Life In Progress

I will not confuse my career with my life.

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A Good Breeze

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Summer is on my mind. Probably because we don’t have a/c in our old New England farmhouse. Oh, we’ve gotten good at when to close and open windows and shades over the years to deflect the sun and the oven-hot rooftop breezes. Even with strategically placed fans sleeping for the handful of really warm nights in Maine can present a challenge.

Plenty of porch time is my solution. By early afternoon, the sun has finished baking the front decking and a good breeze begins to traverse the length of it. A cool fruit smoothie, a new Davis Leatherworks tooled notebook (a gorgeous, US-made version of the Midori Traveler’s Notebook), toys to play with and plenty of pets with Mr. Wonderful made for a perfect holiday at home yesterday.

Mister, mister, mister!

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a-070413 front porch view of

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We Aim to Please

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Mr. Wonderful is an indoor-outdoor cat. Likely a Maine Coon mix, he adopted us over eight years ago by living under our porch and terrorizing our other cat at the time. He wouldn’t let us touch him for nearly six months and even after that we weren’t permitted to inspect him to see whether he was a tom or a female. So, because he reminded us of another cat we knew, Miss Kitty, we sort of assigned him to the female category. His first trip to the vet was quite enlightening, I should mention, when we finally found out “Portia” (so-named because of her/his time under the porch) was a male! The name stuck and occasionally my husband reverts to calling Mister a “her” (I suspect just to goad me and of course my reaction never disappoints!)

Now we mostly call him Mr. Wonderful and he’s made himself a very dearly-loved member of our family. We love him so much, we grow wheat grass for him and his indoors-girl cohort, Chitra. Even though he has the run of the place outside during the day and a whole field of grass behind the house, he knows we aim to please. Mister-mister gets his wheat grass fed to him one succulent blade at a time.

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Decidedly Better

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It’s that time of year when I feel quite ready for the seasons to change. We’ve had our big snowstorm —we officially got 29 inches here in South Windham, Maine—Fat Tuesday’s hangover has taken the cure and I uncovered a hulking dust bunny while searching for a pair of shoes in my closet. I resisted the (faintest) urge to Spring Clean. If I were to continue along this line of thinking I would likely need therapy and antidepressants, so I’ll stop my whinging right now.

Lately, Mr. Wonderful, our indoor/outdoor boy-cat, has been craving greens. As usual, I had anticipated this and bought a couple of small flats of grass in December. The cats duly appreciated the gesture but were never very happy with the short, thin blades. They would nose around in the grass but never really get to chomping. Problem is, that grass is a lawn grass variety and these felines are accustomed to premium greens—specifically, wheat grass. A few days ago, I noticed Mr. W standing by the sorry looking flat on the kitchen windowsill, kneading his paws with exaggerated motions and staring a hole through me. I got the feeling he was trying to suggest that his heart desired decidedly better greens. Fortunately, I am an experienced cat whisperer: immediately, I set a cup of wheat berries to soak in a big jar and planted them in pots just when the roots started to emerge. A couple of days later, the seedlings are approaching two inches tall and are nearly ready to be ravaged.

These greens will be a far cry from the luxurious pot of grass I transplanted from the garden for Mr. W and Chitra a while back. During the growing season, that’s the way to satisfy Chitra, who, unlike Mr. W, doesn’t get to forage for her emetics outside.

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The Big Tease

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Our cat, Chitra, has been virtually glued to the fireplace this weekend. It’s been in the 30s and 40s and the mist of sublimating snow has insulated us from the sun for several days straight. The rest of the house becomes stone cold when the fireplace heats up the first floor where the thermometer is, making it uncomfortable for Chitra to lounge about anywhere but right in front of the insert’s glass doors. I’m sipping steaming tea and piling on the fleece.

Temperatures were almost obscenely warm for early January in this part of the country. This past week there was an afternoon when I stood on the back deck, basking in the 50° sunshine, flirting with the dangerous idea that spring was right around the corner. It sure smelled like it. But it’s way too early for getting my hopes up! Spring comes late here and if I let myself thumb through Johnny’s Seed Catalog this soon, I’ll be a sobbing mess by the abysmal mud season in March.

I had such high hopes for a good old-fashioned winter when we got our Christmas-time snowfall here in southern Maine. The storm dumped a good 8″ to 10″ of  pretty snow that was awesome for skiing and snowmobiling. That said, I would have preferred the heavier, wet cement variety that is necessary for creating satisfying snow creatures like my lovely Snow Goddess, and for making snow piles that we can race wooden balls down, whilst laughing our arses off on Sunday afternoons.

This year we haven’t yet experienced the great snowfall that I was happy to post about a couple of years ago. I’m trying very hard to keep my chin up; I do yoga, log eons of rest, ingest gallons of hot herbal tea and faithfully swallow the vitamin D3 supplements that my doctor suggested to keep the blues at bay. Even though there is plenty of time for more snow this winter, the big tease of this January thaw has me on the brink.

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Starting fall garden cleanup yesterday, (a monumental task,) I noticed some particularly succulent clumps of grass growing in the butternut squash bed. Perfect for Chitra’s “green fang.” I potted up the smallest clutch, watered it and brought it inside.

She was waiting at the screen door and made a chattering exclamation when she saw the blades of grass waving invitingly. Much sniffing, crunching and slurping ensued. Chitra’s emerald obsession is sated for the time being. She ate so much roughage, I was sure there would soon be trouble on the carpet. Oddly, I haven’t had to clean up any grassy cat puke. Yet.

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Treasure Tossed

The Little Falls impoundment of the Presumpscot River is down again. Sappi had an initial draw down in July to assess work on the dam and this week they’ve got it down even lower than before for repairs.

We went down to check it out Tuesday evening, accompanied by a very vocal Mr. Wonderful. Meowing his concern, he followed us onto the silty bank, inspected the middens where the raccoons feast on freshwater clams under the tree roots, then made himself comfortable on the rocks while we rooted around in the mud.

The first things to catch my eye were some clams languishing on the silt. I gently placed them into the water so they’d at least have a chance to survive the hungry raccoons. I feel a little guilty about the ones I probably missed. Mucking around for the clams, I uncovered two pieces of a broken depression glass sugar bowl and a number of other large, thick pieces of broken glass bottles around an area of exposed ledge which usually has several feet of water over it. I wanted to get a shovel and dig. Maybe I’ll do just that, tomorrow, before Hurricane Irene arrives.

Many years ago, people repeatedly came down to this beautiful river and unceremoniously hucked their household trash into it. Tuesday evening, we went to that river, recovered some of that trash and arranged it carefully on the bench on our back deck. As though it was treasure.


Mr. Wonderful: Master Gardener

Garden clean-up last fall dragged on into an unusually lengthy event. I never like to cut plants down before frost, but vow to do just that this coming year. I was furiously clipping down plants well into December, looking over my shoulder every day for that first snowstorm of the season. Since the snow held off until the holiday, I am rewarded this spring with some amazingly orderly flower beds. With an exception that falls into the wabi-sabi category… that huge bed of gooseneck loosestrife (yes, an invasive…) lay there flattened and matted, taunting me.

Gooseneck loosestrife is truly gorgeous, but a garden thug of epic proportions. About 15 years ago, I saw a beautiful stand of them in a display garden and just had to have some. Now they dominate the southeastern corner of the front porch, crowding out even the vigorous ferns, evening primrose and centurea that were there. And they’re the devil to pull out, having glassy roots that break off shoots with every forking.

Mr. Wonderful, in all his glorious cat-ness, gladly assisted me by enforcing frequent petting session breaks as I clipped away. For some reason, he’s been following me around this spring, performing sentinel duty while I garden. Yesterday, while I tugged and clipped the loosestrife, he cavorted among the rustling stalks. At one point he crawled in and napped in a nest of them, which sent me in search of the camera.

Wise late fall accomplishments allowed me the luxury of grooming some areas this spring. Rather than breathlessly racing to cut last year’s stalks before this year’s growth progressed too far, the cobblestone retaining wall in the south garden magically manifested one day.

The next morning, with a mug of hot tea I went to inspect the new rock wall. My newly retained garden was replete with the gory bottom half of a mouse laying next to some newly transplanted hens ‘n chicks.

The perfect gift from Mr. Wonderful, Master Gardener.

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The green fang

Chitra has a craving. Greens. Magic elixir for the indoor-dwelling feline’s digestive health. The sorry container of wheat grass she’d been grazing on has all but died back. She would sniff it and make a weak attempt to chew on the sparse blades, but her heart just wasn’t in it.

This morning, after scolding her for repeatedly attempting to reach the attractive stringy ends of the ponytail palm houseplant, (stashed on top of the tallest cupboard in the kitchen,) I remembered the pot of grass wintering over in the breezeway with some other plants. Brilliant.

I immediately retrieved the sacred vessel of grass and presented it to her in the sunny dining room. Soon, there were sounds of scissoring teeth, gnashing and tearing, as she chomped happily on the greens.

Funny, last fall, she rejected this very pot of thin-bladed lawn grass. Maybe it wasn’t as satisfying to gnaw as was the pot of tender, thick-bladed grass that had sprouted from straw I used to mulch the squash bed. Fortunately, it seems this pot will now handily appease her insatiable green fang.

Soon, I will thaw the frozen bag of potting soil sitting in the barn and sow some wheat grass seeds. This auxiliary pot of grass won’t last long.

I also need to start checking around the house for the, er, rewards of her consumption of copious amounts of this magical emetic material.

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Painted fire

Chitra: Make. It. Warm. Now.

“Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself.” — Mark Twain

This morning, the house was cold. The boiler was just about to trigger on. I put the kettle on to make tea and realized our girl cat, Chitra was crouching on the kitchen rug glaring at me reproachfully. She darted away toward the living room when I approached to pet her. I followed. There was a faint glow at the hearth, really just a few glowing coals from the fire Will started when he got up this morning.

With our earlier supply of maple tucked in the barn, I could revive a pile of coals like that with a stick or two and a good log. Or maybe just the log. But we’re down to that stash of punky yellow poplar that we avoided burning last year. It had been stacked in the woods too long. (Seasoning — right…) The logs look good but they don’t make for a satisfying burn. I must have picked up one of those yellow poplar logs this morning, because for about 20 minutes all I succeeded in making was a copious amount of billowing smoke. I poked and rearranged and was generously rewarded with a face full of smoke. Then flames finally leapt up. Ah, here we go.

After another 20 minutes I realized the cat was still glaring at me. Fire. Not. Hot.

Crap. Tending the fire this morning has been a struggle. At this point in the winter, it should not be too difficult for me to keep a fire going. Not that we burn wood every day, but I have assisted with keeping quite a few fires going this season. I’ll admit, there is a knack to it, but it’s not exactly rocket science. However, to get a good burn, you do need quality fuel. We’re down to the second-quality section of what is stored in the barn.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out to the Mother Lode woodpile behind the spruces to probe for some more of that maple. I brushed off the crusted snow and removed a few loose ice-covered logs from the top layer. I grabbed ahold of a tempting log. Stuck tight. The entire huge pile seems hopelessly fused together with ice. After we got the barn filled with as much wood as we had room for, the thought occurred to me to tarp the woodpiles outside. Yes, it did. Did I act on that thought? Of course not, the barn was chock full of dry wood! We couldn’t possibly burn all of that! Brilliant.

So, where’s Chitra right now? She’s curled up in the bright winter sun on the dining room rug. Where it’s warm. Maybe I’ll put just one more log on before lunch, trip the thermostat and abandon the living room for the sunny side of the house.