Country Journal/December 5, 2015

On the Subject of Chickens and a Year End Summary

The perfect chicken and the ultimate chicken coop–they don’t exist, but after several years of keeping chickens we are both older and wiser. This place came with a chicken house, in a manner of speaking. It was far from ideal and it bore no resemblance to clever little backyard painted coops that grace the pages of chicken keeping magazines. It is an eleven by eleven pole building with a shed roof ranging from 7 feet to 9 feet. The outside is covered with corrugated metal. The roof leaked until this year when we were finally able to get that fixed. The roost was falling apart. The nestboxes were ancient and badly designed. Worst of all, it had a dirt floor and the absence of anti-dig skirting meant that there was no protection against nighttime predators, most of whom are excellent diggers. There was no outside run. Our first round of improvements was to add an outside run with a chicken wire roof, replace the missing chicken wire on the front of the chicken house, and install a makeshift anti-dig skirt. It wasn’t pretty but it was safe. The chickens were thrilled. For them it was a step up in the world.

This year, in addition to replacing the roof and the roof rafters that were rotting, we also re-built two walls. George did this work. He dug trenches and installed concrete block footings–much better than our temporary anti-dig skirt, poured concrete to fill the blocks, beefed up the framing, and turned the corrugated metal from horizontal to vertical. I managed to get one wall–the back–painted. Then we stopped for the season as we were out of money and out of good weather.

George re-built the roost, putting the back of it on wheels so it can be moved back and forth to facilitate cleaning. I saw an idea on the internet that featured a wooden rack that held five gallon buckets for nest boxes and George undertook to build that. He is part way through this, but has decided that rectangular plastic tubs would be better than buckets.

I hate that dirt floor but there is nothing I can do about it right now. I went out this morning, shooed the chickens outside, and cleaned. I attacked the cobwebs, raked the floor, cleaned the water dispenser, cleaned the feed bowl. I threw out chicken scratch and cut up a butternut squash to give them for a treat.

George came out and did a little more work on the nest box rack which is a work in progress–one of many.

And, as always, it took much longer than I thought it would.

My original flock, plus a motley assortment of donated birds, are now middle-aged to elderly. They still lay, but it is probably time to add some younger birds. I’ve now experimented with several different breeds, both standards and bantams. I reviewed the possibilities and decided that I will now concentrate on just one breed. I picked the blue-laced red Wyandotte.

I like the color. I like chickens with “camouflage.” I love the look of feathered feet, but, in view of that dirt floor, I think I’d better stick to clean legged birds. Plus the Wyandotte has a rose comb that is less likely to get frostbitten. They lay light brown eggs. I won’t order them now; I will wait until warmer weather.

In addition to the chicken house flock I have three spare roosters and they are a royal nuisance because each one must be separately housed. There is also one odd hen who is the consort of my bantam rooster.

What is ahead is the re-building of the remaining two walls of the chicken house, re-working the original pen, building a second pen. I’m guessing we are talking two to four years because there is also much other work to be done. We can’t just spend all our time on the chicken house.

The present chicken census:

1 Blue Cochin rooster, rather elderly, a bit lame, very sweet, named Mr. Blue

1 Buff Brahma bantam rooster (called B.B.) and his mate who is a small black “Easter Egger” of unknown parentage. She’s a cute little thing named Ebony. She lays pale turquoise eggs.

1very elderly black Australorp rooster who is quite lame. That is Mr. Black.

The inmates of the chicken coop consisting of a Hamburg rooster, one Brahma light, one buff “Easter Egger,” two barred Plymouth rocks, three silver laced Wyandottes and two golden laced Wyandottes.

George also moved three ancient appliances that must be sold for scrap from the inside of the big metal barn (Alice’s Barn) into the yard. He will begin hauling them to the scrap metal yard on Monday.

George had improvised heating lamps above the roost, but that is not doing the job. I ordered heating pads for the separately housed chickens and a poultry heater that will create a “warming hut” inside the chicken coop. The downside, as I said, is the dirt floor. The upside is that it is roomy and there is space enough to add “furniture” as needed. This is the first winter I have had a heated waterer that does not freeze.

I came inside, took a short nap, and spent some time on the internet pricing accessories that might dress up this very shabby place: new house numbers, new mailbox, that kind of thing. I didn’t order anything; I was just getting a rough idea as to availability and prices. The actual ordering will come later.

Now for the summary: We have now been in this house almost six years and we started with one horrible little house and some long neglected outbuildings. We’ve done a lot, but there is still much to do. It doesn’t look pretty. It doesn’t look anything close to pretty. That may come later. Key word there is “may.” And then again maybe not, depending upon how our health and strength hold up.

  • We ripped out all of the old flooring except for the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen and painted the slab. That was, on our budget, the only solution I could manage. It was not done properly. We didn’t have the funds to grind or level.
  • We tore out some walls, re-built some walls, tore out some kitchen cabinets and all the bathroom cabinets. They were too awful to salvage. We added baseboards, top molding (very plain), and corner moldings to fill gaps.
  • George tore out the brick chimney that was located in, of all places, the hall. I don’t know how he did it but he did it, bringing down a pile of bricks, mortar, soot, and clinkers. We repaired holes in the ceiling.
  • George tore out an ugly built-in cabinet in the back bedroom.
  • We re-built the interior of every cabinet and closet in the house.
  • I painted the inside of every cabinet and every closet–multiple coats as they had never been painted.
  • I painted the entire interior, ceilings, walls, floors–multiple coats as I was covering dark paneling and the previous owners smoked.
  • We changed light fixtures. George did a lot of work on the interior wiring. It is still a long way from code, but it is much improved.
  • Besides the work on the chicken house, George re-built three walls of the big metal barn (Alice’s Barn) and added two small stalls inside. We have plans for more improvements. The south wall still must be re-built. I painted the three walls that he did re-work.
  • We installed a new kitchen sink and cabinet.
  • We replaced all the single paned windows with double paned windows.
  • We did a whole lot of caulking
  • I replaced the lower third of the tile surrounding the bathtub and patched missing tile in the pantry and kitchen.
  • We put in a new propane heater that vents to the outside in the living room.

In the same period of time George had two shoulder replacements, one hospital stay while recovering from an accident on the scooter, and cataract surgery. I spent five months in bed with the shingles and had two hospital stays. We had almost no money to work with until this year.

I don’t know how we did it.

This past year has been much better. We paid off the mortgage and the car note, put a new roof on the house, put new roofs on all three outbuildings–“Alice’s Barn,” “George’s Workshop,” and the chicken house. We installed the big steel canopy in the pecan grove for an outdoor seating and cooking area. We are now able to keep the place mowed. We got all the trees pruned and that’s a lot of trees. We have a new electric line between the well house and the breaker box–George did that. And, last but not least, we were finally able to get a new toilet, new bathroom lavatory, and get the plumbing fixed. For the first time since I came to Arkansas in 1907 I can take a hot shower whenever I like and I live in a warm house.

The entire adventure–the final years in Fort Worth and the time in Arkansas–is ten years I don’t ever want to repeat. There is still much to be done. The Lord willing and the creek don’t rise we will have a nice little country place in about 4-5 years.

Country Journal/December 1, 2015

It is the middle of the night. I can’t sleep. I have one huge life goal and that is to become the person I want to be and think I should be. I think each of us has an internal picture of that and I’m sure it varies enormously from one individual to the next.  Right now I’m not talking about achieving nirvana or even becoming morally better, although those are laudable. I’m talking about inefficiencies, niggling bad habits, getting in one’s own way, not working at one’s peak.

I can promise you, every time I make a change directed towards improving my health habits one certain result is insomnia. The spirit may be willing but the flesh will trip me up every time. So, let’s say, for instance, that I decide to forego the evening glass of wine, eat healthy, and exercise more. I guarantee that I can’t do it all at once because if I tell my elderly body that we are suddenly going to make big changes said elderly body will lay me out flat in bed in addition to making sure I don’t sleep at night. I guarangoddamntee it.

Then there’s Polly, my poor unhappy, obnoxious, loud, difficult macaw. Who ever heard of a bird with insomnia? Every other bird in the house goes to sleep when it gets dark and/or the cage is covered and sleeps, with only a few half-awake noises, until morning. Not my Polly. My stealthy footsteps down the hall, the tapping of the computer keyboard, any sound at all will wake that unfortunate creature. Then I will hear her gently fussing and tearing up the newspapers on the bottom of her cage. No harm in that but she needs the sleep. A pin drops and that macaw wakes up. That severely limits what I can do during the nights I can’t sleep. The only thing I can do that doesn’t bother Polly is to sit up in bed and knit. Right now I am in no mood for that.

“Polly, it’s just mom. I love you. Go to sleep.”

I have accomplished distressingly little since I last wrote. Today was the worst. I was doing the monthly budgeting and bill paying. For once, there’s no particular monetary crisis; it’s just routine. I was unaccountably wound up, wired, unable to concentrate, and just plain nutty. It got the work done, but it took far longer than it should have done. Now I can’t sleep. I am nibbled to death by ducks, as the saying goes. My mother called it the “screaming mimis.” Not sure how you spell that. Better look it up. Okay, it is spelled two ways–“mimis” and “meemies.” Not to be confused with the heebie-jeebies which word conveys both jitters and vague fear.

I said something to George about my state of mind this afternoon.

“Been there.” he said.

He ran errands. He took care of the animals. I paid bills and quietly fell apart. Not fun. Not fun at all.

Later the Same Day

Too many things to do and too little time. Too many needs and too few dollars. The weather cleared sufficiently that cleaning the car was possible, so we went to town. Mailed bills. Did a small amount of necessary shopping for supplies at Walmart. Got the car cleaned at our local DIY car wash. Actually, that is not accurate. We got the top layers of grime out of the interior and off the exterior. I don’t like to ask George to do this by himself. He won’t admit it is difficult for him, but he’s not very agile and vacuuming odd corners of a car interior does require that.

By the time we finished we were both chilled. I wanted something hot and fast. We went to McDonald’s for a sandwich and hot coffee. Then we went home. I unloaded the car and re-arranged the car. This is make-ready for inserting tarp and traveling macaw cage into the back seat while leaving space for Star in the hatchback area. George went to work doing animal care and I took a nap. I got up, made a cup of very strong hot tea and started wrapping Christmas presents. I did not get far, but at least I made a start.

We did stop at the bank this morning. Unfortunately someone had left an issue of Flying magazine in the lobby. George pounced on it and has been buried in it off and on all day and will remain buried in it until he has read every word and he’s a slow reader. He did take care of the animals, but he will be good for nothing else until he is finished with his magazine.

It’s not what we did; it’s what we didn’t get done that bothers me. I need to re-work the heating arrangements for the chickens and for Gray Lady (outdoor cat). That is a must. Freezing nights are in the forecast. I am once again behind on routine house work. I have barely begun the clean up work in the living room. The car port is a mess. George won’t keep it clean and is incapable of cleaning it. Cleaning he can do only if walked through the process. I can’t supervise George and do anything else. After thirty years of living with George and his very odd brain I’ve learned what will work and what won’t.

I need to do some cleaning in the kitchen. I can’t; it will wake Polly who is in the adjoining dining area. It’s no different from having a sleeping baby in a small house. House is too small to give the macaws a dedicated room and, if I did that, I then create the problem of lack of social interaction with us which is also very important for them.

After working with the monthly budget I asked George, “Would you rather have special holiday food or liquor this month?” He didn’t hesitate; he wanted his evening snort. Okay, but that means a long drive to a liquor store because we are in a dry county. It’s an incredibly beautiful place and two-thirds of our county is pristine national forest, but there is a downside to everything. Arkansas has some of the strictest liquor laws in the nation.

Later

George explained that he has been observing a learning curve among the cats. We have too many cats to have them all inside. They are outside by day and in crates in the barn at night. That protects them from nighttime predators. They are fed in their crates in the evening and then George fastens the crates for the night. Last winter I had to bring all of the critters into the house every night to keep them warm. That was an incredible amount of work and obviously not the way to go. No one needs a crate of 12 chickens in the kitchen every night and 12 cats wandering about on top of a large dog, multiple birds, and two elderly roosters–one in the bathtub and one in a large tub. This year I bought heaters, heated waterers, various other equipment, and plush and foam domes–enough to equip each cat crate plus some extras. At first the cats just pushed the domes down flat and went to sleep on top of them, creating little cat nests. I was not happy because that defeats the purpose of the domes. To stay warm each cat needs to go inside and curl up. But George reports that last night, with a forecast of a light freeze, each cat had figured it out and every single one was tucked away inside his dome

 

Country Journal/November 20, 2015

A Meditation on a Lump of Beeswax

I woke up early this morning because I was cold. I investigated. Space heater was not working. Is it the space heater, the extension cord, or the wall outlet? I didn’t want to waste time with this so I mentally designated the task to George, who is the house electrician, went to the living room, switched on the lights, drew the doorway curtain (so the lights would not bother the birds), and did a little more work on the tedious task of sorting and organizing the sewing tools.

This means combining what was already in the living room, in the area designated for sewing, with items recently unpacked, and putting like things together. Some items had been stored in cardboard boxes near the little propane furnace and these I planned to transfer to new storage bins. I came across lumps of beeswax which, fortunately, I had sufficient sense to have placed inside freezer storage bags.

Good thing I did that because the heat from the propane furnace had melted the beeswax which was now in very odd shapes.

There are both benefits and disadvantages to our fairly new propane furnace. It is about the size of a small suitcase and penetrates the front (south) wall of the living room. It vents to the outside. It is efficient and there are no propane fumes at all in the house. That is necessary for the birds. This house was never equipped with central heat. The propane furnace does an amazing job, but it doesn’t heat the house evenly. The living room is toasty, but the north side of the house is always cool. I must keep some doors closed for animal control so the bird room and my bedroom are equipped with electric space heaters to supplement the living room unit. The electronic controls on the living room heater mean that if we lose power, which happens fairly regularly, we also lose all heat. Eventually I will have a wood stove for backup. Woodstove is in place and stovepipe is purchased but not yet installed.

I discovered that I must keep an area of about three to four feet in all directions from the furnace clear of anything that can be damaged by heat. I overlooked the beeswax.

I didn’t want to lose the beeswax. How do I go about heating it to reshape it. That question sent me to the internet where I searched “how to work with beeswax.” I was thinking double boiler but the answer was much simpler. Heat it in a bowl of hot water and that makes it sufficiently pliable to shape.

I carried the beeswax into the kitchen and then I remembered how I came to possess it in the first place. When we first moved to Arkansas we lived in a portable metal building on the Cherry Hill property. We had no electricity and no plumbing. We did have water at a frost free spigot in the yard. Eventually we had electricity installed. The place still has no plumbing. I had brought a modest sewing kit with me when we moved, but most of the sewing supplies and the sewing machines were packed. I was trying to mend something or other and I had trouble with kinks and knots in the thread. I said something to George, “I wish I had beeswax for this thread.”

George said, “No problem. I have two pounds of it.”

I looked at him.

He said, “What?”

Now granted that in all discussions with a person of the opposite sex one must keep firmly in mind that one is dealing with an alien intelligence.

“George, why did you think that you would need to bring two pounds of beeswax with you when moving to Arkansas to homestead in temporary housing? And how did you happen to have it in the first place?”

“Waxing thread.” That’s the way you do it when you restore a ragwing.”

I tried to understand why on earth he thought that restoring an antique aircraft would be the first thing we would do in Arkansas. Or the second, the third, or even the thousand-and-first thing. It made perfect sense to George. It made no sense at all to me.

He unearthed two pounds of beeswax from somewhere or other. I think it was from the depths of an old navy duffel bag. He cut off a generous portion and gave it to me–enough to keep me waxing sewing thread until I am a hundred and twenty years old, at least.

I stood at the kitchen sink and cut the beeswax into appropriate sized pieces, some larger, some smaller. I molded it into lumps that were more or less cubical. I refrigerated it briefly to harden it. The big bits I wrapped in aluminum foil for storage. The small bits went into my various sewing baskets. The reason I keep multiple sewing baskets is that I am apt to do hand sewing wherever it is convenient–the living room, my bedroom, or the home office.

After that I got a mug of coffee, went back to the living room and cogitated.

If there is to be a new arrangement, then what pieces will stay as they are, what will go to the warehouse, what will be brought from the warehouse, and in what order shall the work be done?

My mind went back to the beeswax. That stuff keeps almost indefinitely. How many years has George had that hoard? How valuable will it become if the bees continue on a path to extinction? The world’s honeybees are in big trouble. By the time the soaring price of beeswax regularly makes the news I will probably be long gone, but that is okay with me. I don’t think I want to live in a post Sixth Great Extinction world.

I pondered the arrangement of the living room. I’m stuck with the placement of the wall furnace, the corner cabinet, and the wood stove. That doesn’t leave much scope for arranging furniture. I’m also stuck with the fact that the only place to set up a sewing station is the living room. I reviewed the problem of the ironing board. An ironing board in the living room is–peculiar. Even more peculiar is hanging it from the living room wall to free up floor space. But putting it anywhere other than near the sewing area makes no sense at all because sewing and pressing are done together always. Never trust a seamstress who doesn’t press more than she sews. I went back to the internet and reviewed gadgets that allow one to hang a board on the wall together with the iron and other parts of the ironing operation. I read the reviews. Some were enthusiastic; some were not. Every single ironing board hanger I could find for sale received only qualified commendations with the most common criticisms being, in summary, “This is the finest workmanship from China. Wrong size screws, screws not long enough, screws and holes don’t align, this or that is flimsy. We managed to install it but it required a lot of backyard engineering.” What does not?

I caucused with George about the living room and about the bedroom space heater problem. He reported later that he had done the requisite troubleshooting. He had not, but that is another story. He then took off on a round of errand running. I persevered in the living room.

And, in the meantime, The rooms already cleaned and organized are immediately beginning to lapse into disorder, a process accelerated by macaws shredding newspaper and throwing food and water several feet from their habitats. Daughter Kit once described my cleaning operations as “Mom’s snowplow method.” But the snowplow slows down as one moves through the process because one must constantly backtrack to keep the rooms already completed from relentlessly returning to total mess.

By four in the afternoon, after hours of bouncing around among screaming macaws, trying to keep George on track, working on the living room, and also trying to get words down on paper, I had completed a section of the living room roughly four feet by ten feet. Time to open a bottle of wine.

Several more hours this evening were taken up by the continuing saga of the bedroom heater, but at this time, 8:00 p.m., I do once again have heat.

 

Country Journal/November 18, 2015

George mislaid his one and only pair of reading glasses and I mislaid my car key weeks ago; both are still missing. Our mantra is, “It’s here somewhere and eventually it will surface.” In the meantime I press on regardless with a very ambitious weeding, housecleaning, re-ordering, and organizing of my house. It’s an awful job, beyond boring, but it must be done. It won’t be done unless I do it. Everything else, including writing, is on hold. I can do daily journal entries so I am beginning a series of those. Whether anyone in the world is interested in reading them is another matter altogether.

But I did promise one friend that I would stick with it and get the house in order and the surplus removed. I promised another friend that I would relate the story of the glass-sided china cabinet key.

We’ve now been in Arkansas eight years and I think, maybe, this coming year will finally see everything unpacked and set into place. Never again will I work on painting and fixing up a house while living in it. Nightmare.

All right, then, to my story: The china cabinet is a Victorian piece from my paternal grandmother’s household. I have only three pieces of furniture that were hers. This is one of them. It rests on ball and claw feet. The sides and the front are glass. The door bows outward with a curved glass insert. It opens and closes with a small key. China cabinet is still in the warehouse in town. Before it can be moved here and set into its proper place I must do a lot of cleaning up in the living room. For one thing there must be a clear path for the movers to get this very fragile piece of furniture off the truck, into the house, and into place on the east wall of the room. I’ve quite a bit of make ready to do before this can happen.

In the meantime, in other rooms of the house I am, in addition to cleaning and getting rid of stuff that should have been thrown away years ago, making some minor changes. I decided to replace some curtain tiebacks. That sent me to the internet to see what was available and at what price. Do I want to buy something or make it myself? I investigated and discovered that there were some very handsome vintage tiebacks out there–for a price. And, if they are described as “vintage French passementerie” the price goes through the roof. Even “rustic” and “handmade” pieces were more than I wanted to spend. With twisted cords, tassels, and embellishments floating through my mind I went to bed night before last. So help me, I dreamed about curtain tiebacks. Towards morning I came wide awake and thought, “Where the heck is the key to the china cabinet?” The reason for this odd mental association is that for years, before one of the cats destroyed it, that particular small key had been decorated with a fancy tassel I had picked up somewhere for next to nothing. That fussy little pink and green tassel popped into my head because I had tassels on the brain and that led me naturally to think of that darned key.

That led to another memory–my mother’s distress when she lost the key to the Seth Thomas clock, whose striking chime marked all the hours of my childhood. “It’s a hundred years old.” she said. “Why did I have to be the person who lost the key?” We never did find that key, but eventually an old watchmaker with a huge inventory managed to come up with a replacement key that did work. The old clock needs major repairs to both the case and the works, but the key is in the clock case because I never put it anywhere else. We had the devil’s own time finding a replacement key in St. Louis in the 1950s. It would be a forlorn hope in Arkansas in 2015. Right now the Seth Thomas is gathering dust in one corner of the living room behind something else so the cats can’t knock it over.

George showed up. I related my worry concerning the key. Now I’ve been keeping house a long time and I’ve been through innumerable moves. I have learned a few things about packing and organizing so that small items don’t vanish. Also I have established some regular routines. “If I was using my head when we left Texas, which is open to doubt, I would have done the sensible thing and stacked all the shelves at the bottom of the cabinet and then left the key in the lock.” I said. “But I haven’t given the matter a thought in years and heaven only knows what I did eight years ago.”

George had to go to town because he needed something from the hardware store. He went by the warehouse, uncovered the china cabinet, which is swathed in old army blankets for protection. Sure enough, the key was in the lock. He brought me the key.

“Now,” he said, “where are we going to put it so it absolutely positively does not disappear?” Personally I wish he’d left it exactly where it was, but George is George and he did not. I found a tag and string and wrote “China Cabinet” and attached the tag to the key. Then, with both of us as witnesses, as we both have short term memory loss, I carefully placed it in a cubbyhole in the top left hand drawer of the maple desk in the home office. The desk formerly belonged to George’s mother and is typical mock colonial from the 1950s.

Gee, isn’t growing older and losing one’s mind a lot of fun?

What else? There are always a ton of nuisance value jobs to be done. I finished knitting the drawstring pouch George had requested as storage for his aviation safety wire pliers. I cut out a pair of curtain tiebacks using a remnant of silk, having decided to make my own. George installed a new perch for Paco (macaw) and a transverse perch and a new heater for Baby (macaw) and did the usual animal care. It usually takes Paco about 48 hours to chew up a two inch diameter hardwood perch and what I would do without George to constantly manufacture new ones I do not know. I restrung some beads (damage caused by mice–they ate the string). I picked up stuff and put it away. I answered a mess of e-mail questions from my first cousins who suddenly decided they could not live another day unless I supplied them with a ton of biographical information about our mutual grandmother. I wrote other e-mails. Thermometer in my room was too high to be easily read; I lowered it to a more convenient height. I boxed one Christmas present (for daughter Kit) and sent it on its way. Let her find a place to keep it between now and Christmas morning; her house is bigger than mine. A set of very cheap replacement curtains for the home office were delivered. I hung them, putting the old ones into a plastic bag to go to the cleaners or to the thrift store, whichever I decide. I did laundry. I folded towels. I figured out what to give to two family members for Christmas. George made a run to the liquor store–we live in a dry county–to place an order for the wine that will be wanted at our December family reunion.

In addition to losing my mind I am also losing my hair. If this keeps up I will be bald in a couple of years.

Now I had better go and cover the macaws. George cannot do it because the cages are tall and he has bad shoulders.

7:00 p.m. George is taking his shower. I would like very much to sit down with a glass of wine and a copy of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. That is not going to happen because before I go to bed I have three rooms to clean. Bathroom and kitchen can’t be done until George is finished and out of here. I say “out of here” because right now he is sleeping at the Cherry Hill cabin. Then there is my bedroom. First Baby shredded the newspaper on the floor of her cage into tiny confetti. Next she sat on top of her cage door and fanned her wings. The room is too fall for a big macaw to fly and she’s got to get her exercise somehow. That sent the remaining newspaper and the confetti all over the furniture and the floor. So after she is covered for the night I clean up the room.

Also must remind George that I need two clean cat boxes. One for the hall and one for Sally Bob (the Munchkin cat) in my room.

8:00 p.m. I am starting the second shift. Refrigerator is acting up. That means defrost the drain tubes leading down from the freezer. George can do, but he needs room to put the contents of freezer and room to work. That means put up dishes, wash dishes, put stuff away, get it clean and swept so he can have room to work tomorrow. After that, the bathroom and my room.

10:00 p.m. I have done everything except for the floors. I am beat and I am going to bed. I’ll do floors in the morning. I did find George’s glasses, exactly where he left them, in the kitchen, on the dresser behind Lady Jasper’s cage (Quaker parrot). I wrote this in Word and I will print out and copy onto my website. I keep backup hardcopy of everything. I’m a Luddite. Right now I’m a very tired Luddite.

A Day in the Life of a Writer Who Is Not Writing

IMGP4191September 6, 2015

I was awake at first light. I made a cup of tea. I did a batch of hand washing and hung it on the line. My washing machine has a cycle for delicates but my washing machine is not working at the moment. I got on the internet and checked the weather forecast with NOAA. I checked incoming e-mails. I told Sally Bob (cat) and Baby (scarlet macaw) that I would be with them shortly. I fed Gray Lady (outside cat). I told Polly and Paco (blue and gold macaws) to just keep their feathers on and someone would attend to them soon. I put up clean dishes and stacked dirty ones for washing.

I made a cup of Coffee for George and then went and shook him awake. He was not happy and I don’t blame him, but the fresh coffee helped. We had a brief caucus about plans for the day. I said there were two hens who were being badly pecked and must be separated from the flock. Where to house them? We figured that out. George was grumpy because every segregated bird means another cage to clean and another food and water bowl to manage. George asked if I had called the washing machine repair man yesterday. I said no, but would start calling daily on Monday. We’ve been trying to get him out here for two weeks. I said I thought I had better set up to do all the laundry by hand outside as there is not enough in this month’s budget for trips to the laundromat. George said, use the washing machine; it works except for the timer. I was doubtful but said I would give it a try. I loaded it and started it. George said he would mind it and advance it manually through its cycles. He then completely forgot about it.

We went out to inspect the work in progress on the back wall of the old chicken house where we are re-building and repairing. We discussed what to do. George said he could not finish without additional corrugated metal. I said we have some. He was not convinced of that so I walked him over to the big barn and showed him. He said that he thought he had enough materials on hand to finish the back wall. We discussed priorities. We decided that he should first carry all the household trash to the drop off point and next get gasoline for the car and for all the various gas cans that constitute fuel for the riding lawnmower and reserve gas for the car. He began loading the car.

I discovered the washing machine stuck on wash and leaking water from the bottom of the machine. I told George. He said that he would move the dryer so that he could inspect the washer. He did that. Dryer is still outside the back door (covered with a tarp in case of possible rain) and it is now 1:28 of the following day. It will stay there a few days as I hate to ask George to move anything unnecessarily; it causes him a lot of pain. George checked all visible washing machine connections and said they are tight. I said we can’t use the machine until it is repaired as I have just painted that floor and don’t want the paint peeling because of moisture.

George did the trash run and gas run and then asked again about priorities. I said stay with the back wall of the chicken house until it is finished. He did the morning animal chores and then started on the chicken house. I went into the house, collapsed, and slept for an hour. I got up, made myself tea and started on kitchen clean up. I can’t let it go; we are afflicted by both ants and mice. I watered all the house plants. That is a big job. They were bone dry. I watered some outside plants. I constantly checked on the drying clothes on the line and got them in as they dried and piled them all on top of my still unmade bed. Over the course of the afternoon I got them all folded and put away. I wrote e-mails. I ordered bird food from the internet. I can’t buy the kind I feed locally. I checked bank balances, credit card balances, and started the work of planning a short trip I will make in October.

George came in, hot and tired and hurting. He has artificial shoulders plus he is 84. He had been knocking bad wood off the back of the chicken house with a sledgehammer. He rested. He promised to water the outside newly planted trees this evening. That won’t happen. He has too much to do and he will be exhausted.

I took a shower, washed my hair, gave myself a very quick manicure and pedicure, very superficial. George brought in the mail and discovered that we have a car safety recall to refit the car with new airbags. That must be done immediately. George tried calling the dealership. No luck. He said he would go to Hot Springs on Monday (fifty miles) and make an appointment for the work on the car and also pick up the dry cleaning. I said I needed the car on Tuesday to go to Mena to deal with my medical records and my insurance problem and that is also something that must be done and cannot be postponed.

I checked on the chickens. They were overheated so I turned on their overhead shower which is an irrigation hose on the chicken wire roof of their outside pen that provides a drizzle in hot weather. They flocked to it. They like the fresh water and the wet ground.

I picked up a piece of unfinished knitting, corrected a mistake, and got the work re-started correctly.

Sometime during the day I ate two plain slices of bread, fixed myself two scrambled eggs, and drank one glass of wine.

I sent more e-mails pertaining to the October trip. I heard from the woman with whom I will be staying saying evrything is cool and come whenever ready.

I got Baby out of her cage and put her on the back of my home office chair, fed her a peanut, and talked to her while trying to figure out why a password that has always worked on a particular website is not working now. No live person is available for help–please go to our forums. I sent a message to said forum.

I thought about re-writing a speech in Chapter Two, writing the Prologue, and about what will happen in Chapter Three, but was too tired to do anything about it.

George spent the evening doing animal work. He fed the cats, cleaned the bird room, sort of, and arranged all chickens for the night. With the back wall off of the chicken house they must be crated and brought inside each night.

I composed a dramatic monologue in my head that should, let us hope, shame the washing machine repair guy into getting himself out here and fixing my machine. Over a lifetime I have had plenty of experience as a motivational speaker getting two kids and two husbands off of their butts and doing whatever they needed to be doing.

I picked up the bathroom and got all damp towels out on the line to dry.

By 10:30 I felt very tired and sleepy. I went to bed. I dozed very lightly until about midnight and then woke up and could not go back to sleep so I got up. I started transcribing a previously written short story onto my website and then I wrote this.

It’s probably a forlorn hope but I will now go and try to sleep.

The Green Satin Dress

June 11, 2015

After I retired I moved to the country. It was a dream come true, but I had a lot to learn about country living. In the big city strangers are strangers but in the country, at least in southern Arkansas, they are neighbors you have not yet met, but you will, and often that happens at the local Walmart. I quickly learned the art of striking up conversations in Walmart and I also adjusted to being asked, “Do you know Jesus?” by people I did not know at all.

I once helped a woman buy light bulbs and we both agreed that this was better done as a team effort and that nowadays it doesn’t hurt at all to have an engineering degree before attempting to buy light bulbs. There’s a solid wall of different kinds at Walmart. That’s a lot of labels to read.

I met any number of seriously pissed of women in the paper products aisle, infuriated by the constantly rising price of–toilet paper.

On one memorable day I was in the sewing section where I met a woman who abruptly asked, “Do you know where I can find a pattern for a dragon costume?” I said that there was a section on costumes in the pattern catalog and added that another possibility would be to find a dinosaur costume and make modifications. “That’s a good idea. My granddaughter wants a dragon costume for Halloween. She asked me to make it and she is convinced that her grandmother can do anything.”

“But grandmothers can do anything.” I said. “Everyone knows that.”

That encounter brought back a lot of memories. Believe me–a lot of memories.

When I was about ten years old my first cousin Shirley got married and I was invited to be in the wedding as a flower girl. That meant a trip for the family and a fancy floor length dress for me. My own Grandmother Alice said she would make the dress. And she did. It was iridescent blue taffeta that rustled delightfully. It had, in the style of that era, a scooped neckline, little puff sleeves, and a ruffle at the bottom. There was also a knot of taffeta flowers in contrasting colors that my grandmother constructed and sewed to the waistband.

That was not all. You won’t believe it to look at me now but at one time I had the most beautiful red hair you ever saw. It was naturally wavy, very thick, and it went almost to my waist. Ordinarily I wore it in two braids, but for the wedding I was allowed to wear it loose. For me that was a great treat. I felt very grown up and very glamorous.

So…..a great many years later my first cousin once removed, whose name is Teighlor Simon, was planning to be married in Shreveport, Louisiana. I thought that my granddaughter Emily would enjoy being in the wedding just as I had enjoyed being in my cousin’s wedding. I asked if she could participate.

Yes, Teighlor said, that would be lovely. Emily was very welcome to be in the wedding and could serve as a junior bridesmaid.

While my cousin Lucienne was busy planning a big wedding in Shreveport for her daughter a lot of things were also happening in my branch of the family. George retired and we decided to move from Fort Worth to Arkansas. I thought we were downsizing but George didn’t see it that way. He wanted to move every blessed thing we owned and that was way too much stuff. Trust me on that one. He is an only child and I am an only child and one consequence of this is that every single candlestick or piece of bric-a-brac that had ever belonged to his mother, my mother, or my aunt, had ended up in our house.

I gave up. I decided to pack everything rather than argue with George. The household was just about two-thirds packed when I received six yards of dark green satin from the mother of the bride with instructions that Emily’s dress was to be made out of this material. The dress could be in any suitable style but it had to have a handkerchief hem which was why she had sent so much fabric.

At about the same time I began to get some very worrying e-mails from my daughter who lived in Oregon with her husband and my two granddaughters. The entire country was going through hard times. Neither she nor her husband had a job. Next thing I knew she had been evicted from her apartment and was living in Portland, Oregon, in a tent behind a friend’s house with her husband Dan, my two granddaughters, and Kona the dog.

My daughter and I had an urgent telephone consultation. Did she want me to send the six yards of fabric? Would she be able to attend the wedding after all?

Yes, she said, send the fabric and she would get the dress made. Yes, she would be able to come for the wedding and bring the two kids because she had formerly had a very good corporate job that involved a lot of travel and she had a huge number of accumulated frequent flier miles. That covered the cost of the air fares.

I mailed the fabric to the address she provided. Now my daughter Dino does not sew at all, but my son-in-law, Dan is a very good seamstress. I’ve seen his work and I knew he was perfectly capable of making this dress.

The wedding was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon in October. We arranged that Dino, Emily, and little Miss Renee would fly from Portland to D-FW Airport the Thursday afternoon before the wedding. Then the five of us would travel by car from Fort Worth to Shreveport and arrive there on Friday in time for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner which were planned for Friday evening. There was also to be a big reception after the wedding and also a very gala party on Saturday night. Those Cajuns do know how to have a good time and my cousin Lucienne had been planning this affair for a year.

I went back to packing boxes.

Let me tell you a little bit about my granddaughter Emily, the girl who was to be in the wedding. From the get-go this was one very serious little kid. Before she started the first grade she told her father that she did not feel at all ready for school. He asked her why. She replied that she did not yet fully understand all of the causes of World War II. To put it mildly, she has more than her fair share of performance anxiety. She is now a student in the film program at the University of Texas and she is the most hard working, conscientious, and over prepared student you will ever meet.

Plus you must remember that her family was going through a very bad time. Neither of these girls had ever flown before. Emily was the quintessential white knuckled flier while her baby sister, Renee, was bouncing up and down in the seat going “Wheeeee-o.”

When the three of them disembarked at D-FW George and I were waiting for them. We had hugs all around and then I said, “What about the dress? Is it ready?” “Well, not exactly.” said Dino.

“Maybe we had better all sit down.” I said. “Come clean. I’d better know what is going on and what needs to be done.”

What I learned in the next quarter of an hour, from my very reluctant and embarrassed daughter, was that the dress was still six yards of dark green satin. I learned that Renee didn’t have anything suitable to wear to a wedding. I learned that neither of the two girls had any shoes other than play sandals and very well worn sneakers. Dino did bring a suit and heels for herself.

On the other hand, Dino did have a dress pattern in hand in Emily’s size. She had not been able to find a suitable pattern with the required “handkerchief hem,” but Dan had figured out how to insert godets–that’s a fancy word for skirt insertions to increase the circumference of the bottom of a skirt–and he had made the pattern for these insertions. These were a diamond shape and gave the illusion of a handkerchief hem.

Dino had never done any sewing but she did have considerable experience helping Dan with cutting and pinning, although he had always insisted upon doing the sewing himself.

“I think I can do this.” said Dino.

“Baby,” I said, “it’s commendable that you want to learn how to sew, but I don’t advise you to use satin for your first project. It’s slippery and it’s mean stuff to work with. For one thing, if you have to rip out a seam the needle marks will always show. Suppose you let me do the sewing and you do the support work that you have always done for Dan and that you already know how to do because we don’t have much time to get this done.”

Before we left the airport I told George to drive to the nearest shopping mall. There I pulled out a credit card and spent money I absolutely positively could not afford to spend. I bought dress shoes for Emily and for Renee. I let Renee pick out a dress to wear to the wedding and the other festivities. I knew that if she didn’t have a dress that she had chosen herself and just loved she was not going to have a good time.

Then we went home. Dino and the kids were exhausted. I fed them and sent them off to bed. After that, George turned to me and said, “What can I do to help?”

“Go to bed and get some sleep because you are going to have to drive to Shreveport tomorrow. I am going to sew all night and the only sleep I am going to get will be in the car tomorrow. Get some rest. I don’t want you fuzzy and trying to drive.”

He went to bed and I went to work. By the following morning I had the dress completely cut out and some seams sewn. I had also packed my own clothes. Next I packed all the sewing pieces, my sewing kit, and my sewing machine, which is a vintage Singer portable that my mother gave me–well, by now it’s fifty years ago. Those old Singers are indestructible–like Volkswagen bugs. George loaded the car. We set off. I went to sleep.

When we arrived in Shreveport we went to the hotel where we were to stay along with all the other out of town wedding guests. The room was not ready. I was very polite. I was very ladylike. In this instance that was a complete waste of time. Dino had worked in the corporate world and she knew exactly what to do. She threw a pie-eyed fit. That got us a room very fast.

We settled into the room. I set up the sewing machine. Dino and I went to work on the dress. Emily and Renee put on their swimsuits and headed to the pool. I sent George with them to sit by the pool and keep an eye on the kids.

I sewed until we had to stop and get ready for the wedding rehearsal and the dinner afterwards.

It was a lengthy evening. Afterwards we went back to our room and everyone went to bed and to sleep except for me. I sat up and sewed. When I just could not keep going any longer I woke Dino, gave her some sewing work to do while I slept for two hours. That was four in the morning on Saturday. I told Dino to get me up in two hours no matter what.

I got up when Dino woke me and immediately started sewing. I think George may have brought me a cup of coffee. It was six in the morning and the wedding was to take place at two. Emily woke up, looked at all the sewing activity, and asked if there would still be pins in the dress when she walked down the aisle.

I didn’t even look up. I said, “Honey, you will have a dress and there will not be one pin in it. It will be finished.”

George asked, “Are we going to tell Lucienne and Teighlor about all of this?”

“Absolutely, positively, no.” I said. Then I read all of them the Riot Act on the importance of keeping all mouths firmly shut about all of the last minute sewing.

“I don’t know Teighlor very well, but I do know my cousin Lucienne. If she knew that her daughter’s junior bridesmaid didn’t have a finished dress four hours before the wedding she would have to be carried screaming to the nearest madhouse and put into a strait jacket and a padded cell.”

Lucienne had told us to be dressed and at the church by one o’clock. At 12:15 I put the last stitch in the dress. Dino pressed it. By 12f:30 I had taken a shower, thrown on some clothes, slapped a hat on my head, and I was ready to go. I certainly did not take the time to fool with makeup.

At one o’clock we were at the church. George, who worked as a photographer before he retired, took some pictures.

It was a beautiful wedding and Emily looked very, very pretty. She did her part perfectly.

My Louisiana relatives really do know how to party. Altogether there was the wedding rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner, the wedding, the reception, and another grand party at a different location later that evening. Cousin Guy wanted us to come by his house for a visit. Cousin Jon wanted us to come to the RV park and admire his new travel trailer. After all that there was a very late night party at the hotel that went on and on into the wee small hours. That was Saturday night.

We did all of it. The excitement kept the kids going. Renee quickly learned how to hold up her wine glass and make a toast. No, she didn’t have wine; she had fruit punch. The food was plentiful and wonderful. Emily and Renee got a lot of attention. After a few hours of sleep between Saturday night and Sunday morning we went to Cousin Lucienne’s house for a buffet breakfast for all the guests still in town at that time. The kids played with her new puppy and climbed into the big magnolia tree in her front yard. Lucienne had a huge quantity of cheese left over. She gave it to George. He loves cheese and was perfectly delighted.

I drank quite a lot of wine and somehow I just kept going. I told George, “If I live through this and get back to Texas I am going to sleep for a week. I am much too old to pull two all-nighters back to back.”

Every story needs a hero and a bad guy. I’m the hero in this tale; I claim the bragging rights. But who was the bad guy? Obviously my daughter and my son-in-law should not have procrastinated getting this sewing project done. But there were mitigating circumstances. They were out of work. They were broke. They were, at least momentarily, homeless. And they were scared spitless, although they would never admit it. They had a lot more serious matters to worry about at that time than a family wedding.

I think the bad guy was Father Time. This one was a straight up race against the clock. I won but only by a whisker. I’m now an old lady. I’m not always going to win against Father Time. He will win the last race.

On the way back to Texas I made George take a detour so that Emily could see Caddo Lake which is a beautiful spot with big old cypress trees and much Spanish moss. After that I went to sleep and I slept all the way back to Fort Worth.

We never told. And unless by some unlikely accident my first cousin Lucienne and my first cousin once removed Teighlor see this they will never ever know.

A Word of Explanation

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February 23, 2015

The picture above really is the view from my back fence, looking across Mr. Spurling’s cow pasture (not visible in the photo) and towards a small section of the Ouachita National Forest. My place is a tumble down shack in the country but I have an enormous backyard. Queen Elizabeth’s 40,000 acres at Balmoral is nothing in comparison.

There really is a Serendipity Trail. It is about two miles from where I live and it is a pretty mile and a half loop with a lovely view at the halfway point. It is only one of innumerable hiking/biking/horse trails in the forest.

I really do live between Ink and Mt. Ida. It just doesn’t get any more literary than that and no, I’m not making this up. My imagination is not that stupendous. By sheer chance I landed in this amazing place. Yes, it was my choice, but I also found more here to love than I expected. I am also very close to Pine Ridge (of the old Lum and Abner radio show fame) and not far from Hole in the Ground.

Yes, there really is a Little Hope Baptist Church and a very lively and friendly group they are.

Montgomery County (named for the general who died at the Siege of Quebec) is about two-thirds national forest. We have lots and lots of trees and about ten thousand people. We are far enough south to grow live oaks and magnolias, although they are not native here, and far enough north to grow maple trees.

From my house it is about a thirty minute drive to the far western fringes of Lake Ouachita, very large and very beautiful as there are no houses on the shoreline, only a few scattered marinas.

We have black bears. We have mountain lions. We have alligators. I see bald eagles every winter although for how much longer I do not know. We are losing the fireflies and the bird numbers are plummeting here as they are everywhere.

The last of the virgin forest in Montgomery County was logged in the 1950s. Greed, greed, greed. We are, as a species, such slow learners that I fear that fact will eventually do us in. Never mind. It will probably be better for the total biomass of the planet in the long run.

The Tale of My Chandelier

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February 20, 2015

First the backstory: In 2005 I spent three months traveling and camping out in the northwest. I visited a number of national parks and a number of places associated with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I had no RV; I slept in a tent. I was by myself and I had a grand time. But it was in Grand Teton that I met a young woman who had a very large impact on my life even though I only exchanged a a few words with her. On the edge of that park a family has a horseback riding concession that they have operated during the summer months for years. I wanted to ride and, after going down a few wrong trails, I found the place. They had no other customers but they greeted me and I explained what I wanted. The first person who spoke to me to inquire what I needed was a girl in her late teens. I wanted to ride, I said. Yes, I knew how to ride. I had experience owning horses. I was not a beginner. What she said next was, “Oh, you remind me of my grandmother. I lost her a year ago. I miss her so very much.” It was simple and it was commonplace but I was struck by the openness and intimacy with which she spoke to a complete stranger. I had lived in large cities all my life and that was not something one would often encounter in a chance meeting in an urban setting. Years later I realized how very frequent such a response is among country people who grow up in communities where everyone knows everyone, either personally or at least by sight, and where it is still quite safe to treat everyone as a potential friend. “My brother can take you out for an hour, if you like.” she said. Brother was delighted. He would much rather go for a ride than help other family members vet mules which was his assigned task that day; he did not much like mules. It was not a quiet ride as he was one of the most garrulous people I have ever met. I heard his life story and answered innumerable questions as to where I was from, what I was doing traveling alone, my family, and on and on.  Beautiful trail, gorgeous scenery, slow pace on one of the most placid horses I have ever bestrode, but that was okay. There was not much room for a gallop anyway on a steep and winding trail through the lower wooded slopes of the Tetons.

Fast forward a few years: George retired and we moved to the Ouachita Mountains in southern Arkansas. We bought a tumble down house on two acres in Montgomery County. At one point I wandered into a business in Mena that did repairs and remodeling simply to inquire as to prices and the availability of help. The woman in the office, who was, together with her husband, the owner of the business, offered coffee and coffeecake, and visited with me in a friendly manner. As it transpired their services were beyond my budget, but she clearly wanted to be helpful and offered the names and phone numbers of several local carpenters and handymen who might be able to serve me. In country communities one still meets with a strong tradition of helping one’s neighbor and this lady was obviously distressed that she could not do more on my behalf. Suddenly she asked, “Do you need a light fixture?” Now how on earth does one answer that one? The phrase “light fixture” covers a very broad territory and what one person thinks beautiful and another thinks hideous is nowhere more apparent than in the area of lighting. In addition there is the problem of what will fit the style of the interior and the space. However, as she so very much wanted to be useful, and I thought that if the offered piece didn’t suit I could always pass it on to someone who could use it, I said, politely, “Why, yes, that would be lovely.” She disappeared into a back room and presently re-emerged pushing a very large cardboard box along the floor, labeled “Schonbek.” Now those in the know will recognize that name. They make, and have for years, a very expensive line of light fixtures, chiefly chandeliers, most of them hung with cut glass. A bit startled I said, “Surely you aren’t offering me a Shonbek.” She beamed at me and said, “Oh, I knew you were the very person for this; you know the name and what it is.” She opened the top of the box and I was staggered to see a huge, solid brass, traditional chandelier, with a dozen lights. It was also brand new and would have carried a hefty price tag in any lighting showroom.Later I measured it. It is 23 inches wide and has a total drop of 33 inches. That’s huge and ridiculously oversized for any room in my house. Nonetheless I accepted happily and graciously. Together we wrestled the unwieldy and heavy box out to my car and got it loaded.

I couldn’t bear to give it away, firstly, because it is beautiful and, secondly, because it was such an incredible gesture from someone I only met once. Obviously it was not designed for a small country cottage with eight foot ceilings. I hung it over the table in the dining room, which is a misleading description of the small semi-enclosed area off my kitchen where we eat, simply to put it in a place where there would be no likelihood of anyone running into it. Bang your head on that thing and you will be laid out cold on the floor. It’s super heavy and we had the devil’s own time hanging it. George worked for hours reinforcing the supporting ceiling structure to take the weight and getting it up involved both of us, two ladders, and some strong language. It’s completely out of place in my tiny rustic house but it certainly is very elegant. It is partnered in elegance in the dining room by my mother’s gold framed mirror, also large, formal, and out of place in a farmhouse. She bought the frame for a song in NYC during WWII and I can’t remember a time it did not hang wherever we lived. Frame is in the Victorian High Renaissance style and when my Fort Worth framer repaired it he commented, “Looks like it should be holding an Alma Tadema, not a mirror.” Over the past seventy years the mirror has acquired some marvellous vertical streaking as the silvered backing has aged and begun to deteriorate adding to the entire decayed chateau ambiance. Present owner is likewise falling apart but we won’t go there.