opting to hang both feeders inside the coop where it would stay dry.  The girls were standing in the deep puddles left by their energetic digging underneath all those leaves.  Thankfully, there was a leaf pathway from the door of the run to the door of the coop.  I tucked them in for the night and promised oatmeal for breakfast.

Wednesday was insanity.  The cold front moved in and sat right down over Remote and the surrounding countryside.  As promised, I took oatmeal down to the chickens for breakfast, but had a moment of panic when I realized the entrance was completely under water!
We’d had a hard rain shortly after moving the chickens into the coop and so much sand washed down the hill into the run that I had to dig it up and haul it out.  The area in front of the door was especially susceptible, so I dug it lower than the footer, lined it with four-by-fours, and filled it with gravel.  What I never saw coming was how much water would wash over the four-by-fours and fill the cavity.  I managed to get the door unlatched and watched in amazement as the water made waves over the threshold as the door closed.  Nothing to do about it but hope it would recede.  I gathered eggs, and trudged back to the house to fill the seed feeders and suet holders.

Sometime after lunch, the event portion of the weather event hit.  Rain turned to freezing rain.  Everything was soaked first then frozen.  Freezing rain turned to sleet.  There is a difference.  If you don’t know what that is, look it up.  Sleet turned back to rain, which came down so hard at times it felt like we’d just lose our mooring and start to float.  By nightfall, the damage was done.  If there wasn’t ice on every surface already, the lowering temps would take care of that.
I opted to leave the coop door open so the girls could get out if I couldn’t make it across the ice.

Thursday morning was, thankfully, dry.  The temps came up sometime in the wee hours making crossing the rock and gravel to the coop a lot easier than I’d expected.  Things were beginning to drip.  The run door was iced over, but the huge pool of water was gone and I had a stick to whack the ice with.  All of the chickens were huddled into one area of the run, soaked to the skin and highly irritated.  I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t coming to the door to greet me like they normally do.  They seemed almost afraid to move.
Then the run door slammed shut and a sheet of ice from the hardware cloth roof fell down onto my head and back, spitting little ice cubes down the neck of my hoodie.

Oooohhhhh!  Now I get it!

There was very little high ground for walking, but enough to allow me to circle ’round inside the run, whacking the ceiling with a hoe and knocking down sheet after freezing sheet of ice.  The chickens wanted no part of this and scattered anytime I got near enough to be seen.  By the time I’d finished, they were ready to be inside the coop, parked at a full feeder.  I guiltily trudged down to the barn and filled both feeders to the top, then hung them both inside and bid my girls good night.

They made no reply.

Today I walked around taking pictures of the damage.  Sister tells me ice is Mother Nature’s landscaper.  From the looks of our trees, Mother Nature isn’t very good at choosing her employees, or she is REALLY pissed off.  Given the state of weather worldwide these days, I’m going with the latter.

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This privet was bent completely to the ground by ice. I’m hoping some sunshine will help it stand back up again.

 

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One of the Altheas took a hit.

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We’ll cut it back.

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It should be fine.

 

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The huge evergreen behind the pool also took a hit. So far, I can’t find the end of the limb.

 

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This one as well, out by the back deck. I love it’s unusual shape. We’ll see what it looks like after the limb is gone.

 

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Most heartbreaking, for me, is the Desert Willow.

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This is one of two main branches that gave it its open cup shape.

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Losing the limb will completely alter the appearance of the tree.

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And the top broke off of the other main branch.

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It ended up in the flower bed.

 

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But, hidden under the leaves in the yard, flowers are waiting to bloom.

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Not the quince.

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The quince said to hell with ice.

Posted by: morrowsl | November 4, 2017

On Having the Best

Considering how long it took to get my best friend to Texas, you’d think I’d have a camera full of photos marking the event.  And I do.  Kinda.  I’ve got images from most of the places we went.  And from some of the stuff we did closer to home.
But there is not a single photograph of just us, together, while she was here.  I have no idea how we managed to miss that.
It’s been a big downer to an otherwise wonderful memory.

When we met, so many years ago I’m not really even sure of the date, we both realized very quickly what the odds were.  She was born and raised in New Jersey.  I was born in Oklahoma and raised in Texas.  Had we been raised in the same town, we still might not have known each other.  We wouldn’t have shared a classroom or playground.  We probably wouldn’t have moved in the same circles; she was much more hip than I was at a much earlier age.  We could possibly have shared acquaintances, and maybe space in the same pizzeria.  I’m not sure we would have given each other much notice, unless we had walked into the same head shop or record store at the same time.  Or onto the beach.

It is simply an error of nature that we were born into different families and upbringings.

Since we’ve been friends, we’ve done our level best to make up for Mother Nature’s shortcomings.  We share a multitude of interests and have brought new things to the table over the years.  We both love water, the bigger the body the better.  We both love music, the common denominator that drew us to each other.  We both love a good story well told.  We both dabble in creative arts.  Both keep a camera nearby.  We love to read and have shared many books through the years.  The list goes on and grows as we do.
I’ve spent many nights in the little bedroom at the top of the stairs in her house.  We’ve burned up the telephone lines between Texas and New Jersey and crowded the internet with our almost daily commentaries.  We’ve shared a sofa and many tasty cups of tea.

And now, finally, we’ve spent some time together in my adopted home state.  Although, most of it was in the car, flying up and down the interstate.  I made the mistake of moving as far from the city as possible.  So showing folks around means we drive a lot more than we would have before the move.  Which, in this case, gave us the time for conversation that we never got to have on the sofa or porch swing.  It’s a cheap imitation, but we were happy enough to be together that neither of us was willing to complain.

We got ten days together.  I would have agreed to double that.  Although I do understand how it feels to be away from home too long.  There are needs to be met and people to miss.  Still, the distance between us keeps us apart far more than either of us likes.
We did spend some time on the deck with a fire in the chiminea with a bag of old marshmallows and the stars winking above.  We spent some time in the Grasslands, once we found them.  We hung out with Sister and Mom for a bit, but didn’t have enough time to try to whip them at Chickenfoot.
I keep thinking of things we’ll do next time and then reminding myself that this time was far too full of things to do.  We need a string of days with nothing to do except be together.  Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we get that chance.

Until then, I’m happy for the time we had and the friendship that keeps us traveling across the country to be together.  No matter where we are or how we spend the time.

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This little cricket showed up the day the MacNeils left.  It seems right at home on the wood stove!

I love you, sister of my heart.  Until next time…

Posted by: morrowsl | July 17, 2017

And here we turn

Friday morning dawned, like most other mornings have or will, without any visible signs of what was coming.  But I knew.  I had looked down the road once, long ago, and realized that the trajectory was certain.  A collision would occur.  It would be catastrophic for some, totally obliterating for others.  There would be a day, eventually, that would change lives.  Forever.  Mine.  My family’s.  Others.
Back when I knew what was coming but wasn’t yet certain of the physical date or time, I felt that this day would bring relief certainly, and happiness, probably.  The reality is that the events as they played out were surreal.  I was observing from a great distance and couldn’t quite hear what was being said.  I am still not sure what I feel.
Although there is deja vu.  I have been here before.  I divorced twice and put my children through hell in the process.  But that water is deep and the bridge high.

I became a grandmother less than a month after turning fifty.  At the time, my daughter and son-in-law lived out of state.  I wasn’t there when their son was born.  He was already two weeks old before I met him.  Of course, I fell instantly in love.  It is true that grandmothers, no matter how strongly they love their own children, love their grandchildren even more.

That feeling, so much stronger than any I’d ever felt before, has never lessened.  It is shared with other grandchildren, but it is not diminished or diluted.

Luckily for me, this little family moved back to Texas rather quickly.  I was given a chance to spend most of my days with my new grandson.  I got to see his first tooth and first steps.  I was listening when he spoke his first words.
I helped paint his first bedroom in his first home that wasn’t a rented apartment or a room in my house.

And I moved him and his mother out of that same house when his father took the low road.  He was barely two.

In the years since her marriage came apart, I have watched my daughter struggle to make things as “normal” for her son as humanly possible.  It’s a struggle you really can’t win.  Divorce and single parenting are almost the norm these days.  But there will always be “Breakfast with Dad” days at school.  There will always be those men who are very present in their child’s life and who unknowingly emphasize the gap for those kids without that support.
But my daughter does as much as she can to be both parents to her son.  And she invites her own dad to fill in when she just can’t.  It is a sacrifice she gets more willing to make as the years pass.

Unlike me, she has never remarried.  Unlike me, her son will be her only child.  Unlike me, she has given up all efforts to have a “life of her own”, opting instead to be two parents and the sole provider.  There is never enough money.  Never enough time.  Rarely enough sleep and often not a shred of patience remaining by day’s end.
She answers all the questions.  She listens to all the stories.  She helps with homework and cautions about bad internet sites.  She makes sure he has enough to eat and at least knows what manners are even though he’s a boy and does some gross boy stuff.  She snuggles and laughs and issues warnings and punishments.  She makes sure his appointments are made and met.  She keeps him safe and happy.  She protects and loves and goes to sleep worried sick more nights than I can even imagine.

This is not to say that my former son-in-law has not been present.  He has.
He’s the one riding the meteor that crashed on Friday.

Things began to unravel almost before the ink on the divorce agreement dried.  The party that started in the last year of their marriage was in full swing as soon as Elvis left the building.
Gone was the reliable man with ambition and drive.  In his place, a former frat boy with a drinking problem and friends in low places.  Less than a year in, he’d been arrested for public intoxication.  Then came a questionable relationship with a woman whose instability sat on her countenance like a flaming auburn wig on an octogenarian.  Of course they married.  And had a child.  And carried out their destructive implosion in public where none of us could avoid it.  The drinking escalated.  Substance abuse, supposedly locked away when he first became a father, resurfaced.  Recklessness was the order of the day.  The police department made weekly, sometimes daily, calls.  Screaming through the phone.  Screeching the tires as the car pulled away.  Lying and crying and blame left and right.
It was often like watching a slow motion scene in a Schwarzenegger movie.  The absolute loss of control of lives being lived at lightening speed and crashing into the wall.  Again.  And again.  And again.  Pieces flying in all directions.  And standing in the crowd unable to understand why he should duck, was my grandson.

Having been down the road ahead of her, I knew that the only thing she had control of was her son’s stability and safety when he was with her.  I prayed, every night and sometimes all day, that there would never come a time when either of us would have to live out our nightmares.  And I knew hers were unspeakably frightening because mine were.  We both depended on her son to tell us any time he felt he was in danger and to never lie to cover up or protect.  We agreed that, should there ever be sufficient evidence to warrant it, they would disappear.

Thankfully, that day never came.

I don’t question the Universe. My former son-in-law was arrested again in April.  The timing could not possibly have been more important.
Four years.  God alone knows how many sleepless hours.  Tears enough to fill the ocean.  More money than I care to consider but would willingly double to finally be done.
In spite of knowing the judicial system wouldn’t fail her, I still had a sick feeling walking across the parking lot.  I was watching for familiar faces.  The voices in my head were those of her former in-laws who lied under oath to protect their son, as they always have, instead of standing up and asking for help with his problems.  Coming up the escalator I tried to see down the hallway to the seating area outside the courtroom.  So many times before, my daughter’s former in-laws would arrive ahead of us and watch, eyes filled with hate, while we walked to our seats.  I put nothing past them.

They never showed.

Two hours later, my daughter walked out into the sunshine of a Texas summer day with the first genuine smile I’ve seen on her face in years.  Finally.  It is done.  I am sure my former son-in-law, forced into sobriety by his incarceration, will be furious to learn he has lost his son.  I am certain he and his family will blame the loss on his ex-wife as they have every rotten thing that’s happened to them since she married him.
I am also certain that all of the questions that will be asked in the years to come will be answered with honesty.  Unlike me, my daughter has never lied to cover up the ugliness.  Her son understands that people who make bad decisions have to pay consequences.  And that, no matter how hard it gets, he will always have a mother who loves him enough to guide him down a path that keeps him from being one of those people.

Posted by: morrowsl | June 26, 2017

The Never-Ending Diversity of Change

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Eight months ago, the view from my window changed dramatically.  In fact, the window nearest my desk these days is actually behind me and the view takes in the top of a large oak tree and our newly constructed back deck.  My mother’s sewing machine cabinet is parked there.  Because it made more sense to use the light for sewing.

I no longer see the traffic moving up and down our old street.  I have no idea what days the yard guy mows.  No notion of when Mr. Burns’ family comes to visit, although I suspect his son still spends a bit of each evening with his dad.  I no longer encounter our sweet next door neighbor, Helen, in the grocery.  Nor do I get my weekly hugs from the dry cleaner, Yvonne.
I have not watched even one thunderstorm moving in from the west to darken the rooftops.
Nor have I glanced up from my writing to see Holly stretched out a few feet away.

Eight months ago, I bid farewell to the concrete and asphalt and traffic.  And I was not the least bit sad to leave it.  But I do miss the friendships I so carefully guarded in the years of living midst the crush of the city.  I miss my friends.

Eight months ago, we moved away from, but did not sell, the home we’d lived in all our married days.  And each time I go back there, it feels less and less like “home” to me.  I was never a huge fan of the design of the house, but made it ours as best I could.  We had a very small bit of yard with no real privacy (at least not until we installed the wood fence a few years ago) thanks to an interstate highway moving traffic at breakneck speed mere yards from our back fence.  Any activity on the street could be heard from every window in our house, even with them all closed.  It wasn’t a bad house in a bad neighborhood, it just wasn’t the house in the neighborhood I wanted to live in forever.
So, while I’m not sure this house and this neighborhood is where I’ll live forever, I am sure it suits me and feels like a forever sort of place.

We are working, very hard, to finish off all of the first-year projects we’d agreed on initially.  We have prioritized most things to fit the ever-shifting needs and issues of this property along with the deadlines set for gaining the exemptions we need.  We put off a few things early on because of weather and now we’re having to do things that are made completely uncomfortable because of weather.  But even the weather here is different.  It is colder because we are farther north.  It is cooler because we have more trees.  It is wetter because we catch more of the systems that dip down and dump buckets.  It is muddier because of the massive amounts of rain, but it drains well because it is almost all sand.

In the eight months since making this move, we have relaxed very little.  Mike usually manages a half hour in the hot tub each morning while he drinks his coffee.  I get groups of minutes on the porch swing, although sitting still isn’t something I’m very good at.  We both snag naps in our chairs pretty much every night, waking an hour later with no idea how the ballgame ended.  Weekends bring the most downtime, although the rapidly approaching anniversary of closing on the sale looms large and keeps us moving.

Many things can be accomplished in eight months.  We’ve stopped having to carry an on-going list on a tablet everywhere we go.  Although the tablet sits on the counter still with its lined through scribbles and notes.  A reminder of all we’ve managed in the time we’ve had so far.  We no longer sit down each morning to go over what needs to be done in the hours ahead.  We don’t go to town every day.  We don’t have to compromise over who’s needs are more important or make deals to assure we both get the help we need with the things we have yet to finish.  We have time for the day-to-day maintenance of home ownership.  Although, the mud room bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in two weeks thanks to our newly acquire flock of chickens.

Eight months ago I had no assurance we could pull this off.  Heaven knows we’ve done more than I ever imagined we could.  There are still a great number of things to manage before summer is gone and we’re looking into the slower winter season.

Maybe I’ll get back to the old neighborhood then.  I have learned that anything is possible if you decide to take that first step.

Posted by: morrowsl | October 30, 2016

Old Trees

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Jim Casto, feeding his koi and catfish at Ohio Log House

When we first discovered Ohio Log House in the early summer of 2015, my expectations were only to have a cool spot to use as a “base” for a joint vacation with our friends, Elle and Jack, as well as a generally-located stopping place between a wedding we were attending and our visit to our farm.
I had no idea how hard I would fall in love.  And not just with the house.
Yes, it’s an incredible structure filled floor to ceiling with enough stuff to fit an entire season of Antiques Road Show and American Pickers, along with a period movie and probably a couple of television shows.
Yes, the area where the house is located is equally beautiful and quaint and so very Americana.
But I fell in love with a man there as well.  And his is the real story to tell.

Jim and Virginia Casto met when she was sixteen and came to work at a swimming pool that Jim and a friend had opened.  As all good love stories go, she didn’t fall for him immediately.  He had to work to win her.  Eventually, he brought her gladiolas, grown in his garden at his mother’s house.  The deal was sealed.  They married and began the journey that eventually led them to a wonderful pair of buildings, the Scandinavian-inspired chalet that is home, and the centuries-old log house that is their business.

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Jim and Virginia Casto’s home in the foreground with the log house behind.

Last summer, when we met them, it was Virginia who handled the business details and phone calls.  I’d tried calling the house and actually did speak to Jim initially.  We did not hit it off so well.  He seemed confused about my call and I was equally confused by our conversation until he explained that it was his wife who normally handled “all this stuff” and gave me her cell number.  I booked our visit and promptly forgot the old man on the phone.

So, it was a bit of a shock to come upstairs that first day from our cave-like bottom floor suite and find a very lively fellow leaning against a porch post, bending Mike’s ear.  I joined them and was a bit embarrassed to admit that I was the shrill who’d harassed him on the phone.  In his gentle way he dismissed the entire thing and picked up his story.  For close to an hour he stood thusly, sometimes shifting his feet or turning to point a spot in the distance.  But he never sat down that first day.  Eventually I realized Jim Casto is not a man who sits.  Like my own daddy, he was born on the go and grass didn’t grow under his feet.
Each morning, Virginia would cross the driveway between her home and her business with a basket laden with the beginnings of our breakfast.  She and Jim would join us at the table and, from those morning conversations, we learned that Jim had purchased the old log house to save it from destruction.  He dismantled it, moved it down the road a mile or so, then spent more than a decade bringing it back to life.  When he was finished, he and Virginia carefully filled it with antiques and artifacts collected over the years from sales and shops encountered along the way.  It was amazing to watch his face light in animation as he talked about the pitfalls of turning primitive workmanship into livable modern convenience.  At one point he’d been standing in the middle of the second floor, home of a spacious living/dining area, a snug kitchen the likes of which Country Living might boast, and a massive remote-controlled gas fireplace, when his son asked what had him puzzled.  Jim replied, “I need a bathroom” and that was how there came to be a small powder bath hanging off the back of the house far enough to make you understand how bears feel when they sit in the woods.  I kept asking more questions in hopes he’d forget there was anything to do aside from answer me.
By the end of our trip, I had the sound of his voice in my head and he had a piece of my heart.

I was truly looking forward to sitting with Virginia and Jim again at breakfast and listening to them recount their adventures.  I’d spoken with Virginia again when I’d booked the cabin and she mentioned Jim wasn’t as active as he’d been.
Pulling up, the place was even more picturesque than I remembered, even in the pouring rain.  Eventually Virginia made an appearance and explained that Jim was no longer able to get around without a walker and spent little time at all outside.
My heart cracked.  This was a man who’d spent as much of his life as humanly possible outside.  I spent the evening trying to imagine how he was coping.

Next day, we were up for breakfast at 8:30 and Virginia elaborated some on Jim’s condition.  He began to decline in the fall and winter after we’d been up for our stay.  He was now on oxygen during the daytime and confined to a single floor of the house.  He walked only with the aid of a walker and she had help to bathe him.  She began to talk about his inability to recall the facts of his days and their life together.  This morning, she’d left him with their wedding photos in hopes of prompting his memory into recalling who she was.  A tear made its way down her cheek and I simply had to go to her and put my arms around her.  Surely she’d known that commitment to a man so far her senior would possibly lead to this day.  But it was evident that no amount of preparation could have readied her to lose him in such a cruel manner.  We both regained ourselves and she was out the door to check on him as we left for a pumpkin festival nearby.

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Apple orchards skirt the lane leading to the house and comprise Jim’s view of the world now.

Saturday we were up and gone and spent almost all day in and out of shops in town as well as a huge pumpkin patch we’d passed on the way back from the pumpkin festival the previous day.

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Probably the biggest pumpkin patch I’ve ever seen!

Sunday morning at breakfast, we talked again of Jim and his declining health.  He was having a “good day”, Virginia said and Elle asked if we might visit with him.  We agreed to shoot for midday.  But then we ended up too far from the house at the time we’d set.  As disappointing as it was not to see him, it allowed me to simply recall the man who’d taken my heart and how he’d managed it.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to see him diminished and cooped up.  In my mind, he would still be out on his mower, tearing across the hills, making hay while the sun was high and bright.

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And then, it was Monday morning and we were packing the cars.  Elle and Jack would head northeast and Mike and I would turn southwest.  My mood was gloomy.  Our weekend, while longer than the last one and filled with much more time together, was still far too short.  And too, we were heading to a less than cheerful task a bit farther down the road.  The setting would be just as lovely, but nowhere near as comforting.
I asked Virginia to join us for a group photo, just as I’d asked the Castos to be in the one we took on our first stay.  She finally agreed.  Then Elle mentioned missing Jim and next thing I know we’re off and crossing the driveway to see him.  My heart beat a bit faster; I am not good with this sort of thing at all.  I tend to get teary and usually embarrass myself by saying the wrong thing more loudly than intended.  I almost hoped he’d be napping and we’d leave him undisturbed.

Jim, it seems, had other plans.

“You folks have been here before!”

It was his eyes that let me know he did, in fact, know us.  Maybe not our names, but he knew he’d met us before and he was genuinely pleased to see us again.  I hugged him and kissed his whiskered cheek.  And wished for more time to sit and listen to that voice.  To hear his stories about the cabin and the Erie Canal and the lucky people who lived in his houses.  We told him again how much we treasured the gift of the old log house, with it’s huge timbers and solid floors.  We all agreed that fall was the best time to be there, then changed our minds when a glance out the window beside his bed gave us the full view of the apple orchards and pond.  How gorgeous it must be in spring when the trees are blooming under a blue bird sky.

Then it was truly time to go.  I kissed him again and got a kiss in return.  I held his hands and tried with all my might to soak in all that I could of him before he was gone from my sight.  Possibly for the last time.

I hope to see Jim Casto again.  The odds are against it, I know.  There’s a long cold winter coming.  He is well into his 8th decade.  His health, after living such a robust and useful life, is failing him.  For now, I need to pack up a little box with some sweet Parker county peach jam and a print of his beautiful house and send it to remind him that the story isn’t over just yet.

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The view out Jim’s big picture window.

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