When Remodeling a Bathroom…

There are new things to learn every day, if only we have eyes to see them!

I’d learned a few things about toilets over the years, and I thought some of these might prove useful to others.

First, I always replace rusty tank bolts with brass ones.  I do this when I move into a new-to-me house.  It’s just something I do.  I dislike rusty bolts and I dislike dirty tank water.  Brass won’t rust and it’s an easy fix.

Second, when I had to replace a toilet, I chose a chair height toilet.  I didn’t even realize they were available when I headed to Home Depot but I didn’t need convincing to buy one.  It’s easier on the knees and back.  Great for older folks and those with arthritis and simply anyone who wants an easier toilet to sit on and rise from.

Third, teach your sons to replace toilet seats.  Enough said.

The next two things I learned from cleaning rental cabins; their toilets all have these great features.

Fourth, you know that little oval-shaped handle that turns the water to the toilet off and on?  Well, you can purchase one of these connectors that slips easily from off to on – no more endless turning of this handle when the toilet is overflowing.

Fifth, newer toilets have eliminated the rim under the seat – the part with the holes for water to wash away waste.  If you recall, this is also the part that is really difficult to see when cleaning.  New ones have no lip – it’s slanted, and you can also see the holes.  No more acrobatic configurations trying to see if the toilet is clean!

I realize this information is not exactly life-changing.  But, these are all simple fixes that can help save frustration.  And that is worth writing about!

 

 

 

…”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.”

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!

 

 

 

 

Fence Lines…

Last May, I was alone at the farm when I noticed FarmerHoney’s Black Angus herd edging closer and closer to a fence that had been on its last legs for at least a decade.  I think a hearty sneeze from one of the cows would’ve blown that rickety old fence over – it consisted only of some rusted woven wire and ancient locust posts .  An errant strand of barbed wire formed gentle loops at the top of the fence – hardly enough to keep a cow from barging through.  That decrepit old fence was the only thing that separated FarmerHoney’s cattle from our neighbor’s hay field.  And now Doug’s crop was in danger of being run through by a herd of grass-hungry cattle.

Calves at cattle guard 3

The photo above shows an old fence.  A 16-foot gate panel has been secured to the three fence posts above.  (You can see the black outlines of the heavier wire in the panel.)  Extra barbed wire has been placed over the post at the right.  Old fence posts are behind the calves on the ground.

I was supposed to be heading over to the Sites Homestead near Seneca Rocks; the curator there was hosting a quilt weekend and I’d promised to bring my quilts and displays that show how a quilt is constructed.  Instead, I decided I needed to rescue that hay field.

I raced to grab the tractor key and load up a one-ton round bale of hay on the spear that protrudes from the front of the tractor.  (Sort of a tractor-unicorn.)

hay bale being speared

This is a bale spear.

I took that bale over to the cattle, teasing them away from the fence with the prospect of an easy meal.  Once I’d plopped that bale in their round, metal feeder, I quickly retrieved a second bale and placed it in the meadow.  The cattle liked that, because their hay is usually in a feeder.  When it’s on the ground, the cattle can make “nests” in the hay that falls as they feed, resting in it and even playing with it.   Some time ago, I watched in amazement as FarmerHoney’s bull tossed a full bale as if it was a soccer ball.  I prayed that these bales would keep the herd amused, fed, and away from the fence line.

Bale feeder

This is a small bale feeder.

Once the cattle were distracted and had meandered away from the fence, I went to work repairing it as best I could.  I shoved rocks down the holes in the ground next to the fence posts, my meager attempt at shimming the posts in place.  Then, I surrounded each of those fence posts with larger rocks, which kept them upright and steady.  That was slow work, especially when one’s back is rather fragile.  But the job needed to be done and no one else was around to do it.  So I made sure I paced myself and took breaks when needed.

The last bit of fence repair involved the barbed wire strand.  I stretched it as taut as I could and bent the barbed wire ends around sections of the highest woven wire.  I hoped that if it looked stronger than it really was, the cattle might just leave the fence alone.  Farmer Honey calls this a “fake”.  It’s better than nothing!

And the fake worked!  I was incredibly relieved as I had no desire to chase mischievous cattle from that hay field.

I could finally relax.  As I sat down with a bottle of water in hand, it occurred to me that this was not the first time I’d been alone on the farm when fence lines needed repairing.  One winter, bales of hay had been stored a bit too close to the fence.  When the cattle realized they could nudge the strands of woven wire apart and lean in to nibble on hay, the rusted metal fence didn’t stand a chance against the hungry herd.  Not only were cows able to stick their heads in and feed, their calves managed to squeeze through a particularly weak section, seeking refuge among the hay bales from the winter’s bone-chilling winds.

That day – that cold, windy day – it was my turn to face those arctic blasts!  So I dressed warmly,  grabbed a small spool of barbed wire, fence staples, and a hammer, and went out to survey the damage.

It was pretty bad.  One entire section of fence was so badly damaged that cows could wiggle through.  For about 45 feet, the barbed wire strand at the top of the fence line was either damaged or non-existent.  Cows had turned that lengthy section of woven wire into a mangled mess.  The task seemed overwhelming.    But I decided that I just needed to start somewhere and take on a little bit of the work at a time.

First thing I did was install new barbed wire at the top of the fence.  Normally, this is done with a barbed wire stretcher, a tool that sort of grabs the barbed wire and then pulls it taut.  But I didn’t know where it was, so I used a claw hammer instead.  I put a section of wire through the claw, positioned the claw against the fence post and rocked the hammer slowly backward in the opposite direction.  This was enough to straighten the barbed wire fairly effectively.  The trick was holding the hammer steady with my left hand, while pounding in a fence staple with a hammer in my right.  Once I managed to secure one end of the barbed wire, it was simply a matter to going back down the line, hammering in fence staples.

Fence staples come in different sizes.  Some have barbs, others don’t.  And the harder the wood that the fence posts are made of, the more difficult it is to pound in the staple.  As luck would have it, the fence posts on the farm were made from locust – really hard wood.  Now, FarmerHoney and our neighboring farmers can take a staple and pound it two or three times, and the staple’s in place.  Not me.  For one thing, the guys can wield hammers that Paul Bunyan would be pleased to call his own.  And for another, they have more upper body strength than I do.  So what they might have accomplished in an hour or so took me far longer.

I worked on that fence an entire afternoon.  An old piece of picket fence was enlisted to cover up the badly-damaged section and wired into place.  Since so much of the woven wire fencing had been damaged, I decided to use barbed wire stretched horizontally across the fence, spaced five inches apart.  That way, the cattle would not be tempted to nudge any wires anywhere.  Barbs really hurt!

It was a lot of work, in cold and windy weather, but I felt a deep satisfaction as I checked out the repairs.  I’d used my muscle power in the outdoors; that is not something I did as a teacher!  After years of planning lessons, grading papers, and holding conferences, I’m finding that demanding, physical labor is immensely satisfying.

A few years have passed since that winter repair and the fence is still functional.  But working on fence line is a never-ending chore on a farm.

Last fall, it was decided to rebuild the fence line around the bull pen area on the family farm.  Since I’ve been the one making repairs to the fences, I suggested that a new type of woven wire be used, one that locks the intersecting wires together so cattle can’t nudge them over with their noses.  Since the old fence posts were going to be ripped up and the old rusty fencing torn down, might as well replace it with the good stuff.  Might as well build it so it lasts another 30 years. I was given the task of getting the fence materials, and I was determined to do it right.

So I drove to our nearest Southern States store in Petersburg and talked with the young woman behind the counter.  “We’re replacing a fence and we want to make sure it’s done in the best possible way.  Can you help me out?”  She was very knowledgeable.  From her, I learned that we needed 10-inch pins to insert into the brace poles.  Brace poles are horizontal poles that secure the corner post to the adjacent post.  The pins prevent the brace poles from working loose over the years.  Next, she showed me a sort of ratchet tool that is used to tighten wire connected horizontally from corner post to the adjacent post.  She made sure I understood that a fence staple is used to keep the wire in place while the ratchet part is tightened.  It used to be common practice for farmers to build fence lines with diagonal wire that was tightened with a wooden stake – sort of a tourniquet that would draw the fence posts tight.  Now, farmers are switching to this new ratchet; when the fence line needs to be tightened again (and it will, with all those cows leaning against it!) all the farmer has to do is use a little handle on the ratchet.

I made sure we had two rolls of fixed-knot woven wire fencing, fence staples, brace pins, ratchets, and wire to use with the ratchets.  I was so eager to get this fencing installed!

Calves at cattle guard 5

This is the fence that Doug and Mike finished.  Note the size of the corner post in comparison to the others.  The horizontal brace posts add strength to this section of the fence; pins in these posts will prevent them from becoming loose and falling off.  The diagonal wire in these two corner sections can be tightened fairly easily as needed to keep the fence taut.

Doug, our neighbor who leases this farm, and his farm hand, Mike, who is worth his weight in gold, installed the woven wire in less than one day.  A tidy single strand of barbed wire topped off the row of fence posts.  It looked wonderful!  I watched as Mike pounded in the last few fence staples; he was using only two strokes to drive in each staple.  Two!  True, his hammer was large; mine looked like something Cub Scouts would use to build their first birdhouse.  (Actually, that’s exactly what mine was first used for!)   My paltry attempts to nail in a fence staple seemed even more pathetic compared to Mike’s expertise.  He and Doug had built a very sturdy, good-looking fence.  The experience and proper equipment both men brought to the job had that fence up in no time.

Now, I am definitely lacking when it comes to actually building or repairing a fence.  But I like to think I played a small part in this fence’s installation.  First, I got the right materials – I knew Doug approved when he checked out what I’d brought back from Southern States and said, “This fence will last longer than I will!”  And I’d taken each fence staple and squeezed the open ends together slightly so they were parallel to each other; this makes it easier to pound in the staples.

Well, easier to pound in the staples if you’re Mike!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!