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When we moved from a city in Chicagoland that boasted a “Top Ten Library,” I somewhat despaired. That was the library where I diligently took my children a couple times a month. We routinely checked out and returned and checked out and returned piles of children’s books. This library did indeed have a stellar selection, the latest technologies, and wonderful ambiance.

We have since lived in two small towns in Indiana, both boasting libraries. I was thrilled to locate the first town’s library. I paid my twenty-dollar fee to be a member, only to look around and find rows and rows of romantic paperbacks. “We take donations,” the elderly volunteer behind the desk informed me.

Obviously.

This was not the “Top Ten” library I had made use of for the last 26 years of my life. This was a little town library with just enough money to keep going. That’s okay, I told myself. There were a few biographies and memoirs here I could read. I checked out Stephen King’s On Writing, returned it on time, went to check out another, and a new elderly volunteer asked me if I still had On Writing at home and would I please return it.

“I did, last week,” I told her. I had dropped it off across the street in the plastic box under the desk by the entrance to the video store—the after-hours drop box. “Look, it’s here, on the shelf.” I didn’t want her to exert herself, so I walked over, pulled the book from the shelf and brought it to her. “See? Returned and back on the shelf.”

“Oh, okay,” she said, as she clicked around with the mouse on the computer and tried to find the screen she needed. I didn’t want to start out my sojourn in this little town as the lady who didn’t return library books!

We’ve since moved to another small town that boasts a library as well. Again, mostly donations, but this one I could join for free — just needed to prove my town address. “Do I need a library card?” I asked naively.

“No, we’ll recognize you.”

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Our local library. Courtesy of swayzeepubliclibrary.com

The library is in a repurposed brick two-story building that appears to have once been a church. (The bricked-in arches above what are now square windows give me that impression.) The library has been serving this and the surrounding communities for almost a century.

My grandsons and I recently walked the two blocks from our home to visit on a chilly Saturday afternoon. They enjoyed the large Lego blocks and the plastic car track. I wandered the stacks, excited to find many actual readable books (sorry, paperback romances do not translate into my world as “readable”). There are enough current books, memoirs, and reference books to keep me busy.

“We’re not fully computerized yet, but we’re working on it,” one of the volunteers told me.

The library is a gathering place — offering a knitting and crocheting circle, activities for elementary children, and various and sundry lessons.

On a shelf beside the front door are “free” books. (Isn’t that sort of like offering candy to a baby?) The librarian told me they were mostly duplicates among donations. I found a memoir to add to my reading collection. My grandsons each found a book to take home as well.

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I love this little library. It’s clean and bright, and the folks are friendly. People drop in to make use of the free WiFi, pick up and return videos, send a fax, or read a magazine. While I was readying my grandsons to leave at closing time, the librarian kindly told me to take my time. “Someone just called and needs to use the Internet. I’m waiting for him.”

Yes, I have access to three huge university libraries, and I use them diligently for research and the love of my life: “inter-library loan.” Yes, there are websites that show me the “most beautiful libraries in the world” (swoon!).

But I think when I want to simply wander smaller stacks to find a new book to read, or when I want to repeat my earlier process and now take grandchildren to check out piles of books, we’ll walk the two blocks to our little local library.

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My mug is courtesy of my son, and I think my sister gave me the little tea guy. Just put loose-leaf tea in his pants, set him into the teacup hot tub and voila! Tea. Right now I’m drinking some loose leaf India black tea called Assam House Blend. It’s delightful!

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Mr. Tea Guy is enjoying his hot tub, and I’m enjoying my hot drink on this cold day.

In the interest of sharing a bit more about myself here–I’m ready to ‘fess up about my cats, because, yes, my son may be right. I just might be “one cat short of crazy.”

Yes, we have too many cats.

I’ll be the first to admit it.

No, we don’t live in a house of squalor with a hundred furrballs. I like to think our house is in pretty good shape, all things considered. See, here’s the deal. We moved to the country from the suburbs. I had never owned a cat in my life.

We were dog people. Small dog people. We have our little Shih Tzu named Snickers who moved with us to the country and was our only pet.

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Snickers, beloved pup.

That is, until I sat on our three-season porch one summer evening and heard a distinct mewing. With a flashlight and careful step, we located the little culprit—a black kitten with neon green eyes.

Finally, with a little string for enticement, my husband knelt down beside her and made friends. We allowed her on the porch “but not in the house.” Then, she was in the house. And in our hearts. We named her Kit Kat. Here’s a link to that story. We had her spayed and got her the shots she needed.

So we had a cat and a dog. Nice combo platter.

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Sweet Pea helps with the Christmas wrapping.

Next, my husband was working in the barn when a full-grown black and white cat jumped up on his workbench and rubbed her head against his arm. “Hello sweetheart,” he said gently, and she purred. When he left the barn, she followed. When he got to the porch and entered, she followed. When he came into the living room, she made herself at home.

Two cats and one dog. He calls her Sweet Pea.

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Pretty Petite, our “little one.”

We took her in to have her spayed, only to find she already had been. So she had belonged to someone. Had she been left? Had she run away or gotten lost? How had she found her way to us? No matter. She apparently was here to stay.

Then my husband saw in town a mama cat and three kittens, all in a cage on the front porch with the weather changing to cold. He knocked on the door and asked if he could rescue them.

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Basket of kittens.

Six cats and one dog.

The kittens grew, mama wandered, papas in the area learned of some hot chicks (kits?) new to the area. Pregnant cats.

Kittens. Too many kittens.

Kittens given away. We took one set to a farm where kids come to play with the animals. Several got taken by a few acquaintances. More spaying appointments.

Oops.

One more set of kittens.

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Molly has a “mouse” and isn’t letting go.

We put out a sign offering “Free Kittens,” but in the Indiana countryside that’s like an Eskimo offering free snow in Alaska. So that set ended up staying around. A couple of those surprised us with having one kitten before we could get them spayed. One had kittens that we tried desperately to save, but they were just born too soon.

My husband rescued yet another kitten from the side of a country road. Mama and another kitten crossed over, but this one was nearly blind from gunky eyes and full of fleas. He took this little one to the vet to get him all cleaned up. We call him Little Bit—and he’s now our biggest and heaviest cat.

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Little Bit hangs out

The numbers have fluctuated over the years as some have just disappeared—either victims of getting lost amongst the stalks of corn in the field across the way, or in the woods, or perhaps killed by a predator or a vehicle. That’s the sad part. I don’t like to think about it. But then, new ones arrive – twice we’ve had skinny, malnourished cats find their way to our doorstep and into our hearts. Both Mike and Molly are now healthy and well fed. At current count, we have eight cats. They come and go, but this is home.

So there you have it. These cats sit on my lap as I try to work, sit beside me on my desk waiting for me to put my face close for a nuzzle, lay beside me on the bed wrapped around my legs.

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Bandit and Spanky are clearly bored with me.

I wouldn’t trade these little inspirations for anything.

So sure, maybe too many cats, but all of these have found their way to us and decided to stay. So am I a crazy cat lady? Perhaps. We take care of them. We love them.

Oh, and they are all currently spayed or neutered.

Because really, eight is enough. Because more than that? Well, that would be crazy!

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It’s an odd experience to get published and not know it.

I suppose I should be glad, but it wasn’t something I ever submitted, nor did I write it for publication.

Let me explain.

Over Christmas I was visiting with family in Corry, a small town in western Pennsylvania. My sister happens to be quite the photographer and recently had two of her large photographs on display at the Painted Finch Gallery in Corry (displayed, that is, until both sold at a juried art show!). Anyway, several of us made a stop in at the gallery on Christmas eve. The gallery is an eclectic mix of wildlife oil paintings, flowers and scenery in watercolors, color and black-and-white photography, pottery, jewelry, and work in other types of mediums that I, as a non-artsy person, can’t name but can appreciate.

While the others chatted with the proprietors, I wandered. In the back, near a glass case holding jewelry and pens, was a small holder with some greeting cards and a couple of paperback books.

Of course, I picked up the books.

One was a little paperback history of the town of Wattsburg, Pennsylvania. The little borough of Wattsburg, nestled about fourteen miles northwest of Corry, happens to have been my dad’s hometown. My grandfather had lived there most of his life–even was the mail carrier for many years (I talked about that in this post). We visited nearly every summer with him and cousins who lived nearby.

The Wattsburg Historical Society

The Wattsburg Historical Society

Some of my fondest memories have to do with the Erie County Fair held annually at the Wattsburg fairgrounds. Gramps was in charge of the concessions at the fair for many years. As a young child, walking through the midway with gramps was magical. Everyone knew him. I remember him motioning to one concessioner after I had spotted among his prizes a Barbie-type doll in a beautiful lace wedding gown. Next thing I knew, the doll was in my hands. (I’m sure he settled up later.)

Many years passed and, either in high school or college, I wrote an essay about the fair and grandpa. Later, I mailed it to him, thinking he would enjoy my reflections. He passed away not many years later.

So at the art gallery, I thumbed through the book about Wattsburg’s history filled with quirky stories, anecdotes, and people’s memories. I went to the spine and copyright page (hey, I’m in publishing–it’s a habit) and saw that it was self-published. The introduction stated that the material in the book had been gleaned from the Wattsburg Historical Society. Flipping pages revealed an index in the back. I wonder if gramps is in here, I thought. Chaffee, Chaffee–there he was!

And, to my surprise, so was I.

Wait. What?

Page 49. What’s on page 49?

And there, to my astonishment, was my little essay about gramps and the Wattsburg fair.

I’m guessing that gramps received my essay in the mail and stored it among his fair papers, most of which apparently ended up in the historical society. The editors of this collection must have discovered the typewritten pages (or maybe they were handwritten, I can’t remember) among the papers and decided to publish it in this collection.

It’s a little embarrassing to read the musings of my early life (not to mention my immature writing style) from so many years ago. In the midst of my article, the editors had put a black-and-white photo of the fair committee, and among them is my dear grandfather.

So as odd as it is to be published without knowing it, I suppose for the audience of this particular book (one being my dad, who received that book the next day as a Christmas present), my little essay might bring back some good memories.

If my writing can do that, I suppose that’s all I can ask.

 

Photo courtesy of http://www.city-data.com/picfilesc/picc64500.php

 

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Thought you’d like to see a glimpse of my fan club.

My fishy fan club.

My fishy fan club.

Seriously, these little guys totally love me. They’re like groupies (not group-ers, group-ies). Whenever I walk outside my back door into the garden, they all come as one and follow me as I walk by. They dog-paddle (fish-paddle?) at the edge of the pond and watch my every move.

They totally love me.

Or, more likely, they totally think I’m going to feed them.

But still . . .

I like the fact that they notice me. I think it’s funny how they come as an entire group with their little mouths up out of the water looking at me so longingly.

When we moved into this house a few years ago, the little pond was already there with all of these fish (a neighbor recently ‘fessed up that she had taken some of the overflow from her pond and dumped them here during the year that the house was vacant). We had moved in at the end of October and didn’t have a clue what to do to winterize a pond. We figured that the house had sat vacant the winter before and no one had done anything, so we’d just let it go and see what would happen. Sure enough, the little pond froze over and got covered with a layer of snow. We figured we’d have to skim out the dead fish and start over come spring.

Then, as the water thawed, so, apparently, did the fish. By the time the Indiana air turned warm, the fish were back to their usual selves.

The moment I drop some fish food in the pond, I’ve got myself a fan club.

Wouldn’t the writing life be nice if we just dropped a few of our choice words into the world’s pond and we suddenly had such loyal fans? Fans who waited on our every word? Fans who knew we posted on our blog every week and sat by their computer, eyes wide, mouth agape, waiting for us to toss the morsels their way?

Eh, maybe not. fishies2

I just reach into the bag of fish food and toss the same morsels to those fishies every day. And they love me for it.

I can’t do that with my writing. I’m not looking to recycle a formula or take the easy route. In my blog post a couple weeks ago, I talked about the hard work of writing. Our words matter. That’s why even though only a few people may read something we write, we still agonize over what we want to say. We want to represent ourselves well, say what we mean, write something that will be enjoyable or helpful or compelling or inspiring to those folks who take a few minutes of their day to read our musings.

We do that because our writing matters so much to us.

We do that because we instinctively know that the words we put out there can have a life of their own.

Back before everyone was blogging, before Facebook and Twitter, I had a couple little books published. They’re long out of print, so imagine my surprise when a couple of years ago I found one of those books at a garage sale. (You know you’ve arrived when you find your book at a garage sale.) Then, a few years after that, when everyone was blogging and Facebooking and Tweeting, my son sent me a link to a YouTube video a woman had done to recommend another of my books.

Our words live on.

So I guess that’s my encouragement to my writing friends. You never know when a piece of your writing will rise again. Even if a book you wrote years ago went out of print causing you untold despair, it still lives on.

I tell students in Writing classes that they never know how or when a piece of writing will inspire someone. That’s why it matters so much. That’s why we do that hard work of writing. We put ourselves out there because we have something to share and we want to join our friends in digital conversation.

I’ll never know the paths my words have taken. I only know that they’re still out there with little lives of their own.

Our words matter. They live on.

Just like my fishy fan club.

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The Great Oil Spill of 2012

We have cleaned up our share of things in the basement—from the leftovers of previous owners to “water, water everywhere” (see my blog post from March 2010). This last week, however, we had a massive oil spill, maybe not the Exxon Valdez, but it seemed close.

Let me back up and explain something, especially for my non-country friends. In order to have heat out here in the country, many homes have those submarine-like containers in their yards that hold heating oil. This oil gets pumped into the house and, voilà, heat. I had seen those but never thought to wonder what they were until we were looking for homes here in the country.

Our home is equipped with a similar tank, smaller, and . . . in our basement. The big oil tanker truck pulls up to the side of the house, sticks the hose into a pipe on the outside, and sends the oil into the tank. Several hundred dollars later, we have a tank full of oil and heat for a few months, if not for the whole winter.

The first time we had oil delivered, the delivery guy came into our house to assess our drum-inside-the-house situation and give us our first lesson in how to have heat in the country in the winter. He confidently told us that the tank was so old that “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” and the gauge on the top that would tell us when we’re running low was broken (of course) and could not be replaced because “they don’t make ’em like that anymore.”

“How will we know when we’re out of oil?” my husband asked.

“When you get cold, I guess.”

And of course we did manage to run out of oil deep into that next December as the wind whipped across the fields and the vents only gave us cold air.

So we called the oil supplier who trundled up in his huge tanker truck, backed into our driveway, and began to fill the tank with oil. Actually, our first oil spill occurred then, albeit much smaller. The guy in the oil truck apologized profusely that he had let the tank overflow—he had seen it through the basement window but the gauges on his truck read differently. It was fine, really. The overflow was easily cleaned up with a couple bags of cat litter and a cold couple hours of airing out the house.

Now on to Exxon Valdez. Last week, our newly-filled oil tank sprang a leak. Just a little teeny leak in the piping that goes from the tank to the furnace. A little teeny leak that we didn’t notice until the smell of gas began to waft into the upstairs. A little teeny leak that managed to spread a sea of red liquid across half the basement.

Definitely a bit more of a mess than water. And more slippery, which I discovered when I stepped into a puddle to rescue a box, only to have both feet go right out from under me, landing with a plop on the corner of another box and into the oil. (I have the lovely black-blue-yellow-green-purple mark to prove it. Oil “slick” is not a misnomer.)

My husband turned off the valve to keep any more of our precious (and expensive) oil from draining all over the floor and we began the nasty cleanup process. We sent our son to buy out all of the cat litter at Wal-Mart (he got 30 bags—sorry to any of you who might have shopped for cat litter later that day) and the next day we got bags of the stuff auto repair garages use for soaking up oil from their floors (it’s called “Oil Dri”—imagine that!). We spread the bags over all of the oil. Today, we were able to begin the dusty process of sweeping it up, but it worked! All traces of the oil are gone.

And I’m so thankful for a husband who can manage to create a fix—even for things that “aren’t made like that anymore.”

We’re warm and dry once again.

A little sore, a little tired, but warm and dry.

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October Skies

The summer has passed and fall is upon us. Today marks two years since we trundled our way from the city to our little spot in the world we call “green acres.” My writing classmates would say it’s a cliche for me to mention that I can’t believe where the time has gone, but . . . well, I can’t. Time has flown. Changes have occurred. Many things remain the same. And all of it by God’s grace.

We came here as a married couple plus one dog. The count is now: one married couple, one dog, one part-time dog, two housecats, four barn cats, two chickens, and one rooster. I haven’t counted how many fish are in our pond, but they all slip up to the surface every morning when they see me coming to feed them–they’re my private fan club, and there are at least twenty of them.

Oh, and people-wise, we have been fortunate enough to add a son-in-law in the last year and will add a daughter-in-law next year. We are empty-nesters enjoying the benefits of an ever-expanding family.

We have lived through the four Indiana seasons twice. We have planted flowers, and borne the winds that buffeted us from across the cornfields, and shoveled snow, and mopped up water in the basement after torrential rains.

And we have enjoyed the beauty of countless sunsets. Almost every night one or the other of us will stand at the front door and say, “Come ‘ere! You gotta see this! It’s amazing!”

We’ve gotten used to traveling on tight two-lane roads without edges or curbs, often riddled with potholes. Sort of like the journey of life. Sometimes we sail along smooth roads; we’ve also managed to hit a few potholes. We get our bearings and continue on. We have places to go, people to see, things to do.

We get older. We get wiser. We appreciate what we have. We are blessed.

Under these beautiful Indiana October skies, we stand constantly amazed. We do not know what our path will look like in the coming years. But we have faith in a great God. And that makes every day an adventure.

We look around at our growing family and our many creatures and our green acres, and we can only say “Come ‘ere! You gotta see this! It’s amazing!”

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A Foul Fowl

So much for my care for our dear survivor chickens (referenced in my previous blog) . . . This past week I turned my back on our rooster and learned the hard way not to do that. The next thing I knew, I felt claws at my back that were tangled in my hair.

My Facebook update, referencing this event, led to all manner of snarky comments from “You never know what a cock-a-doodle-do” (thanks Dave), to the help from my cousin who gave me the title to this post (thanks Rhea), to Randy wondering if I’ve been eating too much at Chick-fil-A thus provoking the attack, to Maggie warning me that PETAR (People for the Ethical Treatment of Attacking Roosters) had caught wind of what happened and are now watching me.

He is a foul fowl indeed.

I admit, we don’t know much about chickens. We have to go to Google every time we have a question about what to do next. We naively let 12 of the original 15 get eaten by the local wildlife, but so far have been able to keep these last three safe. We recently visited Menards to look at paint swatches for a decorating project we’ll start next month to make this place look more “us,” and in the process, wandered into the gardening section. The helpful guy in that department listened to our dilemma and suggested that we get both chicken wire to build a pen and a set-up with low-voltage electrified wire to run around the pen that would gently zap our marauding fox should he venture too near.

We put up the chicken wire fence, creating a large area beside the barn for the chickens to wander and be safe. We never got around to installing the low-voltage wire because it didn’t take more than a couple of days for the chickens to realize that they could simply fly out of their protective area and continue to wander the yard. The three of them stay together, cawing and clucking, and, yes, cock-a-doodle dooing. Then, when they want to, they all fly back inside their penned-in area.

And apparently Mr. Rooster has decided to let us know that he is in charge here. I didn’t know that roosters crowed ALL DAY LONG. Call me stupid, but I thought they just crowed at dawn. But no, they merely START at dawn. We can tell where the three amigos are in our yard at any particular moment by listening for Mr. Rooster.

It’s funny to watch him. While most other farm animals make their noises with half-sleepy nonchalance (mooo, baaa, cawww), Mr. Rooster works hard to make his presence known. When he gets ready to cock-a-doodle-do, his neck stretches up as high as it can go, his eyes bulge out, and the piercing call comes from the very depth of his being. He is here, he is large (at least, he thinks he is), and he is in charge (ditto). The two hens will follow him in and out of the protective area. “OK lady, bring food, bring water, open and close the chicken coop door, but don’t forget who I am. Cock-a-doodle-doooo!”

Just don’t turn your back on him.

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