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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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

 

 

 

…”we can do small things with great love.”

Two weeks ago, I was asked to fill in for a housekeeper who’d broken her elbow.  She is responsible for taking care of three gorgeous rental cabins on Spruce Mountain in West Virginia and should be able to resume her duties in two months or so.  Although I was a bit hesitant, due to some back problems, I agreed to help the owners clean up a cabin the following day and see how it went. 

Just days before, I’d spent a day and a half cleaning a local pavilion for a family reunion.  It was very tiring, but very satisfying work.  I wanted to see if my back could handle the added labor.

Well, Wednesday night, our Mennonite community had a clean up night in the church.  I scrubbed the two bathrooms and was just about done in.  I was trying to keep up with the rest of the crew and overdid it.  I decided I’d better bring along an extra helper in case I couldn’t keep up with the cabin the following morning.

For the cabin, I planned a bit better.  I took a pain pill and a muscle relaxer before I headed over to the mountain. That helped and I felt that I really would be able to take on this housekeeping position.

I am quite surprised by how much I enjoy doing the work.  I cannot imagine a more pristine setting – the view from the cabins’ decks overlooks Germany Valley and right now, all I can see are green leaves and trees everywhere.  Fall must be beautiful from this vantage point – and a winter scene of snow everywhere would be so delightful!  As I drove up the narrow mountain road this morning, two deer crossed the road in front of me.  Definitely beats any prior commutes I’ve had!

Besides the great setting, the cabins themselves are a pleasure to work in.  The owner built them – he’s a carpenter, and the care he took shows in every little detail.  The angles of the roof peaks are mitered perfectly, the handrails of the staircases leading to the cabins are routed on the edges and sanded smooth on the ends.  Really nice.  It’s truly a delight to work in such a structure, a privilege to be entrusted to keep it clean and inviting for the next guests.

One more advantage to cleaning these cabins – my spine is actually feeling stronger than it has in decades. I cannot imagine a better place to head for physical therapy! And I’d much rather do something truly worthwhile that sit at a machine doing exercises.

I probably like working in those cabins because my home is not exactly pristine – yet.  When I moved in the end of June 2016, it had been unoccupied for over nine years.  Cobwebs were everywhere and leaves filled the kitchen floor to a depth of about five inches.  Two windows were in need of glass and admitted all sorts of night insects.  I don’t miss those at all.  I’ve made a lot of progress in the house, and had a lot of help doing so, but it is still in need of paint and scrubbing.  A bit at a time, I’m bringing the house back to life.  Tending to those rental cabins gives me incentive to tackle my own house as well and give me a bit of a vacation from the chores back home.

This past Monday, more than 150 people gathered at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church in Paterson, New Jersey to honor the contributions of janitors in the community.  Housekeepers, maids, janitors – all have similar jobs.  I have always respected the folks who kept my classroom warm, clean, and repaired as needed.  When I’ve stayed at hotels, I appreciated the care taken to make sure the room is comfortable.  And now that I’m a housekeeper, I take pride in making sure the cabins are just what the guests are looking for.  I realize that it’s the housekeeper whose touch in each cabin is one of the factors that can make or break a guest’s visit.  I scrub spots off of the stainless shower fixtures, scrub any spot that looks out of place, basically treat the cabin like it’s my own and family’s coming to visit.  Grandma was born in Barry, Ontario and we used to be encouraged to “clean as if the Queen is coming.”  Well, the Queen is welcome to visit here!

Saint Teresa was canonized by the Catholic Church on Sunday.  One of my favorite quotes is attributed to her and I think it’s fitting to close this reflection on doing small things with it.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Antique Noritake and Vintage Etched Crystal

Yes, you read the title correctly.  True, this is not the typical thing I write about, nor are china and crystal something one might expect to find in a single-wide, vintage 1972 trailer, at the bumpy end of a dirt farm road on what was once a pasture adjacent to an old, fallen-down barn.  When a person envisions “Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia,” images tend to be of a more outdoorsy theme – narrow waterfalls cascading over ledges of bedrock, old log cabins standing guard in a now-deserted meadow, fishermen casting for trout in the North Fork River.

Deerlodge and Etched Stemware

Pictured above is Noritake “Deerlodge” china, pink Depression glass sherbet and, from left to right in the back, Tiffin “Byzantine” liquor cocktail, Tiffin “Byzantine” cordial, and two unidentified etched crystal pieces, also Goodwill discoveries for 99 cents each!

Yet glass production is part of the Mountain State’s heritage.  Blenko, Fenton, Fostoria, Hazel-Atlas, Morgantown, Seneca Glass, and Weston Glass, are just a few of the companies that called West Virginia home.  Production skyrocketed in the state between 1900-1940.  As tastes in glass products changed, West Virginia’s glass companies kept up with their consumers’ demands.  Pressed glass, blown glass, colored glass, crystal, etched pieces all emerged from the state’s numerous factories.

China and pottery manufacturers made their home among the mountains as well.  Perhaps the most well-known company is the Homer Laughlin China Company, which relocated from one side of the Ohio River to the other, to Newell, West Virginia, around the turn of the twentieth century.  Here, the company was able to expand its operations to meet the growing demands of the market.  And after 1927, when Frederick Hurten Rhead was hired as design director, Homer Laughlin would need ALL those new facilities.  Rhead was responsible for designing Fiestaware, the company’s most prolific line of pottery.  During World War II, production lines were churning out pottery needed for the military.  But after the war ended, Fiesta’s consumer lines resumed and continued to grow in popularity; Fiestaware helped Homer Laughlin reach its peak production year in 1948.

Following the war, imported china began to encroach on the markets of U.S.-based companies.  It was difficult to compete with these china lines because they were priced so economically.  Of course, labor costs overseas were considerably lower compared to those of American products.  Many domestic china factories simply could not compete and were forced out of business.

But not Homer Laughlin!  Company directors saw what was happening in the industry and switched gears a bit.  They’d always had commercial lines of china which catered to motel, hotel, and restaurant industries.  Homer Laughlin decided to put increased emphasis in this area and ease off on the production of china for the home.  Their strategy worked and kept them afloat during very difficult times for less far-sighted companies.

However, the Fiestaware line was eventually phased out, stopping production of the colorful pieces completely in 1973.  But Fiesta lovers are a loyal and determined bunch!  (I hear cheers in the distance!)  Popular demand from fans of the china helped bring back the line in 1986; this time, the glazes used on the ware were lead-free.  This met with approval from environmentally-minded consumers as well as those with young children.  Folks with a taste for nostalgia and those who loved the clean, bright designs of the china were more than happy to add Homer Laughlin’s Fiestaware to their kitchens.

China was not the only thing adorned with Fiestaware’s Art Nouveau shape and crayon box colors.  Table linens, silverware, colanders, refrigerator magnets, napkin holders, picture frames, all sorts of items drew styling and colors from Fiesta.

When I was a girl, I loved eating at Grandma Powers’ home.  She had the original, lead-glaze Fiestaware (somehow, I survived meals in Medina) and it was always a much-anticipated surprise to see what combination of colors she’d use to set the breakfast or lunch table.  It was fun to have an ever-changing array of dishes – we didn’t have all those colors at home!  Grandma also had these sort of oddly-shaped glasses that seemed to perfectly complement the Fiesta. I remember the glasses having a curvy shape, wider at the base than at the top, a thick base, and fairly thin.  Like the Fiesta, the glasses were different colors, changing the tint of a glass of milk from blue to green to pink, depending on the hue of the glass.

About five years ago, I was slowly cruising the aisles of my favorite Northern Virginia Goodwill.  I’d do that several times a week, using it as a sort of physical therapy following my car accident.  It sure beat heading to a gym or therapist’s, which was out of the question for me, and the items on the shelves there were constantly changing.  I used to hang onto one of those small-scale grocery carts; they were light enough for me to push and maneuverable enough to make my way through the store with ease.  There was always something new to look at, always something really unusual to check out, occasionally an object that made me wonder why anyone would have purchased it to begin with, and when I needed to sit, there was always a couch or chair to rest upon.

On this particular day, I spied a familiar shape nestled among objects in the orange-colored section at Goodwill.  It was a Fiestaware “Tangerine” cup and saucer – 99 cents each!  Feeling nostalgic, I added it to my cart.  Then, it dawned on me that there were probably more cups and saucers, in different colors, hiding among other stuff.  So I checked out each section, delighted to add “Periwinkle Blue”, “Sea Mist Green”, and “Yellow” (a pale, creamy color) to the first cup and saucer.

Bringing that colorful Fiesta home was such a treat for my eyes.  It was as if Grandma was there, sharing a meal at my home.  The cheerful colors also helped lift my sagging spirits.  That began a pursuit of Fiesta china in other spots, too.  I eventually ended up with about 8 place settings of the pastel colors.  I loved using them.  So did my son.  And when I needed to downsize prior to moving, he asked if he could have the Fiesta.  I gladly gave my collection to him, thinking how the china would be a little taste of home, a bit of nostalgia, as he transferred wherever the military needed him.

I gave most of my Lenox “Holiday” china to my youngest daughter, who insisted I keep four settings for myself.  (So glad she did!)  I’d fallen for the classic pattern when I was just 15; Mom and Dad gave me my first “Holiday” cup and saucer when I turned 16.  I do love the “Holiday” but I am happy to know it will be put to good use in its new home!  However, I could not bear to part with a single piece of Grandma Powers’ antique Noritake and the memories that come with it.  I just love using that china and I do not save it for “special days”.   My three children used to take it out of the china hutch v-e-r-y carefully first thing in the morning on Mother’s Day and set the table with it.  Even the youngest member of the family knew how to handle the china.  He may have growled like a tiger at times (really, he did, it was embarrassing), but he was as gentle as a kitten with his great-grandma’s dishes!

Lenox Holiday and etched stemware, depression glass

 Pictured above are Lenox “Holiday”, green Depression glass sherbet, and in the back, Tiffin “Byzantine” cordial and liquor cocktail. 

Now, those dishes reside in a mahogany reproduction dining chest in the front room of our home.  I can – and do – access them frequently to use on the table in the kitchen.  There’s no dining room, no dining room table here.  But that won’t stop me from enjoying those dear old plates!  Sometimes, I’ll serve fruit and yogurt in pink Depression glass that goes nicely with the Noritake Deerlodge pattern.  My newest additions – 10 pieces of Tiffin etched crystal – look right at home with Grandma Powers’ china.  She would’ve approved!

Dining chest

This is my “treasure chest” – a mahogany reproduction dining chest.  Doesn’t it look like it’s an antique?  I just love it!  The barn print above it is by David Knowlton; prints of his paintings adorn the walls of our home.  Yes, that is a tapestry curtain over the front door; it’s very heavy and quite effective at keeping out drafts!  We hung its mate across the entrance to the hallway, in this same room.  Those drapes greatly improved our comfort last winter! Both stockings were made by a talented eBay seller from old “cutter” quilts. The gold-framed photograph near the lamp shows my maternal grandmother, Alma Ramming, on her wedding day in 1926.  The chair is from her home, but I’ll have to save its story for another time!

I’ve heard that people are increasingly reluctant to purchase china or glassware that needs to be hand washed. Such a shame!  Perhaps that’s why it’s been relatively painless to find some great bargains on antique china and crystal.  Grandma Ramming used to say, “Tea tastes better from a china cup.”  I quite agree.  Last fall, I found six pieces of Tiffin etched, optic crystal stemware in the “Byzantine” pattern at a Goodwill store.  I have loved etched crystal since I was a girl, when my grandmother would set her formal dining room table with pink-and-clear etched crystal.  Now I had no idea, when I spied it at Goodwill, who’d made the crystal I’d come across or what it might be worth. I just knew I loved it and I wanted to set my table with that etched crystal stemware and Grandma Powers’ old Noritake china! Fortunately, the asking price was something I could afford – 99 cents each. So I took home four cordials and two liquor cocktails, washed them up, and have loved and used them since. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages, but eggnog – just about anything! – tastes better when I drink it from one of those gleaming pieces of stemware!  FarmerHoney gifted me with four juice glasses in the same pattern for Christmas, and I keep them nearby in the kitchen. It’s a little thing, a simple pleasure.  But to have juice from vintage crystal first thing in the morning is a wonderful way to start the day!

Unlike contemporary trends, I do not find it a hassle to hand wash china or crystal. It gives me more time to enjoy each piece.  On the other hand, it IS a hassle hand washing everyday china (also Noritake). My kitchen attests to that fact at the moment!  (And no, I am not about to photograph my messy kitchen.  You’ll just have to take my word that it’s really, embarrassingly untidy!)  I had been doing just fine until we’d run out of dishwasher pods for our portable little dishwasher and well, it’s just amazing how quickly dishes pile up! 

Hmm…maybe I should simply bring the formal china and etched crystal into the kitchen and use them all the time. It might be a better way for me to keep the kitchen clean!

Dishwasher

(Audible sigh from author…)  Looking through these pictures has given me the inspiration needed to start tackling the state of my home!  This is our dishwasher, a purchase I resisted but one that FarmerHoney was smart enough to make anyway.  It holds everything we need to clean for over a single day’s use.  It’s designed to accommodate a lot of dishes in a small space.  There’s also a spot for water softener salt – we need that, we have well water.  This little dishwasher is so much quieter than any dishwasher I have ever used.  Typically, my hands dry out and my fingertips crack each winter from doing dishes – but this wonderful machine saved my hands this winter.  I love it!

 

 

 

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!

 

You’ve Gotta Love Calves!

Our riding lawn mower isn’t working.  We replaced the belt on it, but FarmerHoney suspects at least one spring is missing.  However, without an owner’s manual, we’re kind of stuck.  So, being overly optimistic, I searched online for the manual to our old Quality Farm & Country riding mower, model #475475.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s been on an Internet quest to find this little gem.  After hours of searching – and reading posts from other Quality lawn mower owners, the manual no longer exists.  I wonder if it ever did.  In the past, I’ve downloaded several owner’s manuals for vintage appliances that I’ve purchased, including a 1970 Toastmaster Waffle Baker (thrift store, $7.00) and a 1972 Toastmaster 2-slice Toaster (thrift store, $5.00).  They work perfectly well!  Their manuals were easy to track down.

Thrift store Toastmaster

I wish our riding lawn mower had been made by Toastmaster.  By now, we’d know where the missing spring should be located and the mower would be operational.  Actually, if the mower had been made by Toastmaster, it would still be running just fine.

In the country, people make do with what’s on hand.  Here, the nearest Lowe’s is over an hour away.  Even the local hardware is 35 minutes away, over North Mountain.

In these parts, most farms have at least one cattle guard.  This consists of  a wide trench that stretches from one side of the road to the other.  It is covered by a set of iron bars that run perpendicular to the road.  Cattle are wary of differences in light and dark where they walk – or so the theory goes – and some roads even have cattle guards painted on them to fool the cattle into thinking there’s a trench beneath the stripes.

Calves at cattle guard 5

I guess our neighbor’s calves are smarter than most cattle.  They have learned to bypass the cattle guard near our single-wide trailer and nibble on the grass in our yard.  I usually don’t mind, as long as they steer clear of our hyacinths and lilac.  Black Angus in my front yard is a novelty for me – never had cattle grazing on my lawn back in Northern Virginia!  Can you imagine the crowd of kids that would draw?  Not just kids, either!  Sometimes, Doug (our neighbor) and his farmhand, Mike, will chase the calves out with their ATV’s.  But like any creature who’s discovered a good thing, the calves always return.

Yesterday, three of the clever calves were grazing in our yard.  But I was going to church and really did not want them nibbling on forbidden flowers in my absence.  So, I donned my farm shoes and headed outside to help them rejoin the herd, which had gathered on the opposite side of the cattle guard, watching the calves, me, and our dog.  The bovines are fascinated with our canine, especially when we’re playing with his red Frisbee.

Calves at cattle guard 1

Probably on any other day, when I didn’t have an appointment to keep, the calves would have walked calmly to the cattle guard and crossed over.  But this was Sunday and I was being picked up to attend church.  I suspect the cattle knew this, for they were not about to be easily guided back to the cattle guard.

One of them, the feistiest calf, trotted off along the woven wire fence.  His mother shadowed him from the other side, mooing anxiously.  (Yes, cattle moo different sounds and farmers use those sounds to judge what sort of moooood they’re in.  Couldn’t resist!)  I prayed that Snickle-Fritz would get the idea and help me steer the calf in the right direction.  No, all he wanted to do was play Frisbee.

So I headed for the more docile calves and one by one they clambered over the bars and managed to get back to the other side.  That left Mr. Personality.  That’s what we dub any animal that is needing extra encouragement.  It’s nicer than calling him, “You Little Dickens!”

Calves at cattle guard 3

That last calf actually stood his ground and sort of “dared me” to take him on.  I don’t take on cattle – even a month old calf can do serious damage to a person.  So I averted his gaze and walked parallel in his direction but with a 15-foot berth.  We sort of played variations of this game for about eight minutes and then, tired of it, the calf stood in front of the cattle guard, trying to decide if he should join the herd or continue bantering with me.  I stood still, about 10 feet behind the calf, giving him a chance to relax and think about it.  (The teacher in me was thinking, “Make a good decision, Calf.”)  Fortunately, I had the Frisbee in hand and gently tossed it to the right of the cattle guard.  When Snickle-Fritz darted after the Frisbee, the calf turned to the left – where I was – and must have decided it was time to rejoin his buddies.  He’d been cornered.  To help cement his decision, I gave a low, soft, moo.  I learned this from the cows.  I just duplicated what sound they make and I find that this particular sound calms them.  A cow trotting away in fear will actually stop and look at me when I moo at her.  I’ve calmed cows with that moo.

Once the reluctant calf hopped over the guard, I’d expected the audience of Black Angus to disperse.  No, they were enjoying the spectacle, evidently hoping for more.  So I crossed over the cattle guard and walked toward them, encouraging them to go.  “Nothing to see here, let’s move out.”  Felt like a police officer at an accident scene.  Most of the cattle left, content to return to grazing.  A few cows were curious about me and stood to get a good look.  I hadn’t showered yet, maybe that was why.

And those three calves still lingered near the cattle guard.  A big old bovine was near the road, so I asked him to make sure HIS calves stayed on HIS side of the guard.   He just looked at me, then walked toward the calves, who scattered at his approach.

I did not fail to notice that as the bull walked up the incline from where the cattle guard was, he became a bit larger, taller, more intimidating.  Thank goodness he’s used to people!  And thank goodness, he didn’t see me as a threat!

Calves at cattle guard 2

I don’t have to go anywhere today.  So I guess that means the calves will stay in their pasture.  I’m debating whether or not to remove some posts that I placed next to the cattle guard as a barricade.  Obviously, it’s not working.  And maybe, if it’s easier for the calves to walk over to our yard, they might bring some friends.

Natural lawn mowers.  No owner’s manual necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s a dog good for, anyway?

It’s a little after 7 in the morning here in the mountains.  We had another frost last night – I can hear the frost melting off the roof and onto the back steps.  I can hear it quite distinctly, because the window right above my pillow is still open just a bit, as it was last night.  No, I wasn’t wasting electricity or fuel.  We don’t have the main furnace installed yet and I couldn’t get the space heater plugged in – old oil heater plug plus old electrical outlet equals no heat.  But I truly don’t mind – it must be the old Girl Scout in me that just loves the outside air, no matter what time of year it is!  When I was a girl and my family was on a road trip, Mom used to tell Dad, “Okay, I need some real air now!” as she reached to turn off the air conditioning.  Guess I have a bit of Mom in me, too!

So last night, I piled on the covers.  Nothing quite like snuggling under the weight of several blankets when it’s chilly outside (and inside) to make me feel all is right with the world.  And then I cranked open the louvered window just enough so I could hear Seneca Rocks at night.

Mountain sounds are the best.  I guess some folks would argue that nothing beats the sound of surf pounding on a beach, but for me, it’s a treat to listen to the night creatures and the North Fork River churning its way through the bedrock. Before moving here, my home was fairly close to I-95 and its parallel highway, Route 1.  I mention Route 1 because whenever traffic came to a halt on I-95, as it did a few times a week, every vehicle was diverted to Route 1.  That was within walking distance of my townhouse.  You can imagine the traffic noises I heard constantly.  Sirens screamed frequently as emergency vehicles raced to the next accident on the interstate. Air traffic was ever-present, too, as were the “Sounds of Freedom” from Quantico Marine Corps Base.  It was typical to hear muffled explosions from the base as different training exercises were conducted; occasionally, Quantico’s public relations office would issue a “Noise Advisory” when drills were going to get really loud.  “Residents in the immediate vicinity of Marine Corps Base Quantico may experience an increase in noise as an affect from training or range clearance operations…” No kidding!  I can only imagine how loud it must be when the Marines are close to those detonations.  On rare occasions, it felt like a truckload of C-4 had gone off in front of my home.

You can understand that listening to mountain sounds is a very pleasant change for me.  In the past few nights, I’ve heard fox kits playing beneath a full moon, the river as it tumbles over bedrock ledges in the “Blue Hole”, and on one night, an owl hooting from its perch on Germany Knob.  I’ve never heard an owl hoot quite as loud or as deep as that owl!  In my estimation, judging on sound alone, I would guess that old owl is about four feet tall.  Imagine its wingspan!  (Yep, I do have a good imagination!)

So even when it’s chilly here, I love cracking the window above my pillow open ever so slightly just to hear the night sounds. When I woke yesterday, it was 51 degrees in the house; this morning, it’s feeling downright balmy at 55.

Our dog, Snickle-Fritz, feels every temperature change, I’m sure.  He has a very short coat and gets cold easily.  The dear thing has been known to stand at the side of the bed and try to nose his way under the covers very s-l-o-w-l-y, as if I’d never notice his 65 pound body sliding ever so gracefully (?) into bed. Snickle really gets cold!  I can’t help but make room for him when he jumps on the bed and dives under the covers.  Look at his face – who could resist that?

Dog asleep

Obviously, not me.  Sharing my bed with a big lump of warm dog has all sorts of benefits in the mountains. Not only is Snickle as warm as a loaf of bread fresh from the oven, he curls up right next to me like an enormous, living teddy bear.  I love this!

I discovered another advantage to having a dog under the covers with me on a cold night.  Last night, I didn’t wear socks to bed and my feet were like blocks of ice.  Not wishing to get out of bed – and into the chilly air – to retrieve a pair of socks, I did the next best thing.  I wriggled my feet toward Snickle-Fritz.  S-l-o-w-l-y.  He never even noticed.  So I wormed my toes in a bit closer to his delightfully toasty tummy.  He didn’t stir!  It was heavenly, thawing my frozen feet on Snickle’s warm, soft skin.

Folks know that a dog is good for a number of things – companionship, protection, and around here, bear hunting.  But on cold nights, my dog is better than a pair of socks!