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Archive for the ‘At Home’ Category

“Oh that would be so cool!”

“It would be so nice to just take off into the sunset [or some other direction] without a care in the world.”

“You’re doing WHAT???” (more…)

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A few years ago I drove from Virginia to Iowa by way of Tennessee and Texas. It was the first trip I had driven by myself and I loved it. My little blue car and I went cheerily down the road, radio blasting most of the time. And now I’m ready to roll again. (more…)

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Readers of this blog know it covered four and a half months of our travel in a fifth-wheel trailer during the winter of 2012-2013. Now it is spring again and perhaps you have considered your own road trip. (more…)

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Several times on the trip I had ideas I wanted to develop or at least comment on in this blog. But before the ideas could be defined by words and therefore take form, they would slip back into that mass of neurons from which they had come…neurons which used to be a functioning brain. Two things came together this week and managed to dredge up one of those amorphous thoughts and now I can share what I wanted to.

My daughter called a day or two ago, rejoicing that it was finally warm enough (45 degrees) to walk to the bus stop for her commute into Seattle. This is a young woman who has spent most of her life in coastal California where the rainy season starts in October or November and ends about now and where the temperature rarely falls below the upper 20s. Seattle, to say the least, is different. She isn’t sure what is planted in her yard, she doesn’t know yet the earliest signs of spring, she can’t say whether spring is as late there as it seems to be in other places, and doesn’t know what yard work she might need to be doing. She’s out of place and out of sync with where she lives.

I suggested that Keri get a journal or a notebook or (knowing her) keep a blog about what she sees around her, and even said “there’s a word for what I’m trying to tell you.” Then her bus came. I had just read my blogging friend Karen’s post about improving vocabulary. (If you like words and writing about words, check out her blog here.) So rather than let “that word” slip away, I decided to look it up. That used to be awfully hard to do when you didn’t know what word to look up, but now we have search engines. It took me less than a minute to find my word. With my word came many wonderful examples.

The word I was looking for is phenology. It is the study of appearances. As it is usually used, it means being aware of the appearance of the natural world so that you know when to plant your garden or your crops. I remember learning years ago that the Indians taught the pilgrims to plant corn when oak leaves were the size of squirrel’s ears. For people who lived outdoors most of the time and were intimately aware of their environment, this was good advice. It comes from recognizing that oak trees leaf out later than some of the other trees, usually after the soil has warmed somewhat. Corn planted in cold, damp soil will rot. So it was helpful to have some sign to let you know when to plant the corn.

When we first moved to the coastal community my children know as home, I was as disoriented as she is now. When does the rainy season start? How cold does it get? When can you expect the first frost…the last frost…the end of the rainy season? Because I wanted to raise as much of our food as possible on our half acre and because my only gardening experience was based on Iowa conditions, I kept a journal for a couple of years. I jotted down the temperatures, what was sprouting, what weeds were appearing, what bulbs were coming up…anything I could observe on that half acre of weeds that I was slowly turning into gardens.

Some gardeners, Thomas Jefferson among them, keep such records for years. I was not only a gardener, I was a homemaker, wife, mommy of two young children, volunteer, part-time employee, and all those other things that “stay-at-home” moms do to while away their time. That is to say, I didn’t keep my record for long. But I did keep track long enough to have some idea what I was looking at. Over time, even though I didn’t write down my observations, I learned to recognize those first signs of changing seasons. I saw how wet years or dry years affected what I was seeing. I felt at home in my environment.

If you are in a new environment or if you’ve never really paid attention to the one you’re in, I urge you to take notes, either written or mental, on what is happening right now in this season that is supposed to be spring. Soon you will find a much greater connection to the natural world and who knows? Maybe you’ll discover that there is something besides the end of basketball and the beginning of baseball to define spring!

 

 

 

 

 

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As I sat through the second snowstorm in the week we’ve been home, I read someone’s explanation. It isn’t spring, it’s the 49th of February. That works for me.

We’ve managed to have snow off the ground long enough for me to see numerous signs of spring. Many bulbs are up, even some daffodils are blooming. But then the snow comes again and it looks like everything is trying to crawl back down. And all I want to do is run…not crawl…to some place warmer. It’s not that I really mind cold weather in winter. But this isn’t winter any more and it needs to go away.

This isn’t just a rant about out-of-season cold, however. You see, we live in a house that was built sometime in the late 1880’s or early 1890’s. That isn’t particularly old for the Shenandoah Valley. It does mean that the house was not insulated and still has only partial insulation. It was built at a time when the hot, humid summers were of more concern than the cold winters. People didn’t expect to be particularly warm in the winter but they could mitigate the heat by having large windows, placed directly across from each other and offering precious little window surface on the south side. Our wood stove heats the three rooms we live in primarily and baseboard heat brings individual rooms to a decent temperature. Every room in the house has doors that close it off from the rest of the house, making it easier to heat those rooms. But one major part of this house never gets warm in the winter.

The central hallway has the stairs to the bedrooms. It is a lovely yellow pine staircase with alternating walnut and chestnut pickets in the banister. There is a baseboard heater there, but with the stairs, the ceiling is way up there and that’s where any heat we might add would go. The hallway temperature has not yet made it above 50 degrees since we’ve been home. That is only a problem when one must use the bathroom which is right around the corner from the cozy den…ain’t nuthin’ cozy about that particular trip! But it’s a heck of a lot better than a trek to the outhouse would be.

So is this a rant about living in an old farmhouse? The very farmhouse I’d wanted for so long? No. It’s a way of articulating my feelings about something I couldn’t quite manage when we visited the Kelso depot in the Mojave Desert. The lady in the bookstore had lived in that tiny community for many years and was telling us how the making of the Mojave Desert National Preserve had affected the people who live there. We had visited that desert many times over the years and had met a handful of the people who call it home. We were aware of the many decades of ranching that existed there. Now much of that is gone. At one time I would have agreed that national parks should be natural…signs of human intrusion should be expunged! Let us commune with nature in our parks!

My conversion began at a place called Josie’s Cabin, in or near Dinosaur National Monument back in the 80’s. Josie Somebody had built a cabin, devised an irrigation system, planted gardens and fruit trees, built a fence across the mouth of a canyon to contain her cattle, and raised chickens, back in the Olden Days. There was a small brochure explaining who she was, when she’d lived there, how many husbands she had outlived, etc. It said what all she had done and I was fascinated, walking around and finding fruit trees that were still partially alive, the remains of an old grape arbor, signs of the irrigation system…the whole works. Another woman came up and complained that the brochure should explain all that stuff. Where were the fruit trees she planted? Where was the irrigation system? She had no idea what she was looking at.

It seems to me that our parks need to preserve not only the natural beauty of the setting, they also need to preserve the way people lived there. (I won’t get into funding issues…this is a “perfect world” I’m talking about!) Already we have a couple of generations of people who have never used an outhouse, cannot imagine a house without central heat or electricity, have no idea how to site a house to take advantage of the sun or the prevailing winds. Irrigation systems are complicated pipes and sprinklers that some specialist comes out and installs. The idea of taking a sharp stick or a jaw bone and digging trenches from where the water is to where you need it is unthinkable.

We need to preserve these things. I hope profoundly that we never need to return to such methods, but we do need to know how it could be done. If nothing else, we need to understand what our ancestors did to make their world better so we could have our turn.

 

 

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The Joys of Being at Home

Oh yeah…such joys.

When we got home, the outside temperature was 37 and inside the house it was 44. We had drained the water pipes so they wouldn’t freeze, had put antifreeze of some sort in the toilet bowls, farmed out all my houseplants, turned off all the heat, arranged for a friend to get our mail from time to time, turned off the phone which took with it the internet connectivity and the cable TV, and left gobs of dog food with our neighbors who periodically adopt our dog so we can travel. Lady, aka Smiley, is a country dog of very questionable parentage with a sweet disposition and a love of running. Cooping her up in either a kennel or the truck for four months was out of the question.

While Larry went to the cellar to turn on the pump and let the air out of the pipes, I carried in a load of kindling and firewood. I used to wonder how people could start a good, blazing fire with one match. If your primary source of heat for a dozen winters is a fire in the woodstove, you learn really fast how to do that most basic of chores. Soon there was a wonderful fire in the stove. The stove was heating up, the heat was actually getting maybe three feet away from the stove, but the walls, curtains, furniture, rugs…EVERYTHING…was 44 degrees and it takes a long time and a lot of fire to warm all that up.

I’m not sure what shade of reddish pink that antifreeze goo was when it went into the toilet bowls but I can assure you it was not a pretty shade of anything 4 months later. Blobs of mold and mildew, dead flies, well…you get it, I’m sure. The dead flies were everywhere…dead flies and dead box elder bugs. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them on all the floors. So vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, dusting, and scrubbing all consumed my first few hours at home.

Monday was our first full day at home and I haven’t worked that hard or that steadily since I was 30-something with little kids around. I didn’t even know I could work that hard any more. Or sleep that well at night!

Much of the day was taken up with reinstating the paper, the mail, the telephone and internet. And shoveling snow off the deck. Sometime during the night, we’d gotten several inches of snow. SNOW??!! There are tulips blooming in Dallas! Daffodils in Tennessee. Crocuses, bluebells, daffodils here? Couldn’t prove it by me…too much snow.

The snow was gone by Tuesday afternoon and so was a goodly portion of the bank account…but the freezer and fridge are now stocked again.

Oh yeah…the freezer and the fridge. We had cleaned most everything out but not all. Apparently we lost power for a while because what was left in the freezer was, by the time we got home, an unholy mess in the bottom of the freezer. So a major part of the work done on Monday was cleaning all that mess AND cleaning out my entire pantry. I like to keep my house tidy and clean, but whatever is behind closed doors doesn’t bother me a whole lot. So to have completely clean refrigerator, freezer, deep freeze (done before we left) and pantry all at the same time is nothing short of miraculous.

There are still a few things to bring in from the trailer and a few things to take out there. I haven’t even made it to my greenhouse yet. I have retrieved a few houseplants from one friend but the majority of them are with my orchid-growing friend who has plenty of room for my odd assortment of stuff.

Most irritating through all of this has been the lack of wifi. Same song, different verse. It took three days to get our basic phone service back which should have restored our DSL. But no, the DSL had an outage in our part of the county which wasn’t resolved until today. Still no connectivity. An hour with a most patient tech support person who seemed genuinely amazed that an old lady would know what a command line is and had already heard of ipconfig finally determined that our DSL modem must have croaked. So this afternoon I took it in and got a replacement.

Now my itty-bitty netbook which I’ve been using on the trip is the only thing that will connect to the router. The desktop, with all the pictures, the beautiful wide screen monitor, and the human-sized keyboard, is sitting right here three inches away from my netbook and is useless to me.

When I get that blessed thing working again, I will figure out how to make a page of pictures to go with the 90-some blogs I’ve posted. Who knows, I may get inspired or go insane and start posting occasional pieces from home. But for now, it is supper time and that doesn’t cook itself, so I must go.

I started this to keep in touch with a few friends while we were gone and I’ve been amazed at the following I’ve picked up. To all of you, friends I’ve known for years and friends I’ve just met, thank you for coming along on the trip. It has truly been an adventure and ever so much fun!

Esther

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