Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Here we all are, wishing you a happy Halloween. This was actually the October Birthday/Costume party but it works perfectly for today's post. Zach was The Man In The Yellow Hat from Curious George and, earlier, Zane was Curious George….but by this time in the evening he was the Spiderman Skeleton at left. That JobbaFet (?) beside him is Brendan.  Rowan is wearing the little Purple Penguin coat I made for Able when he was about two. Purple Penguin? Who knows, I think that's what he said he wanted to be so I made it for him. You can't see it in this picture but it is a coat with tails.

    This is the crew enjoying my birthday present, a hammock on a stand (for stargazing, don't you know). I have tried this out twice this week and absolutely love it. I take a blanket out with me and can fall asleep, if that happens, and not have tiny spiders and chiggers crawling all over me when I wake up. What a wonderfully thoughtful gift from all my kiddos. Thanks guys.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Planting Community: A tale

      The shoes on the sidewalk caught my eye, low heels, taupe, and then I saw her. She was on her knees in a mass of weeds and spindly rose bushes, a small woman, with arms spotted by the sun and time. She wore a blue and yellow shirtwaist, belted.   I wondered if she had lost something. No, nothing lost, apparently, but perhaps something found. She said the weeds were winning and someone needed to do something more than shake their head. 
      I knelt beside her and helped her pull them while we talked. She advised me to remove my shoes. We worked in silence, sweat running down our faces.  
-Shouldn't we wait until it's cooler? I asked in a sheepish voice. 
-When would that be, do you think? No time like the present. 
-But…. your dress.
      She sat back on her heels and turned to me, brushing the white hair out of her eyes with her forearm.
-Can't you hear them? 
It had to be today.
 I have other dresses, for goodness sake.
-Hear them? I'm sorry, what?
    With a sigh she turned back to her work with an almost imperceptible shake of the head that felt like a reprimand. I kept pulling and tossing the weeds onto the walk. Quite a lot of time passed and two, then three, four rose bushes, or what once were rose bushes, stood cleared of weeds. 
-They'll need water.
-Yes, and trimming and food.  She continued at her steady pace, moving ever outward, whispering as she worked.
-I'll be right back.
     Rising, I walked the three blocks to my home, changed clothes, threw a hoe, some trimmers and some work gloves into the pickup, talked my wife Sara into coming with me, and backed out of the drive way.  Then I stopped, pulled forward and went back inside. I filled a cooler with ice water, threw in some plastic cups and loaded it into the back. We drove back to where she was still working.
- Here. I've brought you water.
-Thank you, that's so nice. Is this your wife?What a nice man you have my dear. 
 She took the cup and drank deeply, relishing the coolness, dabbing some on her face and neck with her fingers.  I handed her a hat I had found behind the seat and a pair of gloves. Flashing me a smile, she pulled them on. 
-Ah, so much better. They make the outfit, don't you think? Posing, as for a picture .
  Sara and she knelt together in the weeds, quietly chatting as they worked.
     I laughed and began scraping up moats around each cleared bush, to hold the water. Soon a man emerged from the house and stood watching us for some moments, then went 
inside. He soon reappeared in work clothes, unrolling a hose from the faucet on the side of the house. We all stood and introduced ourselves as he filled the moats I had completed. Paul, the man who lived there,  said his family had recently moved into the 
neighborhood and thought this was just a weed patch. He was delighted to discover it 
was a rose garden. The soil quickly drank up the water and seemed to ask for more.

    Her name was Ella. Her father had been a breeder of roses in Pennsylvania when 
she was growing up in the early '20s.  Roses had been her playmates, she said, and she knew them all by name. She asked if I had any clippers and, taking them, went to work, carefully gauging where to clip each live branch, cutting out the dead wood, checking for growth nodes, whispering, touching the green stems. 
      Paul took over the weeding as I continued to mound up the soil.  Soon his wife and teenage son had joined us, amazed at how many of the bushes had survived their 
neglect.  Ella called the boy over and showed him where to clip, what to cut and what to save. His mother brought a wagon from the garage and began picking up weeds and 
rose clippings. Finally, as the light began to fade, Ella stood, slowly, hand on her lower back, and grimaced.  
-That's enough for today. They'll be okay. She turned to me, blue eyes bright in her 
lined face.
.-Can you hear them now?
I shook my head. -No, but I believe you can. 
-Yes, well... they have to get to know you, she muttered with a grin, and began pulling
 off her gloves. Looking round at all of us, she asked,
-What were you going to do this afternoon before I kidnapped you all? 
      We laughed and I replied I had planned to mow the lawn. Paul's family had been watching the game on TV.  
-Ah, I'm so glad you stopped to help instead. And turning to me she asked,
Why did you anyway?
-It was the shoes. I thought maybe someone was hurt.
-Oh yes, the shoes.  I have trouble keeping them on; they cramp my style so.  
    Paul finished filling the last moat and spoke, as we were tossing our things in
the truck.

-Will you come again, all of you?  Come tomorrow, and bring some friends. We'll see
 what else is hidden in here. I'll break out the grill and treat you to supper. 
Please, come. 

With a laugh and a hand raised skyward, Ella replied for all of us ,
-Oh, yes! Love to.  I'll bring my grandson and his girlfriend. We'll have ourselves a little party.   
I helped her into the pick-up and Sara slid in beside her, pulling the door shut. 
As we pulled away, waving, we noticed the son, kneeling in the dirt, studying where
best to make the next cut.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Birthday Boys

  Today is my son Able's birthday. His cousin, Rachel, gave birth to a brand spanking new baby boy this morning so he now has a birthday buddy in the family, always a fun thing.  When I was carrying Able, I really wanted him to be born on my dad's birthday but that day passed and he chose the 24th, his own day…well, now it is his and baby Joseph's.
      The picture below is of Dad and me on Dad's birthday a couple of days ago. A couple of my brothers drove down and we celebrated with Scott's smoked ribs, Ringwood corn and an Italian Cream Cake made by a friend. We didn't do anything earth shattering…sat on the porch and watched the day go by, told some stories, watched a little baseball.  Mostly we simply enjoyed each other's company and were happy to be together, sharing a glass of wine and a joke and some homemade Dilly Bread made by the birthday boy himself.  We did have candles (3) and there was singing, by those present and by all the grand and great-grand kids who called throughout the day. If mom had been there it would have been perfect.
      If you were to ask me to describe my dad to you, these are the words I would use: wise and compassionate, strong and smart and generous. He loves to read and learn new things. He is a problem solver with a long view of things and a discerning eye. He's a great listener…even when you think you aren't saying anything.
       He will tell you he practiced medicine in the golden era of medicine, when you could still have actual relationships with your patients and their families and make your own decisions about what treatments they required. Before the red tape gummed up the works and docs started spending more time looking at a computer screen than at the patient in front of them.  I'm glad he did. I'm also glad he had a brother who was a physician so they could bounce things off each other, making the solving of mysteries that much more interesting. What could be better!
       I do wish his father had lived to see the two of them at the top of their game. That would have been good. Heck, I would have liked to have known that guy myself. I hear he was fifty kinds of wonderful.
Ah well, I think I can see him, parts of him, in Dad and his brothers. We tend to mimic the best parts of those we love and admire, if we can pull it off.  I often find myself thinking….'what would Dad do in this situation?'. I hope some of his good characteristics rubbed off on me, heaven knows I've been watching.
      Dad has a phenomenal memory, still, and I find myself letting him remember things for me too much of the time. I have a good memory too but I like to watch him remember things, listen to those memories pull the thread of a story out of his past. Stories about what it was like living in the Panhandle during the Dust Bowl, or fighting on Okinawa, or hunting quail with his brothers and sons, or working in the cafe alongside his mom and dad, or riding in a rumble-seat with a pretty girl, eating cherries out of her bathing cap.
     It's good to have a storyteller and those who will take the time to listen.  It takes quite a bit of being still before a story begins to blossom; being still and willing to wait for the magic.  But it is always worth the wait because those stories, about uncles and grandparents, old friends and happenings from days long past are our story, our history. It's where and who we came from and eventually we are in the tale too. It is good to remember; it ties us together.
     Every family is different. Who are the storytellers in yours?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Farm Camp Day 2

      There are days, many days in fact, in which I am at the farm alone, working on things, catching mice in the pantry, coaxing the gardens to stay alive, mowing, repairing, you know, life stuff.  I wake up on those mornings at whatever time I wake up, usually when the first bird sings. But when there are little people staying over, I almost always wake up to the pitter-patter of little feet and a sweet, sleepy face peering around the doorjamb.
      Day 2 of Fall Camp started with Maggie snuggling into bed with grandma and visiting awhile. We sneaked out the front door to enjoy the morning together and the boys continued to snooze.
     Soon the boys woke up and the phone rang, announcing that Able and the Korenak boys were nearly there and bringing donuts. Hooray! What could possibly be better? Able promptly got a little fire going and I brought out some scrambled eggs and little smokies which we all ate out of plastic cups, while sitting on the ground.

 It was quite pleasantly reminiscent of camping, but without a tent.
       Sometimes these cousins have some trouble getting their songs to match up at the beginning of a visit.  I don't know why, but it is a pattern. I'm sure they will figure it out soon enough.  Let's just say it takes awhile to iron the wrinkles out of their relationships but it happens, eventually.
     After the fire, some of us headed for the swings, the younger boys and B, and Maggie and Zane began to construct a space ship on the south side of the barn while Able cleaned up my garage for me.  It took quite awhile to get everything loaded on the ship, tools, food, a flag, various types of weapons, the usually things you need for space exploration.  They happened onto some alien babies out there somewhere and took them onboard to raise. Oh no, Zane told me alien babies don't grow up, so….they are now living in the garage under the supervision of the cats. That can not be good.
       Brendan gave the littlest boys a wagon ride…. everyone had hats at one time or another that morning although in this picture they are holding them, for some reason. Zane's is the orange OSU knit pullover that was Danny's. The one Z wore all last winter when he and his family lived at the farm. He has claimed it as his own. Good. It needed a home now that the only person who really likes that bright orange color isn't around here anymore. Go Pokes!
     Brendan is seven and more than a half and is getting much stronger lately.  He is tall and thin without any of those bunchy Blakley muscles but he can do heavy work for me and does, any time I ask him to.  It is so nice to have a strong helper with that sort of thing. I remember when B was the baby in this wagon and then when he was lifting Maggie into and out it. Now he is the official wagon puller and is very careful with the littles.
      About the middle of the morning Uncle David came by and deposited a pile of dirt in front of the house. We are in the process of berming up the west side and adding some new steps out front.  Kids may have all kinds of wonderful toys and games to play with but there is nothing in the world more fun than pile of dirt.  These guys did not disappoint in that regard and ran to find small shovels and a bucket and then dug right in, literally.

         There was some amateur archeology which involved the excavation of large treasure rocks and the gentle brushing off of loose dirt to determine their value. Wonderful. And later much of this dirt was hauled around in a small red wheelbarrow that has been in our family for years and years but which actually belongs to the Spencers, friends of mine from before I even met Danny.
       And there was lunch and there were naps, the second day.  This bunch was worn to a frazzle by then and slept for three hours, throwing us a tiny bit behind schedule for the next big event: Daze In A Maze, which is right down the road but on the way home.

    This is a great maze…well, really there are four mazes of different types as well as lots of farm animals to see and pet and/or ride. Some of the kids rode the pony, and everyone except Rowan ran wildly through the big feed maze with Uncle Able (thank you so much, Able).  Rowan and I looked at cattle and horses and were finally joined by Everett at the slides and the sand pit.
    One of the best things about this maze place is that it is operated by people I have known for years.  I taught all their kids at Chisholm, and they were all in my honor choir. Their mother is also a music teacher, instrumental instead of vocal, and used to come and demonstrate the different instruments for my classes at school. We're good friends. I hear she is helping with the band at Pioneer now.  The family is beyond wonderful and it is always a treat for me to catch up on all that is happening with them.
      The one thing we forgot to plan for was how hungry everyone would be when we got done with this event.  Their mothers would have thought about that, but their mothers were not there. We all had chips and water and headed down the road toward home and food.
       This Daze In A Maze would be a fun destination place for families or groups. In the evening they light campfires here and there and you can bring your own food and eat outside. There are picnic tables, a basketball goal, a big climbing playground and, of course, a wagon ride around the entire property.  Fall fun for everyone.
    Here is Rowan climbing the corral fence to see the horses and cows. Below is a shot of Everett on the slides. No Grandma, thank you very much, he does not need any help with climbing those bale steps because he is a big kid, whether he looks like it or not. Just ask him.

 This might be the biggest sandbox I have ever seen.

Fall Farm Camp Day 1

     During the years Danny and I were teaching school, the Fall Carnival always fell on the week of my Birthday, smack dab in the middle of October.  My birthday cake was one some one of us had won in the infamous cake-walk and I loved it. Always a surprise, almost always homemade, and I didn't have to bake it myself.  
        Nowadays Fall Break means Abbey is on the Big Bird headed for D. C. and, if I'm very lucky, her kids gets to come spend a couple days with Grandma at the farm, a reprise of Summer Farm Camp, if you will.  I like this one even better than actual F.C. because the weather is cooler and we can make it to the creek or up and down the hay bales without dying of a heat stroke (always a plus…surviving).
      The first day we hit the pumpkin patch in Hennessey, sponsored by the public library (Yea!) and loaded up on pumpkins for everyone, even the littlest boys. They got to choose the ones they liked the best and, last night at the All-October-Birthdays party we set to and carved most of them, so we're ready for Halloween. It's good to plan ahead. That's Miss MJ in the cutout to the left (a commissioned photo especially for her mama who was away. :)

        After a brief stopover for donuts and juice, we headed to the farm. There were a few jobs waiting, as there always are on a farm, that needed our attention. Brendan helped me fix the pump and filter on the big pond and Maggie donned her 'working hat' and did some rake work on the edges of the patio, which she noticed were becoming very 'leafy'.

 The mini pumpkins set off such a racket in the trunk of the car that we were obliged to break out the paints and get creative.

 Little E was forced to abandon his artistic endeavors however, after the cat, who is well aware of how much E dislikes him, jumped up on the bench and sat himself down, actually touching the poor little guy. Enough! E moved on to observation of the gold fish and this lily pad. Do you see it, the one covered in too much fish food? That's the one. E sat here and gently pushed that lily pad down under water, with the flat of his hand, over and over again, watching as it popped back up to the surface each time.

      We moved on to the hay bale event, always a crowd favorite. This year the bales are stacked closer to the old chicken house and sit much tighter together so there are rows and rows of them without any of those scary gaps in-between.  B and M both raced around up and down the rows, across the valleys every which way. Even Everett agreed to try his hand up top, but only after B assured him it was okay and showed him how to walk.  The cat followed us there as well, wouldn't you know it. 
     After the earlier encounter with the cat I had armed E with a small wooden sword and a whistle prior to 'hay-baling' and told him to use them both on the cat if he felt threatened. He did, with great success.  Face your fears and all that. 

       After lunch, naps, a movie with pop-corn and more playing around the garden with their jeweler's loops, looking at things, feeding the chickens,  finally it was time for the much anticipated campfire.    Since it had rained, not too long before, I felt good about burning some stuff. 
      We had hot dogs, B and I doing the cooking honors, and then everybody's favorite, S'mores and roasted marshmallows.  Yep, just as messy as always.  
         Since it gets dark so much earlier now, we were even able to see the stars before time to go inside for baths, books and bedtime, a great first day at the farm. We went to sleep looking forward to the arrival of Uncle Able and the Korenak boys the next morning.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Bird News

     I have surely expressed to you over and over again how October literally SINGS in my blood, threads joy through my whirling spirit and sparks with light every time I turn around. Yes? I thought so.  Maybe it's the sudden lifting of the heavy burden of heat; I know that's part of it.  There is also this part of it: the migratory traffic of birds, the changing of the guard, so to speak.  The summer birds have left us now and those who choose this place over, say Canada, have come back for a time.
       There has been quite a lot of twittering among the sparrows of late, they're a huge family with lots of cousins coming in from everywhere.  Sparrows are talkers, I know you know that, always mixing round with other types of sparrows and welcoming in the Juncos as well.  My pair of bluebirds has returned and brought along another couple. I don't know if they'll stay, we have houses up here and there in that hope, but it is exhilarating to even have them here for a few days. I'll not hope for the whole winter.
       Day before yesterday my dad came over to spend the afternoon on the porch, doing nothing but watching the birds and having a chat and a cup of tea now and then.  Lovely.  We had the bird book out and the binoculars.  Along with the Bluebirds we spotted a Yellow Rumped Warbler, cute as a button and a Northern Flicker.  I had never seen either one before and was beyond delighted to welcome them to the yard.

      The Flicker is a type of woodpecker, but larger than our Red-Bellied Woodpecker and twice the size of the little Downey, at least.  This one was the Red-Shafted Northern Flicker. He was extravagantly speckled, matching the litter on there ground, with the rusty underwings flashing surprisingly when he came soaring past us, as we sat still on the porch, watching. I feel sure that sudden flash of bright colors is a defense mechanism, the surprise of it buying him some time when under attack.
      Unlike the other woodpeckers, this guy eats ants and bugs out of the debris on the ground, digging around with a very long black beak instead of tapping on the tree branches and trunks.
I didn't see a second one but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a buddy hanging around somewhere.

    When I wandered into the garage later in the day, I happened upon a pair of petite brown House Wrens having a happy conversation in the rafters. I assured them they did not want to hang around in there since that is where the cats sleep when it is cold.  They skeedaddled out the door very quickly after the word CAT.
      The Cardinals are here and the Mockingbirds, of course, and lots of other, smaller songbirds but I haven't spent a lot of time sitting long enough for them to let down their guard. Now's the time, I guess.  I'm going to try doing the Bird Count again this year. Every year I swear I'm going to really be faithful to it, and every year I don't really do it justice.