Posted by: morrowsl | March 2, 2021

Hibernation

It’s almost amusing to think of “winter” in N. Texas as anything even remotely resembling winter. We typically get a little ice and maybe a dusting of snow, then the sun comes out and it all melts and we go right back to our normal ridiculously warm weather.
When I considered how I wanted to chronicle the weather and experiences that came between February 13th and 21st, I almost didn’t write about it at all. Compared to so many others, family included, our week was relatively mild and uneventful.

But, the news media tends to cover only those stories meant to elicit intense emotional reactions. Fear, horror, anger, sympathy, empathy, sadness, grief, shock. Sometimes joy, bliss, excitement, love, gratitude. The numbers game is tied to the feels for sure.

So much the last few years has been focused on the negative. And, it is hard to write anything about that week without including the negatives. Still, I have always believed that every experience, good and bad, is meant to bring knowledge. Stick your head in the sand, sit at home on the sofa, keep to yourself enough, and you will wake up dead someday without having ever lived at all.

No thank you.

And so, here is how I’m looking back on Snowzilla 2021.

Friday, February 12, 2021:
A month ago, when our oldest daughter, Sheli, set up her move from a rented apartment to a rented house, the determining factors were money and time. There was no possible way to know that freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and power failure would ever enter into the equation. She had a plan and we all knew what our parts would be. But nothing ever really goes to plan.

The nasty weather that was supposed to hit the day before the movers were coming got stalled out somewhere and was rescheduled for two days after the move. Still, moving day dawned cold and windy and none of us was really looking forward to being out in it. We got a good start and managed to have most everything moved by 5pm. She would have a long weekend to unpack and sort and place and settle.

Saturday, February 13, 2021:
My mother’s 96th birthday. I woke up in gratitude, as I usually do when Lou comes to mind, that she didn’t have to live through the COVID-19 pandemic. I am convinced that, with her monthly lab and oncology appointments, she would have gotten sick and died alone. I have had that same thought every time I hear or read about someone losing an older family member or friend.

Because of the dire weather predictions, we knew we needed to get a few things done before the snow flew. I opened another bale of straw for the girls to scatter around the coop floor and wrapped the outside north-facing wall in a double-folded tarp. That, along with the tarps that wrap the outside walls of the run, would offer the best wind break I could manage.

I’ve written a lot about supplemental heat and why I don’t use it. This week in particular would prove me out. A power loss means a loss of supplemental heat. If your birds have come to depend on that for warmth, instead of being acclimated to the weather, they have no means to make the correction in body heat and they will suffer. It could possibly kill them. I let the chickens heat the coop.

Mike brought a load of firewood up to the back porch and I filled the seed feeders and put out suet. Then we went to town to stock up on propane, diesel, feed, and some last minute groceries. The line for propane was about twenty minutes long. The grocery was showing signs of a run – no milk, no bread, but LOTS of toilet paper!

The snow started in late afternoon. I went to bed thinking maybe The Delkus was wrong.

The Delkus is never wrong.

Waiting in line for propane. This was the last place locally to have a supply.

Sunday, February 14, 2021:
Happy Valentine’s Day! I’d told Mike at the grocery the day before that he could stop eyeballing flowers. I wanted candy! We both got something we like.

The outside air temperature, according to our inside/outside thermometer was 16 degrees Fahrenheit. We still had power, so it was 70 inside. We hadn’t built a fire for the same reason. No need to heat a warm house. We had, however, started dripping all the cold water faucets in the house as well as the apartment.
Mike had the dragon going in the shop to keep the apartment pipes warm. We’d started the propane heater in the greenhouse and plugged in the heat lamp in the pump house.

I made a breakfast casserole thinking it would be an easy way to feed us both. And cookies. Because, cookies are always good. And because, after about eighteen months of being without a cookstove, we finally decided on one and it had been delivered the week before. And it has a huge oven that cooks really evenly and its door shuts completely and nothing comes out burned!

Sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast casserole. SO pretty!

The snow had slowed, then stopped, by mid-morning. In the early afternoon it started again and was coming down heavy. Mike made a last minute decision to go in to top off the propane and diesel. He was back before full dark. We checked the outbuildings, tucked the chickens in for the night, and settled in to watch tv.

Monday, February 15, 2021:
The power surges started Sunday evening but we still had power when we went to bed. At 2:30 I got a text from Sheli that she was without power. So were we. Ours came back on an hour later, then went off again and was out the rest of the night. It did come back on for a short bit around 7:30. That was the start of the rolling blackouts, but we had no way to know that as we got absolutely no notice that what had been a “might happen” situation had become a reality. Sheli’s power never came back.

The outside temperature at 9:30 a.m. was 19F. Indoor temps, after not having power much of the night, had fallen to 58F.

When I’d dressed for the move on Friday, I put on a pair of pajama pants under my jeans. I did the same now, adding a pair of sweatpants over the jeans, two pairs of socks, two shirts under a flannel shirt and quilted jacket. Two toboggans, a lovely cowl my friend Jenn made for me last year, gloves, and my trusty boots Sister gave me when we first moved to Remote. I was set.

We did our rounds, checking propane tank levels and thermometers. The greenhouse was forty but there were already signs of plants freezing. Nothing to do but hope for the best. The shop was chilly so Mike started a fire in the wood stove. The dragon runs on electricity, so it would only be coming on if the power returned.

The chickens were grouped around the coop door, refusing to step on the snow. I brought an armload of straw up from the barn and scattered a pathway to the feeder. They still wouldn’t come out, so I broke a cardinal rule and moved the feeder into the coop. Normally, I wouldn’t do anything to entice rodents into the space where the girls sleep. Rats will chew on chicken’s tail feathers while they sleep. But I needed them to eat. Their water was frozen, so I hauled water from the house in a five-gallon bucket. This would have to be repeated several times daily until the thaw.

Our cell signal, already weak, now disappeared entirely. Any text we sent out sat in the queue, unsent. We weren’t getting texts either. And then, with a sound like a slot machine hitting a jackpot, our phones would both start clanging with text alerts. We’d read them, compare notes, write replies that would, once again, sit unsent. This was our communications for the week, except those times that we were in town.
During one of the mass information text sessions, I learned from Mustang Sally Neighbor Girl, who is married to Detective Neighbor Boy and now lives in the house sold by Director Neighbor Girl and Captain Neighbor Boy (who are building down by the lake) that our power was coming on every couple of hours for fifteen minutes. I hadn’t noticed a pattern, but became hyper aware of it once informed. I began to plan my actions around the short periods we would have power.

Darkness descended and I opted for bed. We hadn’t built a very big fire and the room wasn’t getting any warmer. But we had good blankets and two cats on the bed. And I usually just nap in front of the tv most nights anyway.
Mike came to bed a bit later, unable to get warm. He was shivering and I had a moment of sheer panic that I might not be able to help him get warm. Eventually, our body heat, combined with the heat from the cats, warmed him up enough to sleep.

Based on our limited information, we knew Sheli was still without power, our son’s family was experiencing rolling blackouts, our youngest daughter and Sister still had power.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021:
My nephew’s birthday. I wouldn’t even realize this for a couple of days. My calendar was non-existent now.

Outside, we’d hit ZERO degrees. Inside the house it was forty-three. I tried to light a fire, but I totally suck at them.

Once Mike was up and had a good fire going, we discussed how best to commence. Captain Neighbor Boy had indicated he would be going to town for propane so we’d find out if there had been a resupply. In the meantime, we needed to move more firewood closer to the house at some point in the day.

I had started heating water in several vintage metal coffee pots on the wood stove. Having hot water for sponge bathing and washing dishes went a long way toward keeping me sane. I also made our bed every morning, as much to get the covers straightened out as anything. And I swept the floors. Those things kept me warm, but also kept my mind on the importance of being busy.

Heating water old school.

We spent time playing Chickenfoot or cards. Normally, we’re both so competitive we end up pissed off at each other. But we both knew we needed to keep busy.
Each time the power would cycle on, there would be a little “click” of the thermostat before the ceiling fans or fridge motors would come on. I learned to listen for that click and act immediately to make the most use of the short time we’d have power. The coffee pot was filled and ready every morning. Mike had pulled our “Mr. Sock” heat packs out of the drawer and those stayed in the microwave when not in use. Mr. Sock became Mike’s constant companion. I tucked it under a blanket around his shoulders.

Bundled up against the cold and whipping me at Rummy.

Tuesday, the sun returned after being hidden by clouds all day Monday. This probably did as much to improve our spirits as anything. The cats lounged in sunlit patches on the rugs. I warmed my feet in those same spots or turned my back to the light coming through the windows.
The little birds came in huge flocks to eat from the seed feeders and fight over the suet. I was able to charge my camera battery enough to start using it and spent quite a lot of time marveling at the number and variety of wild birds we have at Remote.

Sheli’s power came back on around midnight Tuesday. Initially, she was unaware, but eventually she did get the information that she needed to be boiling water.

Our power did not come back. Neither did our cell service. Luckily, we are on a well. As long as the pressure was good, we would have drinking water.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021:
The temperature outside came back up to 20 degrees, much to my delight! We were out of firewood near the house, so that was the main objective for the morning. My plan was to just pull my garden wagon down the hill to the wood racks and haul up a couple of loads. It would take me some time, but it would be good exercise, and I’d be warm. I was on my second load when Mike took the little Wheel Horse down to get a bag of corn for the deer feeder. The incline from the barn back to the house was almost too much for the Wheel Horse, so it was decided that the blue tractor was needed. Several cranks on the key revealed a dying battery. So, door number three was using one of the two little Ranger trucks we knock about this place in. Over the hill came “Walker Red.” We emptied one rack of wood into the truck bed and Mike took off over the little hill to find a good spot for turning around. Remote is mostly trees, especially in the back of the property, so navigating is difficult without snow and ice on the ground.
I wondered, as I watched the tail lights disappear over the hill, how long I should wait before following the tire tracks. There are a couple of (sort of) paths leading from the house to the lake and back. But the one he was forced to take was little more than a deer track that hasn’t been driven in several months. I opted to keep an ear cocked in that general direction and finished up my chores. I was just coming up from the chicken run when I heard him, slipping and sliding along the path we generally walk to the lake. When he passed by, he looked like a teenage kid out for a joy ride in the snow in Dad’s old truck! I just had to laugh.

Now we had an ample supply of wood just outside the back door. It can’t stay there, of course, since snakes like to hang out in the woodpile and the hot tub is mere steps from where we’d made our stack. Come warm weather, I’ll be relocating it right back down the hill.

We needed to make another propane run. Captain Neighbor Boy had spent two and a half hours in line on Tuesday. I was worried there wouldn’t be any to be had. Luckily, the supply truck was on site when we got there.

Waiting in line for fuel, I checked and sent messages, but I also read our local news. It was horribly depressing to read about the people who, desperate to heat their homes, had been asphyxiated in their attempts. One child froze to death in his sleep after coming in from playing in the snow and going to bed in his unheated home. An elderly man died, sitting in his car, trying to retrieve an oxygen tank.
Our power was cycling on for about half an hour now, but still only every couple of hours. Even so, we had a good stove and plenty of wood. We might lose everything in the greenhouse, but the pipes in the apartment would not burst again (as they did in 2016 when we first moved here) and we were making it work. News from the family and neighbors was encouraging. We were all making it work.

We came home to a warm fire and were able to heat our dinner in the microwave. We went to bed grateful.

Thursday, February 18, 2021:
Woke to blessed heat! Based on the clock on the cook stove, the power came on about midnight and stayed on. I started the coffee and spent some time sipping and savoring the warmth.

Outside, the new snow had covered all our dirty tracks from the days of trudging around the property. And revealed the presence of a few “visitors” in the night. It could have been a domestic cat, we have seen a couple of different ones around lately. But it could just as easily be a bobcat, since we know they live out here. There was a trail leading from near the shop, around the chicken run, and up the hill toward the feeder. That makes me think bobcat as well, since a domestic cat would likely hang around where there’s a source of heat, like the shop.

A perfect imprint.

Mike took a long-awaited long shower. I spent time drinking coffee and watching birds. Our cell service was still really spotty.
Around mid-morning a text came from Sister that her husband had had a seizure around 6pm the night before and then her pipes had burst. They had had power all along, so no idea what caused the pipes to give when they did, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. They’d turned the water off and were figuring it out. A friend in S. Texas had burst pipes and a huge hole in her kitchen ceiling.
On the news, the governor and lieutenant governor were pointing fingers and vowing to “get to the bottom of this.”
One senator decided that a family vacation was in order, even as his constituents were freezing to death, literally.
The negative, it seems, continues even if the ability to hear about it is removed.

By Sunday, the sun was shining and the air was warm. The snow was gone and I was knee-deep in dirty laundry.

Outside, the chickens seemed to say, “WHAT freeze?”

Posted by: morrowsl | January 24, 2021

Please Fence Me In

The first indication that something might be amiss was coming “home” to our new house in the country to find a good bit of the front yard plowed up. The ground literally ripped open and the grass tossed this way and that. Huge gullies and furrows, wading pool-sized holes, divots and pocks and pockets dotting the lawn.

We stood in the driveway, shaking our heads, disbelief giving way to reality, but without explanation.

What the hell just happened?

We found out later, thanks to my sister’s quick Google search, that we’d been “hit” by feral hogs.

Amazingly, I kept no photos from that first discovery. Suffice to say it doesn’t matter; every event results in the same destruction. The most recent photos look much the same as I recall seeing the first time. Sometimes it is just a spot or two. Other times it is huge swaths of upturned earth. Always, it sinks the heart and brings an anger normally reserved for two-legged boars.

For a while, there was a guy staked out in the trees on the property, high-powered rifle in hand. He managed to shoot a couple of bobcats, but his luck with hogs was less than impressive. For a longer while, we stopped filling the deer feeders, but that only served to bring them closer to the house again.
I walked out one morning to find a half dozen still working on the front yard. I shrieked. They snorted. We all ran. One evening last fall, I stood at one of the kitchen windows and watched a group of three gleefully digging a trough alongside our back walkway. Mike was inching his way around the porch, rifle in hand, but must have made just enough noise to alert them. My language at the time sent both cats running for cover.

Mike bought a lawn roller to pull behind the Wheelhorse for flattening the tilled up spots. He seeded the lawn and rolled it, the sprinklers watered in the seed. And the hogs came back every single time, once or twice it seemed they almost followed directly behind him. We would go to bed with a nice, flat lawn and wake to a plowed field.

Until, finally, we had enough.

Recently, we’ve hired a company to construct a perimeter fence. While we are fully aware that hogs can take down fences, we also understand that we serve as a sort of “vacation” area for the hogs that pass through here. They are not permanent residents and spend the bulk of their time elsewhere. The hope is that, when next they decide that Remote dining sounds good for supper, they’ll encounter the fence and just move on down the road to some of the open spaces available in the area.
While keeping the hogs out was the main goal, allowing the deer in was equally important. We left it to the “fence guy” to make the determination which fence would give us both.

The solar panel and call box are yet to be installed. But the fence and gates are up. And Captain Neighbor Boy assures us he has witnessed the deer leaping over it. Of course, we aren’t likely to have any babies on the property until they are tall enough to clear a four foot fence. Or unless the mamas make use of our woods as a maternity ward. We have feeders, we do fill them, and we don’t allow hunting for deer on our property.

I’ll let you know how this goes.

Posted by: morrowsl | December 25, 2020

The Unforgettable Christmas

It is Christmas morning, 2020. On any other Christmas morning, I might write of joy and laughter and children squeeing in delight at what Santa has left for them. But, it is Christmas morning, 2020. And I honestly have no idea how many families are waking up to joy and laughter and squees. Or, sadly, are not.

Here at Remote, aside from the wild birds calling from the trees that the feeders are empty, it is serenely quiet. Oh! How many years did I long for such quiet on a Christmas morning? I even wrote a small piece about waking up on Christmas morning on the farm and the absolute peace I knew I could find there. And yet, I am here. And I have my quiet. And it is, incredibly, such a mixed bag. I’m not sure if that is due to the lack of people awake and shaking around here (one) or the actual remoteness of location (about 11 miles from town) or the fact that it is Christmas Day and we are in the middle of chaos from pandemic and politics and really all anyone wants this morning is to not have to deal with the same thing we’ve all been dealing with since March.

When I decorated this year, it was with my usual love of the season and the remembrances of all the familiar bits and pieces. But it was also hope. Hope that the season would usher in kindness and love and compassion and show the door to cruelty and hate and inhumanity. Mostly, I was hoping those close to me would have a chance to relax and just soak in the goodness of life in spite of the wreck this year has made of it. I don’t know if that happened. I hope so. I am getting texts and pictures of their attempts. I want to believe they are true.

So, here I am, house decorated, ovens warming, birds calling. Gifts are wrapped and tucked under our little tree. Others were delivered last weekend. It will be a beautiful day outside. Chilly, but covered in warm sunshine as is the usual for late December in North Texas. There are still chores to be done, animals to feed. Our dinner will be midday and small. Last evening, it was just Mike and I for the first time ever. When we married, I brought children with me. We added another. And later on, they added their own. Last evening was a totally new experience for us. We wrapped last gifts, did chores, snacked on turkey straight from the smoker, drifted off in front of the tv. Much as I always imagined it would be if ever it was just us on Christmas Eve.

I have no idea what’s coming. We never saw this, last Christmas when we were all together and doing more or less the same things we’d been doing all along. I think it’s a good thing we really can’t see into the future. Even better not to spend too much time in the past. Time marches on they say. Blink and it will all be gone. So my plan is to just live in today. Oh, I’ll browse those seed catalogs and dream of spring and warmer mornings. But for now, because I know there are people whose lives have been devastated and for whom this day is filled with pain and anger and loss and exhaustion, I will just do what this day tells me to do and pray for peace to come to all of us with the passing of absolutely the worst year in my lifetime.

Happy Christmas.

Posted by: morrowsl | December 21, 2020

COVID Christmas and Eggs for Everyone

So, for quite some time now, I’ve been sharing my surplus eggs with friends and family. When the girls are at full production, we can’t possibly eat all the eggs they lay. And, while eggs are cheap enough at the market, they aren’t nearly as fresh. This fall, however, even The Crazy Eight have stopped laying and we’re only getting a couple of eggs at a time.

Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic that isn’t going away anytime soon. We’ve already had a really close call ourselves. Families we know have been affected. People we know have died. Just when it looked like we might finally be coming out the other side, selfish people have jeopardized any chance we might have had to finally be shut of this virus by the end of 2020.
Thankfully science, unlike politicians, stayed the course and vaccines are now available. And, while it will take the rest of this year and most of the next one, we may actually be able to hug our loved ones again next Christmas.
I had toyed with the idea of having a tree outside and trying to get us all together. But the risks are just too great. This Christmas, we will gather virtually. And we will probably be more appreciative of the time we get to spend with each other when that time is finally ours once more.

With all of this in mind, I ventured out in November and shopped for Christmas fabric. I would have made my purchases online, and did for most of my solid colors, but sometimes it’s really hard to actually tell what a fabric looks like from the website’s images. I managed to find about a dozen designs I really liked and bought in small batches. Then I set about making COVID masks for Christmas giving.

Late last week, Captain Neighbor Boy, Director Neighbor Girl, and The Little Blond Neighbor Girls packed up and decamped for their annual winter trip. That left us in charge of bunnies and chickens. When I went down on the first day I realized that their chickens, seventeen very friendly and sweet beauties (and one rooster I hadn’t met yet) are in full production. They literally had cartons of eggs stacked up.
I sent a message to my egg delivery list to see if anyone had a need and relieved the neighbors of a few dozen.

Yesterday, van filled to the doors, I set out to make a huge circle around the DFW metro mess making deliveries. Roughly eight hours, a tank of gas, and 200 miles. I came home tired. And really happy.

Recently, my oldest grandson and I had a discussion about Santa. He, like most budding teenagers, is quick to share his beliefs, or non-beliefs, about Christmas and Santa and flying reindeer. I, like most older people who have now come full circle on this very commercialized holiday, refrained from explaining that the date has more to do with Paganism than Christianity. I tend to be a little cynical about the whole birth of Christ as well, since nobody knows exactly when that event took place (Nobody Knows). But I did at least try to instill in him the idea that Christmas is more to do with how it makes you feel in your heart. I do believe there is magic in the holiday if it brings families together and offers time for reflection. And, this year especially, Christmas needs to be about healing and forgiveness and love and trust. We’ve been pretty short on all of that lately.

Merry Christmas to those of you who visit here. I hope there is some magic waiting for you this year.

Posted by: morrowsl | December 5, 2020

Life. And Green Tomatoes

I have never been big on decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving is over. Or before Thanksgiving leftovers are no longer a viable choice for lunch. And possibly again for dinner. The exception, of course, is outdoor lighting, which my sister insists be hung when she and I are together for my birthday on November 16th. But, as a rule, I view decorating for Christmas too early as simply an invitation for Karma to visit.

Pie, of course, is for breakfast and doesn’t even enter the equation.

However, we have good reason to seek out the comforts of Christmas this year. Even if the idea of spending money on decorations and gifts instead of more important things, like food or rent or even gas for the cars we aren’t driving because we’re not really going anywhere, makes no sense. It’s been a really shitty year. And we need a little Christmas.

Karma be damned.

So, all around me, people have been throwing up Christmas like it’s already December 23rd and we’ve all been trapped in a time warp that held us motionless for weeks. This started well before my birthday and was not limited to department stores and 7-11. We totally jumped the line and ignored the warning signs.

In a normal year, I try to at least start decorating the weekend after Thanksgiving. Typically, I will have a few gifts purchased and tucked away but the bulk of my shopping has been done, historically, in December. This year, not normal. I started shopping in January when my niece got married. The reception took place near a little shop that had a Christmas clearance sale. I took advantage without realizing that all shopping to come would be done virtually, or possibly not at all.

My other break from normal happened at the Garden Center in late summer when I selected a tomato vine in a 4″ pot knowing full well that it was really far too late and that I hate tomatoes. To sharpen that point, I left the plant on the porch for a couple of weeks to dry out and croak. I think I planted it in September. Maybe.

These two totally unrelated things define 2020 for me now.

The oldest grandson was here for his Thanksgiving break and we were due for a deep freeze. The break ended on Sunday and the freeze was due on Monday. I managed a thorough house cleaning on both floors starting Friday after Thanksgiving thinking I’d get the decorating done as well. That didn’t happen. The cleaning went well and stuff got pulled out of the closet, but that freeze meant a list of last minute chores like making sure the chicken coop was snug and the heat in the greenhouse was working. By early evening on Sunday we were coming down the wire. Mike hauled the garbage container to the road and I put out some scratch for the girls. As I made my way up the hill from the chickens to the greenhouse, I was thinking about all the green tomatoes still hanging on that single vine in the garden. Sister had taken home a bucket already and I’d made spaghetti sauce once. Still, I knew the plant was loaded. And I can’t stand the idea of waste.

A singular vine purchased as a 4″ pot and left to its own devices.

I figured I’d get another handful of ripe fruit and let the rest go. But there were literally dozens of huge green tomatoes and my heart just wouldn’t let me walk away. I hailed Mike as he came by and he stopped to help. We kept it up until it just got too dark and cold to keep picking. Inside the house, I weighed the bag.
Twenty-five pounds! This plant did absolutely nothing for weeks. And then, this.

Our wagonload of tomatoes.

I wasn’t about to leave a grocery sack of tomatoes to ripen on my counter. So I took advice from a friend and looked up a recipe for making spaghetti sauce from roasted green tomatoes. I had everything I needed, except fresh basil. I had two basil plants in the garden, but they’d long since gone to flower. I went forward processing tomatoes anyway. I figured if the recipe worked, I’d freeze it. And basil can be added later on.

Bright and early Monday morning, I flipped my kitchen curtains to Christmas, then turned on the oven, pulled out my two biggest casserole dishes, and started running water in the small side of the sink. My thought was to wash all the fruit at once. But it ended up being way too many and I couldn’t reach the bottom to open the drain. I dumped about half the tomatoes into the other side of the sink and spread a couple of towels on the counter. And, for the next fifteen minutes, I sorted, washed, and piled.

My recipe called for four pounds of processed fruit. I could blanch the skins off or leave them on. Same idea with the seeds. When I’d made my first round of sauce, I scraped out the seeds. I still had way too much to do to spend any time on that, so I opted for a rough chop with skins and seeds. I also needed onions, which I usually can’t manage at all. I’m so allergic to them, my eyes water just smelling them with the skins still on in the grocery! If I do chop them, my eyes burn and ache for hours after. Lucky for me, Mike is a nice enough guy to be a willing onion slicer/chopper/dicer. He came to my rescue and I chopped garlic instead.

And then the power went out. The lights flickered a couple of times and I was hopeful it was just a surge.
But no, full on power failure.

Everything in our house runs on electricity. Including the ovens. Nothing to do for it but call the Co-op (after checking the bill, which I knew was paid, but…) and wait. In the meantime, I weighed out four pounds of processed tomatoes and started cutting up the second batch. I am a sucker for big bowls and it would seem my mother-in-law was as well. I found an incomplete 4-bowl set of Pyrex nesting bowls at the farm along with another two-bowl set. I brought them all with me to Remote. The largest is 4 quarts, so I used that one to hold the chopped fruit. I split it into smaller bowls for mixing with the onions, garlic, salt and pepper, pepper flakes, and olive oil. Then spread this into my two casserole dishes.

Ready to roast

By now it was late afternoon. I washed dishes and cleaned up my mess while I waited the hour it took for the electricity to come back on. Finally, it did come on and the oven got hot again. I put the two casseroles into the oven and went upstairs to sort through the rest of the decorations that were coming back down.
When I opened the door, I could hear a faint beeping, but really didn’t think much of it. I went in and dragged the last of the totes out of the closet and pulled out the things I still wanted to use.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

I found the decorative hand towels and chose one for the upstairs bathroom. As I rounded the corner to hang it…

Beep. Beep. Beep.

I followed the sound to the hot water closet, pulled the string for the light, and read the displayed message.

A103. Tank Is Empty. Fire Hazard.

OH CRAP!!!

I took off down the stairs. Passed by the kitchen to turn off the oven. Rushed to the bedroom to pull on long pants, socks, and boots. I ran out to the shop to tell Mike about the hot water heater and was met, as I so often am when I sense pending disaster, with a calm and studied expression and a list of questions. It is likely one of his most infuriating traits that has probably kept me from creating complete chaos as I tend to be Chicken Little at the first hint of a falling sky. He reluctantly followed me back into the house and up the stairs to the tiny closet off the bathroom. We pushed some buttons and still the display displayed an alert. He leaned back to think and I grabbed his phone to call the number listed on the unit for customer assistance.

The line was busy.

I called a total of four times before it went through. The lady that answered asked a list of questions, including email address but stopping just short of blood type. Then she transferred me to the next person in line. At this point, my sense of doom was fully bloomed. I could well imagine being sent into transfer Hell only to be disconnected a few seconds before our less than two-year-old hot water heater blew us both skyward.

The lady answering the technical support line was very nice and quite calm, which is always a good sign. She asked a few questions and put me on hold to check to see if the heating elements on our unit were designed to shut off in the event that the water supply was compromised and the owner too stupid to turn the unit off.

They are. And I am.

While I was talking, Mike was checking his email. Seriously, dude?

Eventually, the women in the room decided there would be no fire. The well pump is electrically managed and the power failure caused it to shut off. The heater, sensing a loss of replacement water, did not allow the heating elements to come back on after power was restored. The man in the room was allowing his wife an opportunity to learn instead of be dependent on him. Which he’s done to a remarkable degree since we moved to the country where there are new experiences daily.

Once law and order was restored to the upstairs, I went back down to bag up the roasted tomatoes and put them in the freezer. By now, I had a remarkable headache and realized I hadn’t stopped to eat all day. I also failed to drink any fluids other than the one cup of coffee I started the day with. Sure fire road to sick, that.

Roasted and ready to freeze.

Eventually, I did get all the decorations up. The house is clean enough. The water is hot again. And I am thankful to no longer be intimidated by my hot water heater. I’m just not sure about green spaghetti sauce. If it turns out, I’ll have something to make from end-of-season green tomatoes in the future. But the plan for next season is to plant earlier and avoid buying in late summer.
I still have a huge bowl of ripe tomatoes. So, I’m thinking I’ll make roasted tomato and basil soup next.

Posted by: morrowsl | November 7, 2020

What I Fall For

Our first glimpse of this property was in late summer, 2016. It was a hot day and we’d driven so far, it felt like we’d crossed a state line somewhere.

We pulled onto the last of our directed roads and drove right past the stone mailbox with the house number. When we got to the dead end, we sat for a few minutes, assessing the area and trying to figure out where we’d gone amiss. Turning around and heading back the way we’d come, we found the mailbox with no effort and turned into the lane. I’m not sure I closed my mouth until long after we’d left.

For me, it was love at first sight.

Initially, I fell for the stone house and metal roof. I spent more than two-thirds of my life longing for a log and stone house. This house, I realized, was about as close to that as I was going to come. The wood floors took me back to the houses of my childhood. The casement windows in one corner of the kitchen filled another longing. The upstairs bedrooms, one feminine and one masculine, were exactly as I would have styled them. The additional space was perfect for a game/media/woman cave area. The bathroom, with it’s clawfoot tub and beadboard walls was quaint and charming. Downstairs, the kitchen had a Victorian charm and windows lined every wall. The master bedroom included a door to a side porch, perfect for early mornings and late evenings.
I was filling the rooms as I walked the spaces, making decisions before it was ours.

We closed on this house and left the state for two weeks to finish up the sale of our farm and take a week to relax with good friends in an incredible log house surrounded by apple orchards. We returned with a U-Haul filled to capacity and began what would become about two months of endless grind.
Once we moved in and began the constant slog of driving to and from our old house with the vehicles packed to the gills with boxes and bags and such, I had no time to actually enjoy myself. I stayed exhausted and anxious. Thanksgiving and Christmas came immediately. January was a blur of boxes. Along with all that, I was still making the three-hour roundtrip drive to help my sister care for our elderly mother.

My mantra throughout this phase was, “If I could just get a string of days…”

In the four years since moving, we have maintained that forward motion. Much has been done to make this place “ours” as well as attempt to add value to the property against a day when it may be someone else’s dream. We have turned the chicken coop and run into a useable space. We’ve extended the decks. We added a metal barn. And a greenhouse. We have a fenced garden area with room to add a high tunnel. The wilder areas will remain undeveloped so that the deer and rabbits and such can live here.

And, finally, I have my “string of days” to do everything and nothing.

Yesterday, I finished up the last of the edging on a flowerbed and walked up to close the door of the greenhouse. When we moved in, fall and winter came fast and I barely noticed. Summer is always hot and I do not enjoy those days. Spring comes in downpours that pool above the hard clay and make a muddy mess that’s slick to walk on and impossible to dig in.

As I walked up the hill yesterday, I realized that it is fall. Our trees are literally on fire with color. Something I looked for and often failed to find each fall in the city. Oh, there were trees and they certainly lit up the corners and stood in brilliance along the streets on the way to the grocery. But there were no long lines, like debutants gliding into the ball room dressed in every imaginable shade of gold and crimson and ochre.

I fell in love with my home again last evening. As I have done a multitude of times without even realizing it, in these four years here. I waited a very long time, worked a multitude of jobs, sat in misery and longing to be away from the crush of the city and its mobs of unpleasant people, to be here.

Posted by: morrowsl | October 17, 2020

Attitude Adjust Me

After a couple of particularly rough days, where I lost myself in the words and actions of those involved with the confirmation hearing for the new Supreme Court Justice, I knew I needed to get outdoors and get to work. Depression for me isn’t the stranglehold stuff it is for others, but it can still sideline me for more hours than I care to give it. Not to mention, there are so many things to do and so little time, and good weather, in which to do them.

And, as per my usual, I decided to do the one job that called for calm weather on the windiest day of the week. With cooler nights coming, I needed to wrap tarps around the chicken run. Normally, I staple the tarps to the wood. This time, I used screw eyes and bungees, an idea I got from Lisa Steele over at Fresh Eggs Daily.
I bought the bungees and tarps last year, but didn’t get them in time and had to resort to the staple method. I did end up using them on the fence as a windbreak for my brooder coop while The Crazy Eight lived there.

In the end, I only had to reset a couple of screw eyes. And Coop Daddy did have to provide assistance in a particularly tricky area. But, it’s done.

I am thinking ahead to next summer and coming up with a way to custom fit the tarps so that they cover the hardware cloth walls without ending up in the middle. I don’t care for the gaps created by shorter tarps over longer walls. I could just buy smaller tarps, but I already have these.

When I was done, I had some compost to dump, so I made my way up the hill. The area where we set up our compost, garden, and greenhouse is one of my favorite spots. From that point, I can see all of the elements that make up our property at the front. The line of trees that protect us from Looky Lou’s driving down the road. The two “bowls” on either side of the lane. My “meadow” that is mostly grass right now, but still lovely in late afternoon.

We are an island surrounded by trees. Post Oaks, Bur Oaks, Water Oaks, Red and White Oaks, all natives. There are massive evergreens. Dotted throughout are tall Red Buds and shapely Wild Plums. Our first fall here, when it dawned on me that the trees were actually beginning to change color, I spent a lot of time up on this hill, just looking out and soaking it in.

Our trees haven’t started their transformation just yet. But it is coming. However, the juniper berries are set and they provide a beautiful contrast.

Another of the gifts Mother Nature provides here are bluebonnets. The first spring, there were only a few clumps and those were constantly being driven over by the big trucks that delivered our loads of dirt for the new barn and the metal to build it. Every delivery driver that came all the way down the lane before realizing there was no place to exit, used the hill for turning around. Trailers sat atop the hill while the greenhouse was constructed. And we tore up the rest building the fence for the garden.
But bluebonnets are resilient in their natural habitat and we have finally stopped disrupting them. I found new babies dotting the landscape.

The garden hasn’t yet been the success I foresaw, but it has been fun to try. We’ve gone from thinking we’d tractor-till the ground for a few years to amend the hardpacked clay to realizing tilling was draining the soil of nutrients. But no-till led to a massive growth of nut grass no amount of hand-pulling could successfully master. I am convinced the nut grass came with the soil we trucked in since it can’t be found anywhere else on this property. And, since I’ve composted what I’ve pulled, the compost will need to be sifted if I use it anywhere that nut grass is unwanted. Which is everywhere I could think to put compost, including the garden!
Even so, there are still some delightful discoveries in the garden. The tiny tomato vine I plopped into the end of a row has literally taken over the space, spilling into the walkways on both sides, engulfing its basil neighbor and suddenly producing more fruit than it did throughout the hot summer.

The okra that got pulled up because ants invaded and refused all attempts of eradication, has volunteered and is making pods. There’s a lone potato at the end of the spud row. The yellow squash and round zucchini are producing and may actually make fruit before it’s too cold. And, sitting squarely between two of those I discovered a volunteer onion. Along with a surplus of grasshoppers, who wiped out the rest of my tender seedlings and everything in the new herb bed except the garlic and chives. I have plans for the grasshoppers, and the ants, when we set up for spring gardening.

We will spend the winter working on raised beds for the garden. I hate abandoning the in-ground garden, but I have given up trying to tame the nut grass and my back is done with all the bending over. We’ll still use the cattle panels for trellises and arbors. Depending on how many raised beds we can fit in the space, we may add more panels over time.

The huge Rosemary at the end of the original herb bed is blooming. Not a lot of blooms, but pretty even so. I’ve never seen it bloom before this.

Rosemary in bloom

Before I hit my slump, I had been working on digging out the irises I planted in such a hurry last fall, as well as the ones up by the pool deck that kept getting buried by ant mounds. I had managed to dig most of the pool deck out, but had to treat a huge mound, so had stopped there and moved to the garden fence. It took most of a day to dig out the iris and amaryllis bulbs. Now I need to go back in with cardboard to smother the grass and then add my topsoil and mulch, then replant the irises and bulbs. I picked out a stone border to lay down in hopes of keeping the grass out of the bed. At some point, I’ll add more perennials to this border. I have a surplus of Mexican Petunias to transplant and some coneflower starts ready to plant.

There’s still the area behind the greenhouse to dig and replant.

Yesterday, I finished the pool deck border and replanted with two Knock-Out roses I found on clearance. They are Cherry Red and the butterflies had already discoverd the one blossom. I replanted the irises in mixed groups in hopes of getting a longer bloom period. I had iris from a forty-year-old bed at our old house, the ones dug up from Director Neighbor Girl and Captain Neighbor Boy’s beds last year, and an assortment already planted here when we moved in or purchased the following spring. Hopefully, the mix of colors will add to this bed. I also scattered Larkspur seeds for assorted pink, blue, and white blooms.

While time spent admiring what is already planted and growing is good for my soul, it is a reminder of things yet to accomplish and work to be done.

Posted by: morrowsl | October 6, 2020

The Next Reset

In a week it will be four years since we ditched city life for the slower pace of remote living.

I wish I could say it has been slower!

We have likely worked harder since moving out here than we ever did in the city. But we have a lot more to show for it too.

In that time we have added a barn and greenhouse, a garden and several decks. We’ve started tending chickens. We have a LOT more to mow.

At the same time, the stresses have been greatly reduced and we are sleeping better. Mornings are filled with birdsong instead of traffic. The air smells of whatever is blooming or woodsmoke, depending on the season.

In the city, I could maybe encourage an occaisional woodpecker to visit, but ended up feeding an army of squirrels and Jays more often than not. Our first winter here brought Northern Flickers and Chickadees, Titmice and Goldfinches, and more Cardinals than I’ve ever seen in one place at one time.

We go back to our house in the city every now and then. I don’t miss it at all. I would never want to live there again. I won’t be sad to sell it, if we do that.

But first, I’ll have to transplant the irises that were planted in the front beds when I was pregnant in 1980.

For now, I have several major projects to finish before the cold sets in. The weather this week is going to be warm and our pool needs winterizing. The tarps for the coop windbreak need to be pulled so I can figure out where to set the eye hooks that will hold them in place. The insulation in the greenhouse gets blown out of place when the North wind howls, but gluing it to the walls means the house won’t breathe come summer. The irises I planted in such a hurry last year need to be dug and reset. I have wildflower seeds to scatter. We need to retrieve a stock tank from the old house for a windbreak planter on the north wall of the coop. And some rocks to line the newest flowerbed on the Northwest side. All of the beds need mulch and we’re not making it fast enough from the limbs Captain Neighbor Boy brought over, so we’ll likely need to go get a truck load.

And, between now and spring planting, we’re converting the entire garden to raised beds in a last-ditch effort to get away from the nut grass.

It is October. Time is getting short. But the list seems to be getting longer.

Posted by: morrowsl | August 7, 2020

On Channeling My Inner Hippy, Chapter Two

The first batch of calendula flowers I immersed in olive oil grew mold. Since that wasn’t exactly what I was going for, I tossed them in the compost bin and started over. The trick is to totally submerge the flower heads in the oil, leaving no air space and nothing poking up. In the photo you can see the air space between the oil and the rim of the jar. You can even see one flower stem poking up through the oil. Prime location for mold growth. Lesson learned.

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Calendula flower heads immersed in olive oil

Once I got the trick of immersing the flower heads, I set the jar in the pantry, with the anticipated processing date written on the lid. I ended up going over by a couple of weeks, but that really doesn’t matter. The flowers need at least 28 days to properly infuse the oil. More time just means better infusion.

I followed the advice of two women when making my salve.

Morag Gamble is a fascinating person with over two decades of experience in sustainable living. Her video instructions for making calendula salve are simple and easy to follow. She has a three-part series on calendula plants.
Lisa Steele hosts the website Fresh Eggs Daily along with a television show about her Maine farm. I firmly believe her ideas regarding chicken feed to be the reason my girls are healthy and happy. Her method for making calendula salve is on her Facebook page.

And, of course, I called my sister to see if she would make the salve with me, since a) I wanted to include her in the process because it would be fun, and b) who else would indulge me so willingly?

I had not yet strained the oil I made, so we used cheesecloth to do that. I would suggest you buy a cheap strainer for this part. It will go much faster and with a lot less mess.

IMG_2540

Assembled ingredients

We took turns grating the beeswax, since it was slow going. I don’t think it needs to be grated so fine as we did it. You can probably get by with just shaving off curls of it. Just don’t try to melt huge chunks.
After the first batch, we had the entire process committed to memory. We ended up with three batches, which filled all the containers I’d brought as well as a half-pint jar she had to hand. In future, I will likely use more large containers for Sister and myself.

IMG_2543

Melting the beeswax in the combined oils.

Once we poured the liquid salve into the containers, it took an hour or so for it to resolidify. The oils keep the beeswax from getting hard again, much like the water in alcohol keeps your frozen margarita from becoming an ice cube.

IMG_2541

First batch completed.

I had intended to give these containers as gifts, to let people see if they liked the salve and trusted it’s capabilities. I’ve given them to family, and to Director Neighbor Girl, so far. I may include a few tins with my egg deliveries as well.
I want to investigate using lavender and essential oils too, although the coconut oil in this recipe lent a delicious fragrance to the salve. Sister added patchouli to her jar.

So far, I’ve tried the salve on cuts and scratches, a bee sting, liver spots, my saggy elbow skin, mosquito bites, and my and Mike’s toes. It doesn’t help with the itch of the bites, but it did seem to help reduce the swelling. The jury is still out on the liver spots, but the elbow skin (and my hands and arms) are much smoother. Morag swears by its healing properties for “nappy rash” but since I don’t have a baby to try it on, I’ll take her word for that. Another great use I have yet to test is sunburn. But I will be taking some to a fisherman I know, so he can report back on how it works for that.
Best of all, I had just the start of a toenail fungus on my left big toe and a split nail on another toe, both of which are gone now! So, for my uses anyway, I’m calling it an amazing wonder cure.

Calendula Salve
1/2 cup calendula infused oil
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup grated beeswax

Note:
Morag adds cocoa butter to hers and I think that’s how she gets the more pastel yellow color and less oily salve.  Just a teaspoon or two will do.
We added the oil from two gel caps of vitamin E, but that is optional.
You can also add essential oils, but may need to add more beeswax or cocoa butter to make it smooth.

I won’t go into the actual process here as it is well documented by the two references given.

IMG_2542

Completely cooled and ready for use.

Posted by: morrowsl | May 27, 2020

On Channeling My Inner Hippy

There was a time when the idea of making all of my own “stuff” held great appeal. Then I had kids and realized that I could make baby food and children’s clothing, or I could shower and clean the toilets.

I was never really meant to be one of those moms who baked her own bread while my laundry dried on the line and my barefoot children played happily outside in the shade of my perfectly grown trees next to my lush garden and flowerbeds.

I was more Kitty Forman than June Cleaver.

But I can do that now. Now that my kids are adults and have their own kids. Now that my days aren’t filled with the stresses of a job away from home with its alarm clocks and hot rollers and commute.  Now that I don’t have to spend my evenings meal planning and my weekends getting ready for the week to come.

Now that shaving my legs happens when I want to do it instead of when I have to.

I have to confess, I owe this new mindset, at least somewhat, to the Pandemic. All this time spent at home with no social demands has given me time to consider what I really want to do with my remaining days. I know some people have used their time for reading or learning Tai Chi or home renovations. And I’ve done a few of those things too.

But, I’ve come to realize that “when this is over” means something totally different for me than it does for others.

I’m already retired. I already spend most of my days at home. I’ve spent the last three and a half years getting my home and my garden and my flowerbeds like I want them.

So, on my list of new things will go some of the old things I stopped doing years ago when life was getting in the way of living. Things I have the patience for now. Things that, should they end up failing, will be tried again until they succeed.

We’ll see where it takes me.

For today, I’ve picked some Calendula flowers, allowed them to dry a bit, and am soaking them in a jar of organic olive oil. In late June, I’ll strain the oil and mix it with melted beeswax and cocoa butter and make a salve for healing cuts and scratches on humans and chickens.

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