Lessons from a Year of Living Differently

I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to try out a “fixer-upper” and live without “typical” amenities for over a year. I put the word typical in quotation marks because for so many folks in the mountains here, the things I once assumed everyone had – automatic washers and dryers, a gas or electric oven, central heat, showers – are luxuries that I now know are not commonplace. And they truly ARE luxuries.

Here, some folks have to trek to the laundromat for any number of reasons even if they do have the means to afford a washer or dryer. There may be no running water to the house – water is collected from a spring or well and toted to the home for drinking and cooking and bathing. Can you imagine life with no indoor plumbing? Since washing clothes takes so much water, it’s easier just to go to the laundromat instead. In these parts, ringer washers are still used in some homes and people who use them absolutely LOVE them. Laundry is hung on a line to dry in many, many homes here – even in the winter time. I’ve been told that the freezing weather sort of “freeze dries” the laundry, though I haven’t tried that one yet!

Sometimes there IS indoor plumbing, but the well water is so bad that it can no longer be used – the water is brackish. Here, the underlying bedrock is sandstone and limestone which acts like a sieve of sorts. Anything falling on the soil above – rain, animal waste, chemicals from crops or lawns – filters through the soil, through the bedrock, to the water table below. So your neighbor’s cattle could very well affect the quality of the water in YOUR well! The county is in the process of adding public water pipes for this very reason. Seneca Rocks does not have public water – it’s either well water or spring water.

If a person lives in a home as I once did where it’s impossible to have access to any sort of gas tank for heating your home in the winter, she has to rely on either electricity or wood to heat her home. A lot of these old homes simply do not have adequate electrical wiring to support a heating system (or other electrical appliances). And the cost of running space heaters in the winter is outrageous  – especially in an old house with single-pane windows and no insulation.

Many older homes in these mountains were heated – or still ARE heated – with a single wood-burning stove. This is called a wood heater and it looks like one of those old enormous TV’s from the 50’s – a big brown or black box. Except it opens to reveal a space for wood to burn, like an oven, only it’s just to heat with. A stovepipe runs from the heater to the outside to take away the smoke. But some of the older systems aren’t exactly smoke-free and leave telltale traces of smoke on ceilings and the top of walls. And you know, if you can see smoke residue there, it’s in a person’s lungs, too.

Another eye-opener for me was that, while wood-burning heaters did the trick, there is no central duct system running through the house to distribute the heat. In my old house, I was told the heat went up the stairs in the winter and kept it warm up there. But some of my friends who grew up in older homes like this remember waking up to some pretty chilly mornings (think Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story, “The Long Winter”).

Some folks living back in the hollers here still use outhouses – not many, but I have met some. And folks younger than I am remember growing up taking only baths. One young man I met last Sunday said he had his first shower when he was about 16 – he’d taken baths up until then. I asked him if he remembered what he thought of that first shower. “It was a great improvement!” he said.

My old house has a wood cookstove in the kitchen, as do older homes in the hollers here. One of the families up Brushy Run Road has a wood cookstove just like the one in the kitchen I had, though in better condition, and that is what she uses to cook with during the winter. It not only cooks a great meal, it helps to heat the house.  (People who use wood cookstoves love the flavor of the foods prepared that way – they tell me it’s the difference between grilling a steak outside over a charcoal or wood fire vs. broiling it in an electric oven.)  In the summer, a different stove was used – gas or electric, which helped to cut down on the heat generated in the house – or a stove in a “summer kitchen” was used. A summer kitchen is a small room off the back of the house where a second wood cookstove is kept and used only during the hot months and especially for canning.  Here, women who process foods either use a pressure canner (did you know a water bath canner requires three hours to can green beans in quarts?) or a water bath canner.  If they have a summer kitchen, a garage, or a basement in which to do this hot chore, it makes the work more bearable for the rest of the house.

I am MUCH more grateful for things I’ve taken for granted – having my own washer and dryer, having an oven (I haven’t used that yet, though – have to get the kitchen unpacked and then I will!), and having a shower (haven’t used that yet, either – I bought a tool last night to remove the old caulk where the tub meets the wall part of the shower and will do that today, then use new caulk to seal that area. Since I know this shower has been dry, I don’t want to use it until I’ve done the caulking. When I got home last night from Walmart, I thought I’d try out the new caulk remover and see if it’s any good – oh, is it ever! I had a third of the caulk out in less than a minute! I will still need to go back and clean it thoroughly but that tool is a sweet little tool!)

You know what’s funny? I’m right on a “major road” – for Seneca Rocks, anyway. But I actually feel at home with the road noise! When we lived in Stafford, we heard the traffic from I-95 and Route 1, which runs parallel to I-95 and was just as busy as the bigger highway, just smaller. So it’s kind of nice in a reassuring sort of way. And that has been the biggest surprise of all – I actually LIKE hearing the traffic and the trucks! It reminds me of my freshman year at Michigan State University – we had a train running fairly close to the Wonders Hall, my dorm, and it would either keep me up or wake me up at first. But when I came home for a visit, I missed that train sound! Guess you can get used to anything, eh?

Even something as simple as parking is something I shall never take for granted again! Here at the new place, I park on a LEVEL surface and can access all the doors to the van – at the old house, I parked at such an angle and so close to two old I-beams from a former bridge that washed away in a flood that I could only get to the driver’s side door and the tailgate door.  And getting in the van on that sort of incline was like stepping up and down a ladder when entering and exiting the vehicle – seriously! When I had to get in and had my arms full, it was pretty easy – like walking up a staircase! Of course, trying to open the door from the inside when I parked was a bit of a struggle – pushing a heavy door up instead of just out takes a bit of muscle. Now, if I have a lot of items to bring into the house, I can park really close to the front door – it’s not a 200 foot walk to the house.  I don’t have to watch my step mounting and dismounting a footbridge or walking across a meadow with lots of rocks – at my new place, the walk from van to home is level and there are no rocks to stumble over, no holes to twist my ankle on! For those of you with attached garages – automatic garage door openers – well, consider yourselves in the lap of luxury!

I never would’ve dreamed I could write a short essay on the advantages of modern conveniences!  But I am incredibly blessed for having had the chance to live a different sort of life for the past year. May I never take these delightful amenities for granted ever again!

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The Perils of a Scrap Metal Man…

Oh, I just love it here in the mountains! On Thursday morning, my neighbor’s nephew came to pick up an old pickup and haul it away for scrap. I like this young man.  He’s a bear of a guy with muscles that can single-handedly pick up a twisted metal I-beam – and he has a heart of gold.

Anyway, I headed over to where he was working with his ramp hoist to get the hook and cable attached to the front of the old pickup. He was working VERY gingerly around the tall weeds surrounding the vehicle and when he opened the door with his fingertips, it seemed as if he wished he had a ten-foot pole. I asked why.

“Snakes!” he replied in a semi-whisper.  He explained that a copperhead had started crawling up his leg a few years ago. The snake must’ve been cold, and his warm leg, covered by jeans, looked like a great place to stay warm.

Now, I like snakes. It surely helps that I’ve also never been bitten by a snake. So this young man’s single-word utterance only piqued my curiosity and I eagerly hung around, hoping to catch a sight of a snake.

No such luck.

But my neighbor received a call from him later that afternoon. As he was driving down the road, he looked back to check on the truck aboard his ramp hoist. He noticed dozens of snakes swarming out of the truck and falling onto the roadway!

And when he opened the hood of the truck at the junk yard, a coiled copperhead perched on the engine hissed a “Hello!”

I missed it all!

But wait…

He has to come back for the second car! And it’s a small convertible, sits a LOT lower to the ground than the pickup.

Oh boy!

Here I am, all excited about the prospect. And the poor fellow is probably dreading the idea of having to wallow around in the tall weeds feeling his way under the car to attach the hooks, then opening the hood and door of the vehicle (he removes the battery and puts the vehicle in neutral to get in on the hoist.)

It might be another week or two before that second car gets towed away!

You Never Know What You’ll Find in an Old House!

Last summer I moved into an old Craftsman-style house on Brushy Run in Onego, West Virginia.  It had been abandoned for over 11 years before I moved in but through the haze of cobwebs and drifts of dead leaves covering the floors, countertops, kitchen sink, and bathtub, I could see potential buried within.  Really.  Buried.

One of the upstairs bedrooms housed piles of old books on the floor.  Among these old volumes were old court ledgers; at one time, this old home had served as a courthouse for this side of North Mountain.  In the late 1800’s and most of the 1900’s, it was much easier for residents in the area to come here for civil hearings instead of traipsing across North Mountain to Franklin.  Nowadays, it’s a beautiful drive but a hundred years ago with horse and buggy – or just horse – the trip would’ve been a major undertaking.

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These are the old court ledgers found upstairs in a bedroom of the old house I moved into last summer.  That bottom volume is about 24″ tall and 16″ wide and exceedingly heavy!  One of the smaller two ledgers on top held the oldest entries – its first document was dated 1884.

I knew last summer that I needed to get these old ledgers to the Registrar’s Office in Franklin, but I couldn’t tote those enormous books by myself.  And those ledgers just weren’t my top priority – there was a lot of work that needed to be done just to get the lower level in livable condition.  But today I enlisted the help of a young friend, 13-year-old Jerrel, our pastor’s son.  He hefted those tomes like he was carrying a pile of paperbacks, carried them downstairs, and piled them on a purple plastic toboggan.  That tobogan – a $2.00 auction find – has made life much easier when hauling heavy objects from the house, across 150 feet of meadow, then across a footbridge to the road where the van is parked.  (The West Virginia Flood of 1985 had washed away the single-lane bridge that was once used to cross Brushy Run to get to this house – those flood waters also swept away two residents of this street and about 47 buildings.)

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This label is in the front cover of one of the large ledgers – there is nothing quite like antique graphics!

Once I arrived at the Pendleton County Courthouse, I headed directly to the Registrar’s Office and told the woman there that I’d brought the old ledgers – I’d spoken with her before about bringing them in.  She asked a young man who was there checking old surveying records if he would be so kind as to carry in the books for me.  He obliged, and ended up making two trips – one for the ledgers and one for a box full of court-related paperwork.

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This box is full of loose court documents – the envelope in the lower right corner contains receipts and is labeled, “Sites vs. Hoffman”.

I hadn’t been able to fully appreciate those ancient ledgers until today.  For the last year, I’d been unable to carry them downstairs where I could open them on a table and the upstairs is not exactly a clean spot where you’d want to spent any amount of time.  I’m in the process of tackling the rooms up there this summer – when I tell you that it’s been over a decade since a vacuum has touched the floors up there, you’ll have some idea of the second floor’s ambiance.  Or lack thereof.

So I took the time while I was at the Registrar’s Office to explore the ledgers.  I was able to check out the dates, read some of the entries, and take pictures.  This was like an archeological dig, only without all the dirt and sweat!

The oldest ledger dated from August 1884.  The front cover of this volume contains a series of handwritten entries in pencil and ink that created a “paper trail” regarding one ongoing complaint.  Apparently a farmer had “borrowed” a neighbor’s bull to, um, impregnate his cows.

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If there was ever an argument for including cursive handwriting in schools, reading primary source documents is it!  This page dates from 1885.

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The cursive in the entry below is just beautiful!  Look at the embellishment of the “F” in “Felony” and the loops of the upper case “H” and “Y”.

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Who would have ever considered “felony” to be a potential source of beauty?

I love the elegance of the old cursive script – the flourishes of the last letter in some words, the way a dollar sign was formed and the short but elegant underlining of the change in an amount of money.

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It was a bit unsettling to find that so many of the pages in these ledgers regard the failure to pay debts.

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“Never a lender nor a borrower be…”  (Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

 

Many of the family names written in these ledgers are still common in Pendleton County – Dolly, Harper, Kisamore, Raines, Sites, Teter, Vance.

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These two small early ledgers were generic – glorified composition notebooks.  The “newer” ledgers (if one can consider 1900 “new”) were printed specifically for Pendleton County civil proceedings.  Compare the photo below to the one after it.

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This entry surprised me because of the large sum of bond money involved – in 1910, $1000 was a good chunk of change!

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Apparently, ginseng was as popular to harvest – and just as lucrative – back in 1901 as it is today.  Over one hundred years ago, mountain folks guarded their ‘seng with the same tenacity as they do in 2017.  In the entry below, Mr. Watts has been accused of “stealing, carrying away 6 lbs. of genseng [sic]…”  The value of the stolen ginseng is listed as $42.00 – $7.00 a pound.

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That got me wondering about the current market value of West Virginia ginseng.  The West Virginia Department of Commerce has an interesting article about this year’s ginseng harvest, which starts September 1.  Last year, according to the WV Department of Commerce, ginseng sold for an average of $410.00 per pound.  That was an AVERAGE price!

Now, before you all get ready to scour the forest for ginseng this fall, the article reminds potential “sengers” that it takes about 300 roots to make one pound.  And those little plants seem to flourish on the most inhospitable slopes of these mountains – slopes on which goats would be far more comfortable than people.  Digging ramps is easy compared to digging ‘seng.

The article states that “…Robin Black, who has worked with the Division of Forestry’s (DOF) ginseng program for more than 20 years [is] not worried about ginseng digging ever ceasing…”

“Ginseng digging is a time-honored tradition, usually passed down from generation to generation. I don’t believe it will ever fade away,” Black said. “In fact, in many areas of West Virginia, digging ginseng provides a second or third income for many families especially during tough economic times. Ginseng digging is a great way for families to get out into the forest together, learn about the importance of sustaining a native species and make some extra money.”  Robin Black, WV Division of Forestry

 

 

 

No wonder Mr. Watts was taken to court!  Six pounds of ginseng at 300 roots per pound equals 1800 roots of ginseng – that is a lot of digging, a lot of work!

Another frequent misdemeanor recorded in the old ledgers was “unlawful fishing”.

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The unlawful fishing complaint recorded below was heard by J. F. Raines.  It was a Raines who built the home I’m currently living in.

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“Mouth of Seneca” – written in the entry below – was the old name for the area now known as Seneca Rocks.

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This afternoon, I may have spent 45 minutes at the most looking through these court documents, but in just a short time, I feel I learned quite a bit about the history of the area I live in.  It’s definitely whet my appetite for further research!

“Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us therefore study the incidents in this [Civil War] as philosophy to learn wisdom from and none of them as wrongs to be avenged.”
Abraham Lincoln

 

 

 

Embracing Lady Poverty

“Embracing Lady Poverty,” is what St. Francis of Assisi termed his eager acceptance of and fondness for living – um – extremely frugally.  He felt that by doing so, he removed many obstacles that stood between him and God – and he wanted nothing to stand in the way of his relationship with God.

As a single mother of three, I’ve known some pretty thin times.  But I never really struggled with poverty until after a car accident left me unable to work.  My meager savings eventually disappeared, I sold over half of my belongings, and moved to Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, a place I’d fallen in love with just a few months earlier.  I lived in a trailer for the first time in my life – and I loved it!  The living room of the trailer had large windows on three sides and, since the small trailer court was on a mountainside, I was able to view the gorgeous scenery quite easily.  It was definitely an improvement over gazing at three stories of vinyl siding on the neighboring townhouses in Northern Virginia.

I tried to work, but even a job I thought I’d be able to do – being a tour guide at Seneca Caverns – required its guides to rake leaves, pick up sticks after wind storms, and heft 40-pound boxes of rocks.  Couldn’t do that!

After I broke my leg and developed blood clots when the cast was removed, a dear woman at the local hospital filed paperwork so I could receive Medicaid.  That has been a life saver!  When food supplies dwindled, friends suggested applying for food stamps – and that was a real blessing, too.

I couldn’t afford to put gas in my car, much less make payments, so I gave my car to my son.  When I could no longer afford the monthly trailer payments, my two aunts made them for me.  I couldn’t afford Internet service but I could always use the computer at the library.  I haven’t had TV in over 22 years, so that wasn’t anything I missed.

In July, I moved into an old Craftsman-style home, built around 1900-1910, I’m guessing.  It hadn’t been occupied for over 10 years so you might be able to imagine its condition.  But I loved this house immediately – I saw what it could become.  All those earlier episodes of “This Old House” (back with Bob Villa) and “New Yankee Carpenter” (with a stouter Norm Abrams) and my decades-old affinity for old “fixer-uppers” had found a focus.

I had no car and no money for one.  A dear church friend loaned me one – and twice, he’s filled it with gas for me.  He and another church friend, also an auto mechanic, have fixed the loaner several times and have never billed me for parts or labor.  (Now that I’m employed, I intend to change that.)

I had no money to pay rent.  So I made a deal with the landlord – I’d fix up the house for 10-12 months in exchange for living here rent-free.  I gave him a list of what I intended to do in the house (fix roofs, restore light fixtures, upgrade electricity, etc.)  He agreed.  Friends helped clean, a church youth group from Pennsylvania tackled the kitchen and front siding, and two friends helped pull off old linoleum from the sun porch floor to reveal solid oak hardwood in great shape.

In August, I was asked to fill in for a housekeeper who cleaned three rental cabins on Spruce Knob.  I didn’t know if I could do the work – making my own bed was taxing.  But, I wanted to try.  If I could do the work at my own pace, which included breaks as needed, I just might be able to do it.  And I did!  It was hard, and I depended on pain relievers,  muscle relaxers, and frequent breaks to get me through it.  But I could do it.  I worked in exchange for the cabins’ owner, a carpenter, to fix two leaky roofs on my old house.

When I had to clean all three cabins in short order, it was next to impossible for me – and the frequent rentals during October’s fall foliage season made it harder than ever on my back.  I had to ask for help from the owner’s daughter-in-law and her husband.

Cleaning the cabins gave me the courage to apply for a position as a sort of “visiting grandma” – picture someone who nurtures, supports, educates, and provides screening for families with children ages 0 (pre-natal) to 5.  That sounded ideal to me.  And it wouldn’t be so difficult physically.  I interviewed with the supervisor and was offered the position.

The first day of training, I had to drive a little over an hour away.  I had no money and I had an empty gas tank.  I stopped at the post office to check my mail, hoping that maybe a birthday check was in there (my birthday had been two days earlier).  And my former employer, the cabin owner and his wife, had sent a birthday card and check for $100.  That is how I put gas in the loaner car.

The day I received my first payroll deposit in my checking account was sheer delight!  I have never in my life filled out a check with as much pleasure as that first check for trash pickup!  Up until now, every time I had to pay a bill it was incredibly stressful.  I have a little plaque on my desk to help me overcome my financial fears – “I can do all things through Christ… Philippians 4:13”.  I ordered checks years ago with scenes of antiques arranged in attractive displays – I needed to enjoy the process of paying bills and those checks helped.  But during that first day of writing checks just two weeks ago, I didn’t feel a need for my plaque or the pretty checks – I finally had money of my own and was able to afford things so many take for granted – garbage pickup, for example.

My second payroll deposit was last Thursday – the day I arrived home to discover that my water pipe had frozen.  I figured the following day I could pick up heat tape.  Well, I did – I also picked up new fuses for the ones that had blown when my space heaters were struggling to supply heat to my house that night.  I woke at 2 in the morning to a freezing house – drove 45 minutes or so to Walmart, hoping they’d sell what I needed.  I was able to get a few things, but had to wait until stores opened at 7 for fuses and heat tape.  Until then, I had not been able to afford those things and fortunately, I had money in my account when I really needed to buy them.

Before I was hired for this new position, I’d sold my sterling silver – the last asset I had.  With the proceeds, I bought a stacking washer/dryer and paid off some debts to friends.  A friend has been doing my laundry for me since my 46-year-old washing machine started leaking, but I don’t want to be lugging loads of wash 150 feet from the house to the footbridge, over the footbridge, and to my car parked about 50 feet up the road – in snow or ice.  Had a glaze of ice this morning and it was unpleasant enough maneuvering across it without carrying laundry!

I’ve discovered that living here in the mountains, it’s far easier to live with poverty – and to embrace it – than it was back in the suburbs.  Here, we have no Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors or fast food restaurants or malls or theaters or any number of places conspiring to lure me in and take my money.  Goodwill and Walmart are about an hour away.  Landscaped  yards and manicured lawns are uncommon, unless you go to town, so there’s no need to “keep up with the neighbors”.  Yes, I take care of my yard, but it’s easier here.

Back in April, I started attending a conservative Mennonite church here.  I found my church home!  I’m still going through the Basic Bible Study booklet and have applied to be received into the church when I’ve completed it, but I have never been so at home with any church community or people in my life.  I even find the women’s apparel fits with my preferences so perfectly.  When I moved here, I opted to let my hair go gray as I just disliked the endless need to keep up with coloring my hair.  I didn’t feel a need to wear earrings or jewelry, and I had no one criticizing me for my fashion (or lack of fashion) choices.  When I started attending our Mennonite church, I loved the way that the cape dress worn by the women was sensible, modest, and attractive.  The same style of dress worn by my friends today was worn by their mothers and grandmothers decades ago – their family photos display the same dress styles we wear now.  I like that – I really like that our apparel is not dictated by a fashion industry or department stores.  Mennonite women take their cues for dressing from the Bible.  Cape dresses are handmade to fit each woman.  Up until yesterday, my four cape dresses were from second-hand sections of Mennonite stores in Virginia and Ohio.  I’ve been quite happy with them!  But for my birthday, a dear friend from church gave me two pieces of material and offered to make dresses for me.  Yesterday, another dear friend sent over a completed cape dress, made to fit me using material that had been donated to the church’s sewing circle.  I look forward to wearing it to church tomorrow!

As much as I enjoy wearing a cape dress each day, I also have come to recognize how liberating a limited wardrobe is.  I own only a winter coat that needs dry cleaning.  My clothes fit pretty easily on a hook or two – a small closet would be more than enough room to fit them all!  I don’t have to coordinate pieces or have accessories to match.  When it gets cold outside, I layer skirts underneath the skirt of my dress for added warmth and sometimes add flannel pajama bottoms!  It’s actually warmer layering like this than wearing jeans.

Mennonite women also do not wear makeup, and I find that incredibly refreshing.  My morning routine has been shortened by not applying the little bit of makeup that I used to wear – mascara (that would run in hot weather), blush, and under-eye concealer.  Occasionally, I would wear eye shadow or lipstick.  But to be free from that routine is truly delightful!  And I don’t miss buying makeup.

Trips to the hair salon are non-existent now, too.  I don’t miss paying $25-50 for haircuts, and not always being happy with the results.  When I moved to West Virginia, I decided to let my hair grow out; I’d never had long hair, even as a girl, and I decided to see what it was like.  Since attending our church, I’ve learned to pull it back in a bun and wear a small white cap called a “veiling”.  I actually prefer it to any hairstyle I’ve ever had.  I will wear this hairstyle for the rest of my life – no need to keep up with current fashion trends or concern myself (and my budget) with salon treatments.  The veiling is scriptural and many Christian women are now adopting veiling for themselves.  For me, it’s also a delightful reminder that God is in charge – He is head of my home.  As a single mother and a former teacher used to making dozens of decisions each day, it is a relief to NOT be in charge.  I GLADLY let God be in charge, to be attuned to His “nudges” in my life.

In two weeks, I shall gladly bid adieu to my Medicaid card, happy that I’m once again able to provide for myself.  When this last monthly food stamp allotment of $194.00 is gone, I will be delighted to let someone else who truly needs that service receive the money.  Both types of assistance were provided to me in times of great need.

My lessons in poverty will stay with me, I trust.  I’m reading a book about Christian budgeting, loaned to me by our pastor.  And I can see how, just coming into money as I am now, will make it far easier to budget appropriately.  I have most of what I need (eventually, I’d like to get a car of my own) and everything I could possibly want.  I truly want for nothing.

Living in poverty – with no income, dependent on Medicaid and food stamps – was very humbling.  Humbling, not embarrassing.  I learned what I truly need in order to live – and I greatly prefer my simpler lifestyle.

Back in April, I was staying at a friend’s trailer (had no money for trailer rental of my own, no where to go) when I met my new Mennonite friends, who’d come to the farm for a cottage meeting at the neighbor’s.  Had I not been so impoverished financially, I would never have been at that farm, would never have met the retired Mennonite bishop who invited me along, would never have known the incredible riches of my new faith walk in the Mennonite church.  I have placed my faith firmly in Christ and not once have I been disappointed.  I know without a doubt that as I trust Him to guide my steps, He makes sure I walk on firm ground.

I have been so richly blessed this year – yet, had I failed to “embrace Lady Poverty,” I would not be here today, so deeply happy, in a church I admire and thoroughly love, with a life full of dear friends, and with a career that I am so excited about.  I know, too, that “Lady Poverty’s” friendship will allow me to relate to others I meet here and help me reach out to them in a way that would have been impossible before.

St. Francis of Assisi’s embrace of the Gospel was pretty radical – taking a vow of poverty was not exactly something that religious orders of the Middle Ages espoused.  But he was so right about its value – simplifying our lives makes us more open to God’s will, to God’s daily miracles, to God’s guidance in our lives.  Poverty makes us radically dependent upon God for everything.  And when we turn our lives, our hearts, and our minds, to God, we will never be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day 2016

Like some of you, I am separated from my mom by many miles; one does not simply hop in the car and drive from Seneca Rocks, West Virginia to Copper Harbor, Michigan on a whim.  And when one is prone to falling asleep at the wheel as I am, driving is not an option at all.

So it’s been many years since I last saw Mom.  She and her youngest sister drove to Northern Virginia for Rebecca’s high school graduation in 2006.  That’s the last time I visited with her.  In person, that is.

But I visit with Mom each day, though she may not realize it.  When I sit with a cup of tea to write a letter or type a new blog post, it’s as if we’re having a discussion.  I can imagine her expressions as she reads my sentences, see her nod or chuckle when reading about something funny in my stories.

I spend a lot of time with Mom in my kitchen.  It’s her tried-and-true recipes that I turn to most – or those of her mother.  Right now, I have some cooled, hydrated raisins that will become Puffed Raisin Cookies within the hour.  I cherish those old recipes with her handwriting and her mother’s handwriting.  Holding my measuring spoons or leveling a measuring cup full of shortening takes me back to where I first learned those skills.

It was Mom’s kitchen where I first learned the delightful pleasure of sampling raw chocolate chip cookie dough.  Now, I know about the dangers involved in consuming raw eggs in cookie  dough – but I’m 58, still enjoying chocolate chip cookie dough, and I haven’t died from eating it yet.  Sue, my sister, is still alive and kicking and eating it, too.  But if I did happen to kick the bucket while munching a spoonful of cookie dough, ah, what a way to go!

Mom used to give one of the cookie dough-covered beaters of her Sunbeam Mix Master to my sister, Sue, and the other to me.  Scrumptious!  When our brother, Mike, arrived on the scene, it became a bit more difficult to be fair when sampling the dough!  Just how does one divide up two beaters among three kids?  Spoons!

At Christmas, Mom used to let us kids decorate most of the cut-out cookies, but she preferred to save the trees for herself.  First, she’d smooth on a perfect layer of pale green frosting.  Then, she’d pinch a bit of green decorator sugar between her fingers and create a garland on the tree in sugar.  Multi-colored sprinkles became the lights, a cinnamon candy adorned the top of the tree as its star, and once in a while, she’d add chocolate jimmies for the trunk.  When I make Christmas cookies, I still decorate the trees like Mom does.  It’s as if she is right there in the kitchen with me!

I remember standing in Mom’s kitchen, learning to memorize a short verse for my Brownie Girl Scout investiture ceremony.  “Twist me and turn me, and show me the elf; I look in the water and see – myself!”  Even at that age, Mom made sure I projected my voice and spoke clearly.  And when I was a Brownie leader, teaching our little troop how to conduct a flag ceremony, it was like Mom was teaching the girls.  “Good – speak up nice and loud.  Speak slowly – when we’re nervous, we have a tendency to speak quickly.  So just remember to slow down and you’ll do fine!”

Mom had a special poem that she memorized for school back in the 1940’s.  “The Christmas Dolly” became a tradition in our household, too.  Mom made sure her own daughters memorized this beloved poem and even passed it down to her grandchildren.  “I’m a poor, sad Christmas dolly, battered and oh, so forlorn!  You’d never guess by my looks I was new just last Christmas morn!  One year ago, I was handsome – bright eyes and beautiful curls; rosy cheeks and silken lashes, and teeth that shown like little white pearls!”  (And Mom, I haven’t looked at a copy of that poem in I don’t know how long – I bet you’re finishing it for me right now!)

Even my writing has its roots anchored in the way Mom helped me prepare applications for Girl Scout Wider Opportunities (“Dig! Mankind” in Wyoming in 1972 and “Traces Through Time in Utah the following year).  Rough drafts were written in pencil on notebook paper, corrections made, edits done until it was deemed worthy enough of the real application form.  The same was true of job applications (life guard, Girl Scout camp counselor) and my sole college application, Michigan State University.  Just a few days ago, Mom asked about any permissions I might need to use some of the photographs in my blog posts.  Still on the job!

I like to open the door of this little trailer first thing in the morning and greet the cattle with, “Good morning, world!”  I get that from Mom.  When driving in the car, I’ll turn off the air conditioner and roll down the windows to get – as Mom puts it – “real air”.

When we used to travel, Mom always made sure we had plenty of AAA literature and maps.  As we were about to enter a new town or visit a landmark, it became tradition for Mom to announce, “A reading… from… The Book!” “The Book” was the appropriate AAA Guidebook; Mom kept us in the know about all the spots we were traveling through.  I did that with my own family.

This afternoon, I picked up an old True Temper Flint Edge Kelly Works two-sided felling axe for $1.00.  Right now, it’s soaking in vinegar – all 10 inches of it – because I (like my mom) love to learn about the history of old rusty stuff.  I have old handmade square nails from a barn on my desk – more rusty old stuff.  Mom surely approves!

And tomorrow, I hope to get to the post office in time to mail a box of items I’ve collected just to share with her – tiny little pine cones from a hemlock tree, a beautiful feather from a ruffed grouse, two paper ice cream cone wrappers that I know she’ll love – American flags.  One time, a snowy owl landed on Mom and Dad’s dock in Copper Harbor.  She sent one of its feathers to our family, wrote to tell us how to hold it and drag it quickly through the air – it made no sound.  That owl was a very silent predator.  On one of her visits, Mom brought snow from the Upper Peninsula, thoroughly delighting her grandchildren who made snowballs with it that summer!  In 1976, I dubbed Mom “Bicentennial Bess” because of her propensity for wearing red, white, and blue throughout the year and taking us to any and all Bicentennial exhibits near Detroit.  I teased her, yes, but I loved it all.  And I’ve shared her abiding love of history with my own children and the students I’ve taught over the years.  So Mom’s even been with me in my classroom!

Mom has a very large collection of rug beaters hanging in her laundry room; I have just one rug beater, hanging on the wall of my laundry area, but I think of her each time I see it.  We share a fondness for quilts, too.  And real maple syrup.  Mom attended Green Mountain College in Vermont, where I must assume only real, 100% Vermont maple syrup was featured at pancake breakfasts.  To this day, I just can’t enjoy homemade buttermilk pancakes unless they’re topped with real maple syrup.  Thank goodness West Virginia is a maple producing hotspot – my local favorite is Dry Fork Maple Works in nearby Randolph County.  I bought a quart of his delicious syrup for $16.00 – then phoned him to say I would’ve paid more for it!  It’s still $16.00, still delicious – and even Mom approves of his syrup.  That is high praise!

So, although Mom hasn’t been to West Virginia in person, and I haven’t been to Copper Harbor, Michigan in years, we still visit through letters, emails, blog posts, and occasional boxes of “stuff”.  And Mom’s with me everywhere I am.  She’s a part of me.  I can hear her voice without needing a phone – “Hershey Bar!”

That’s another story.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I love you to bits!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FarmerHoney Digs to China!

As I write, FarmerHoney is trying out the latest addition to his farm equipment – a small Allmand backhoe/loader.  He’s been wanting one for several years; there are plenty of projects around the farm that require a backhoe.  This is one purchase that just could not be postponed any longer.  (And I once thought farmers pretty much limited their equipment to tractors and hay wagons!  Oh, no – there is a LOT of equipment on a farm that most people wouldn’t expect to find.  But that’s another story.)

Closeup Terry on backhoe

FarmerHoney is very happy with Project Number One. 

Prior to selecting this backhoe, FarmerHoney spent hours checking out backhoe videos on YouTube.  (Yes, there are lots of such things!)  All sorts of folks have been filmed using various brands of backhoes; FarmerHoney was determined to evaluate them all and choose the best model for his needs.  So thus began endless hours watching Backhoe YouTube videos.  At the time, this was actually a reprieve from endless hours watching Italian World War II movies.

I think it’s safe to say now that we’ve watched backhoes in all sorts of circumstances.  They can get stuck in the most incredibly messy ways.  Some backhoe operators must believe their machines are equipped with inflatable flotation devices.  Others drive them on steep inclines only a mountain goat has any business attempting!  We’ve watched backhoe operators use just the features of their machines to load and unload them from flatbed trucks – no ramps needed.  One video showed a backhoe “climb” a series of increasingly higher platforms, then descend to the ground again.

Did you know there is a backhoe designed to operate on top of open railroad cars?  FarmerHoney and I stared in fascination (yep, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it – guess it was a slow day in the country) as the operator managed to get his backhoe off of a railroad car and safely onto the ground again – no ramps required!  He had quite an audience watching while he gingerly eased the heavy machine back to earth – I imagine they were wondering if he’d capsize or not.  Maybe there were even friendly bets among those onlookers!

backhoe on railroad car

This specialized backhoe is called a “cartopper”.  It was filmed by Bob Dahringer and posted to You Tube as “Unloading a Herzog Cartopper.”  FarmerHoney and I aren’t the only folks who watched this – it’s had well over 7,000,000 views!

Just when we thought we’d seen every conceivable thing a backhoe could do, we came across a choreographed “march” of five or six backhoes.  I think whoever came up with that idea had either been in marching band or had a child in marching band.  It was pretty clever.  Picture the Blue Angels – on Monster Truck wheels.  And slow.  V-e-r-y   s-l-o-w.  Or imagine synchronized swimming performed with construction equipment.  You get the picture.  I don’t know about FarmerHoney, but I think I’ve seen all the backhoe videos I ever want to see!

Dancing Backhoes

This is JCB’s backhoe stunt team, the “Dancing Diggers”.  Incredible show!

As I began this story, FarmerHoney decided that Project Number One with his new backhoe would be to improve the cattle guard – the trench below the grate was so shallow the calves in the pasture easily walked on the soil just below the grate and into our front yard.  The only things the grate prevented from entering the yard were the cows and the bull.  We should be grateful for small miracles.

Calves at cattle guard 6

Now, I truly don’t mind the calves munching on our grass.  Heaven knows it needed trimming and the lawn mower wasn’t working.  But it’s the little gifts the calves deposit on the lawn that I have a problem with.  Anyone ever get upset over a neighbor’s dog dumping on your yard?  A calf is a LOT bigger than a dog!  So are its dumps!  And they’re not as easy to dispose of.

Okay, enough of that!

FarmerHoney removed the grate that covers the trench and began scooping out one shovelful of soil at a time.  He had practiced using his new backhoe the week before, when landscaping around his sister’s home. It showed.  He’d become quite adept at toggling two levers at a time, so the outstretched bucket would reach out at the same time it was being positioned.  FarmerHoney had this down to a science!  I was amazed at the amount of dirt and rocks piling up on the south side of the road.  I could just imagine him at the beach, digging to China with his backhoe.  He’d be the envy of all the boys!  What a hole that would be!

Terry, backhoe and cattle guard 2

Notice the cattle in the distance.  I think they’re just trying to act like they’ve seen backhoes before, it’s nothing new, why get excited?

After about 30 minutes of digging, FarmerHoney was ready for a break, so he walked in for lunch.  His absence in the backhoe was the cattle’s cue to examine the site.  A few of them walked over – rather quickly, I thought.  I watched in fascination as more joined the first cows.  And then cattle from all over the field were actually running to see the excavation!  In my imagination, I could hear shouts of “Me, first!” or “Hey, wait for me!” from the herd.  What did they expect to find when they arrived?   Massive piles of sweet feed or a bucket of molasses?

Cattle at excavation site

With FarmerHoney out of the picture, the herd has no reason to retain its aloof attitude toward what’s happening at the cattle guard.  They came running over to see what was going on – and I mean running!

Whatever it was the cattle were searching for, they seemed to discover it in the pile of dirt and rock. They happily munched on weeds that had been scooped up with the soil and sifted through the pile with their hooves and noses.  I could relate.  I used to hunt for rocks and fossils as a kid and the cows’ behavior looked familiar.  Except for the eating weeds part.

Once the pile of dirt had been investigated and plants sampled, the cattle took turns checking out the backhoe.  Cattle are naturally quite curious and just about any novelty will attract their attention.  It’s a wonder no cow or calf was accidentally pushed in the trench!  I half expected one of them to clamber into the driver’s seat of the backhoe, they inched in so close.

The cattle spent about 45 minutes examining every part of the work area and backhoe.  Then FarmerHoney walked to the trench and jumped down, using a small spade to complete what the backhoe was too large for.  The herd was quite interested in this and stuck around to watch The Man in the Hole.  When FarmerHoney was happy with his work, he climbed back out of the hole and into his backhoe, then lifted the grate back into position and filled in any depressions in the road.  He was very pleased with the result!

Evidently, the calves are happy with the improvements, too.  While they can no longer walk across on the soil, they’re still able to scamper across a narrow section of posts and rock I’d placed adjacent to the grate.

To prevent the calves from doing such a thing.

Time to learn about building a set of wings for that guard.

cattle guard with wings

This is not our cattle guard – it has wings on it.  I suspect the calves would figure a way to crawl below the wing in this picture, so we’ll have to block any access to that area as well!

 

 

 

 

Lightning and Thunder in a Mountain Valley

I have never heard storms like tonight’s thunderstorms.  But then, I’ve never lived in a mountain valley before.  Friends had told me storms here would be different, but I didn’t know quite how different until this evening.

Seneca Rocks

Forecasts had been calling for severe weather, so I got outside early this morning to rinse off a Weber grill that had been “marinating” in oven cleaner overnight.  The grill looks really nice, very clean.  It’s an old one that was abandoned in the barn – it has wooden handles and three circular air vents at the bottom, the kind you need to adjust one at a time.  The handles need to be replaced, so I figure I’ll make some from locust or oak.  There’s just something about wood that I greatly prefer over plastic.  Wood feels good in my hand.  I think the grille itself needs to be replaced (or, as folks here would say, “…the grille needs replaced”) but the smaller grille that holds the charcoal is just fine.  In a few days, I’ll clean the aluminum legs and remove any rust off the steel sections.  I purchased charcoal last fall when it was on sale, so all I have to do is finish with my cleaning before we strike a match.  Doesn’t grilled steak sound delicious?  Maybe trout caught fresh from the river?

A mid-morning rain forced Snickle-Fritz and I inside but it didn’t last long.  Most of the day, it’s been sprinkling.  Towards dusk, we went outside to guide the three calves that seem to prefer the grass in our yard back over the cattle guard to join their herd before the bad weather set in.  I made a few adjustments to the sides of the cattle guard, hoping that would keep the calves from strolling across.  But once dog and I returned inside, the clouds opened up and it just poured!  I looked out the window – this was just minutes after working on the cattle guard – and most of the herd had gathered near the cattle guard on the road.  The three calves were already back over in the yard!  So much for my paltry attempts at building fence.  For a while, it looked as if the rest of the herd would join them, but at least the cows and bull decided to stay in their pasture!

I was not about to head outside with it raining so hard and I’m really glad I made that decision.  Snickle-Fritz and I hadn’t been inside more than five minutes when this enormous ROAR started at the west end of the valley, miles away, increased in volume, and rumbled right up to our single-wide!  I knew it was thunder; poor dog had no idea what size beast could be making such a horrific sound!  He stood on his chair in the front room (yes, he has his own recliner, but he just uses the chair feature), front paws on the arm, and looked out the window, trying his best to identify the animal that had just roared.  Poor guy was panic-stricken.  And when the next roar of thunder swept up to the home, he – all 65 pounds of him – jumped into my lap, frozen in fear.  I held him tight (he likes that – deep pressure) and gradually, he positioned his chest on my lap but his tail end was still high.  I massaged his back with a firm, methodical pressure and slowly, his hind quarters relaxed.  Snickle-Fritz has these huge paws that he uses like hands – he actually grasped my arm with his front paws and held on.  So sad – how do we explain thunder to a terrified dog?  All I could do was hold him tightly and murmur what I hoped were calming reassurances in his ear.

The third peal of thunder was closer than ever – Snickle-Fritz craned his neck toward the ceiling, trying to figure out where it was coming from.  And then, seconds later, lightning crackled across the sky.  It seemed to jump right in our window.  Poor dog leaped out of my arms and ran to the bedroom.  I think he was still trying to find out what was causing such chaos in his world.  He didn’t find what he was looking for in the bedroom so he came back to the front room, shaken, and lay down beside me on the floor.  That’s where he stayed for the rest of the storm, with occasional recon visits to his chair.  Thankfully, the storm didn’t last more than 45 minutes.

Not long after the weather calmed, Snickle-Fritz jumped into my lap again.  But this time, he didn’t settle down.  Imagine a large hunting dog on point in your lap.  That was my dog tonight.  His head was pointing toward the bedroom.  This is new behavior on his part, but I recognized what he was telling me right away.  Snickle doesn’t bark with us, just when he’s nervous or senses danger.  But if he wants something from us, he will literally guide us to it.  Earlier, he held onto his Frisbee until I’d followed him to the exact spot from which he wanted me to toss it.  If he needs to go outside, he’ll lick my arm.  This time, it was apparent from his stance that Snickle-Fritz wanted us to go to bed.  Me.  And him.  So that’s what I did.  That’s where I am now – I have a little computer spot in an alcove by the bed.  Snickle is stretched out asleep on my side of the bed.  It’s okay – I’ve learned he makes a great bedwarmer, too.

Usually, he can stay awake a bit longer than he did tonight.  Perhaps the thunder and lightning show were too much for him.

I can understand why – storms here take on a life of their own as they dance between the  mountains and skip down our valley!