Monday, February 12, 2018

A Rough Life

 Every summer Mom and I enjoyed watching a Carolina Wren build a nest and raise a brood. We came to calling her "Carol" (creative we were not). I've written about her a number of times here on the blog. Just use the search bar.

 Carolina Wrens are common in the Miami Valley year-round and Tom and I have viewed one a number of times near the feeder this winter.

 A week or so ago, I heard a sound in the garage when I was getting ready to leave. I could not discover what had made it but I surmised it was a bird. They love to fly in when the door is open, sit in the rafters and then find themselves trapped there when the door is closed. Even if I see one and try to guide it out, they generally get confused and stay in the rafter where it must feel safe.

Last Thursday (02/08/18) as I returned in the car and opened the garage door, I saw what looked like a small ball sitting in a puddle on the floor. As I drove nearer, I saw that it was a bird.

 I figured it would move as I drove in. But when I got out of the car I found that it had not budged, even though the tires must have passed within inches.

 The bird sat in this wet spot - melted snow - and had its eyes closed and did not move as I approached. Obviously the bird was in poor shape.

 I picked it up - saw that it was a Carolina Wren - and carried it out to the wooden bench we have near the back door. I sat the bird down gently in the sunlight. It was warmer there, though the temperature never rose above the upper 20's. As my fingers warmed the bird, it made feeble chirps - not so audible as ones I could feel.

 Within a minute the bird opened its eyes. I could tell it was coming around. Had it been trapped in the garage for some days, without food and water. Was it merely weak?

 The bird looked at me as if to offer thanks. I came inside but checked back a few minutes later. The bird was gone.

 I appreciate my close encounter with a creature that would never normally let me get close. I hope this summer to find a Carolina Wren nesting nearby. I trust their numbers will continue to increase. I can already count one.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

It's looking a lot like ... winter

 Snow was predicted when I went to bed so it was no surprise to find the morning quiet and muffled as I lay in bed about 6 am. I listened for a car or a school bus to pass. Nothing. Eventually I got up and looked out the window. The ground was shrouded in white and in the sky white flakes still drifted lazily down.

 My phone lay beside me. A weather alarm was issued during the night for a "heavy precipitation event". I heard nothing. At 3 am I am as sound asleep as I get.

 I ate breakfast and counted cars passing on Clayton. One. Two. Three. That was all. School was cancelled and many people apparently had called in to work. Almost nothing was moving.

 We had just three inches of snow. No big amount. And it brings my winter total to a mere 7.5". And yet this is the most wintry we've looked all year.

 At 7 am I stepped outside ...

 The world is utterly without sound but for the whisper-soft tinkling of snow flakes as they hit the ground. It is almost imperceptible, an almost-silent background static that I me barely aware of. It is there only if I stop and listen. Like the ticking of a clock, take away your concentration for a moment and it is gone. It is merely background.

 This maple by the kitchen window is where we've hung most of our birdhouses and two feeders. It is too early for the birds. They are still asleep. This is a good morning to take it slow.

 Looking south from the back porch, the pines are covered in snow. Flakes stick to my eyelashes, dart about like summer insects.They bite in a new way.

 The driveway lies hidden beneath this new blanket. Rising up in the distance are trees more familiar when it is light. Now they are a bit sinister, even frightening. Unlike recent nights the snow is trackless. But it is also new. I usually note birds, rabbits and what I guess is a kitten, hereabouts for several nights. I have seen none of them making tracks.

 Last summer Mom and I bought a picnic table. It was something she was proud of, something she had always wanted. Only Tom and I have used it. Next summer we'll sit there again and share a whole watermelon.

 It is soon getting light and I have my weather to report. By noon I'll begin to see patches of blue in the north sky. A short while later the sun will break through. And, as I type these last lines, I hear a plow pull into my driveway and begin clearing the snow. It is a neighbor, surely, but I have no idea who. He does the work out of love and expects nothing in return.

This is a wonderful place to live. The sky buries us but a neighbor is at the ready to dig us out.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The winter ... so far

 Our winter has been cold so far, much below normal, but the snowfall has been minimal (3-1/4" in December; 3" so far in January). We've had both record lows (-14° on 01/02) and record highs (59° on 01/10). It seems as though this winter can't make up its mind.

 Overall, December was 1.5° below normal and January-to-date is running -5.2° through yesterday. Compare that to January 2017 when we ended the month a whopping 7.3° above normal). We're dry, too. December was 34%  below normal. January is running 13% below normal through today.

Here's a visual look at Pinehaven since winter began ...

 12/09 - First snow

12/09 - Very little need of a snow shovel 

12/27 - Jack Frost works the windows 

We started the day at -2°.

12/31: A view down the road 

12/31: At least the sun is shining 

12/31: Deer tracks (I believe) came right up to the house 

01/01: Overnight the temperature dipped to -8° 

01/05: The morning's low was zero and we had a
power outage that lasted nearly four hours 

 Tom and I sat on the sofa under a blanket. I fired up two kerosene space heaters and put two sawdust logs in the fireplace. The power, out at 8 am, came back on just before noon. Scary times. I worry mostly about the pipes freezing.

01/06: Cold enough? It bottomed out at -9° last night 

 01/14: Taken just as the sun rose above the distant horizon

01/14: Just 45 minutes later, the sun was muted behind clouds 
Temperature: +2°

01/17: Whose tracks are these?
Those in the know suggest squirrels which jump from spot to spot 

01/18: Sunset. It reached freezing today and seemed almost "warm" 

01/18: Sunset. Walking back the driveway after getting the mail

 So, meteorological winter (December through February) has passed the half-way point, though barely. Another forty days and the winter of 2017-18 will be history. It is so far showing itself to be an expensive one. Energy costs are killing me. For the first three weeks of January I have used over $385 worth of electricity (I read the meter weekly). With a week and a half to go, the final bill will be close to $575 unless things warm. And likely they will. Today (01/20) it is already 41° at 1:45 pm. The next two days may see readings around 50°. So a January thaw is underway.

 Just in time, too. Those rock hard nights of early January are melting into spring's hope. I think of the daffodil bulbs Tom and I planted in the fall. Are they feeling the influence of this pleasant day? Without eyes and underground, have they nevertheless noticed that the days are longer? Their signal is not visual.

 I'm beginning to feel it, too.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


 At the front of our property stood a misshapen maple that had been topped by a storm some years back. It was an odd-shaped thing: most of the limbs were on the north side and they hung nearly to the ground when fully leaved, making it difficult for me to mow. Various limbs slowly died.

 The tree had to go. Yesterday it did.

 After removing the top branches, Bob makes the first cut on the trunk. Tom stands in the background beside the lawn tractor and cart which I used to remove logs as they were cut.

 I figured the tree was about twenty feet tall (Tom estimated higher) but Bob soon had it lying on the ground and began dividing it up. He had to stop at one point and drive over to the hardware store and buy a new chain for the saw. The old one wasn't sharp enough to handle to job.

 Cutting the trunk into manageable pieces so they could be hauled away. Even so, the weight bogged down the lawn tractor and at one point I couldn't get it started. I put a charger on it for about half an hour and all was well again.

 This maple was here when we moved in nearly 31 years ago. It was a pretty tree then, shaped perfectly. But some summer thunderstorm took the entire top out of it and it was never the same.

 Just about done ...

 The interior of the tree had a pretty pattern. The wood had a rich warm glow.

 All that's left is to cut the stump off as near to the ground as possible. In the years ahead I'll mow around this spot. In a few decades it will be gone. Tom and I plan on plating a memorial tree near this spot, in honor of both Mom and Dad. It'll likely be an oak, perhaps a French Oak that will hold it's leaves throughout the winter. But that's a project for next spring.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Final Mow?

 It's November 27, just four days away from December, and I actually had to mow. This was the 27th mow of the season (yes, I keep track). Usually there are a couple of dozen mows so we're not that far removed from a normal year. But I don't think I've ever mowed this late.

 The front yard is thick and green, thanks to ample rain this year and also a lawn service I hired for the first time. We're using Lawn Plus in West Alexandria and I couldn't be happier. They made four applications this year (plus an additional one for grubs) and the lawn has responded quickly. The weeds are all but gone and the grass is thicker than ever. Only one downside: mowing.

 Likewise the south lawn looks better than ever before, I still have a mole or two but, armed with traps, I've taken 16 out of our yard just this year. Yeah, I feel a bit guilty, being a vegetarian and all. But my philosophy is "live and let live" and the moles have made a move to destroy my lawn. So it's been open season for me. I won't touch them in the ample fields and meadows that surround me.

 Finally, the north lawn is thick and green, too. When we first moved in (nearly 31 years ago), this area was virtually devoid of grass. There were patches of grass, to be sure, but you could see the bare soil everywhere. Maybe this area was used for a garden?

 The weather has been wonderful for growing grass, too. Through October we had an excess of over 7" of rainfall. And the temperatures have been warm, too. Today, for instance, we had a high of 60°. Even so, with a cold, frosty morning (28°) the day was only 7° above normal.

 So, one final mow to get the grass an even, manageable height and I think I'm really finished for this season. But I thought that in October.

... and the next day (11/28/17) I mowed the back yard. Done!

Monday, November 6, 2017


 It's been eight days since we lost Mom and I hesitate writing about it even now. The memories are still far too raw to think upon. And yet I want to get something recorded while it all fresh, as much as it hurts.

 Up until the past few months things had been going fairly well. Mom had her ailments and there was no doubt that each year added to her age made her a little more frail. First it was the necessity of a cane to get around safely. And then Dad's walker. Finally nothing was enough. On many occasions I had to bodily pick her up and help her to our portable toilet which we moved ever-closer to her chair or bed.

 Her weight dropped steadily. I saw a peak reading at nearly 90 pounds when the edema flooded her feet and legs with water her body could not rid itself of. And then, when the water came out, her weight crashed. One visit to the doctor she weighed 84 pounds. Two week later she was 79.

I told her to eat. But with mouth sores she couldn't. I tried soft foods: soup broth, oatmeal, ice cream, even liquids. She could drink part of a warm beer and I welcomed the calories. Eventually it was all too much. She had no appetite.

 In recent years Mom was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases. A recent blood test showed positive results for a third. Her body was fighting herself. [Note: Mom asked that I not publicly talk about the actual diseases and so I won't, not even after the fact]

 On Sunday October 29 she finally found her mouth pain too much to tolerate, "Agony" she said. I had told her many times in the weeks before that we needed to go to the doctor (we finally did where she was given something for dry mouth; useless)  and then finally the ER at Sycamore Medical Center.

I called the Farmersville Fire Association medics to take her to the ER in their ambulance (10/30). She said she could not possibly get to the car. That was Sunday morning. By late in the afternoon she was given Fentanyl for the pain (it erased it for an hour or two) and told a CT scan showed nothing serious. The doctors said it was likely canker sores, perhaps brought on by a recent Prolia shot at the rhematologist's.

We left to come home just before 4 pm.

 Nancy picked us up while Bob stopped at Kroger's for two prescriptions. The three of us sat on the driveway apron while we waited for Bob to arrive. I got the wheelchair ready and Bob and I carried her into the house.

 But no more did we get her into her chair than things began to change. She could not swallow the new medication. The little she put in her mouth just foamed there, wouldn't go down. "Could you call and ask them how to swallow this?" she said. I told her just like water. But she had suddenly lost the ability to swallow.

 She needed to use the toilet (of course) but could not move her legs at all. Bob  and I virtually carried her there, But sitting there her head began to fall to the side (as though she was asleep). She  also held her head like it hurt.

 Finally she said, "I can't see". I asked her if she meant her right eye, where she had lost most of the vision with one of the autoimmune diseases. "No, I can't see at all," she replied.

 Hearing those words made me think of a stroke. I stayed with her while Bob called the paramedics. They came, loaded her onto a stretcher again, and we headed out to Kettering Medical Center (Tom Wallace, the fire chief, said there'd be more people there to help her on a Sunday afternoon).

 Tom said Mom was talking to him when the trip began.But he also saw small drops of blood in each eye.

 We started out without lights and siren. But by the time we approached N. Miami Avenue and W. Central Avenue in West Carrollton, Tom called out "Lights!" and the driver began driving quickly. I suppose that was about 6:20 pm.

 I was riding up front (Tom and another paramedic were in the back with Mom). Soon I could see frantic activity, even CPR and forceful compression of her chest. Another had a respirator bag on her face. I feel that Mom died on the way to the hospital.

 What can I say that my life feel into a deep, dark hole. Coming home to an empty, cold house was harrowing. And yet it is a life I will have to get used to.

 As sick as she was, Mom stayed mostly cheerful to the end. She was never a complainer but rather an accept-er. She was a good example to all of us.

 I miss that sweet soul desperately. I was indeed lucky to have 68 years with her, almost every day spent in her shadow.

 And for now, it is all shadow.

Courtesy: Sherry Lummis

Monday, September 25, 2017

Puffball for Lunch

 When I was walking in the yard a few days ago I noticed a puffball mushroom recently up and made a mental note to check back. Yesterday, while mowing, I saw that it had grown quite large ... about four inches in diameter. I picked it and decided it would be today's lunch.

A slice of puffball mushroom for lunch

Here's how the puffball looked before I picked it ...

 I washed the mushroom with plain tap water, rubbing any dirt from the rubbery surface. And then I dried it and began slicing it. I made each slice about half an inch thick because they reduce when fried. The first slice (bottom right) I discarded. Puffballs are best when their insides are pure white, Once the spores turn yellow, they are unusable (in my opinion, anyway).

 I fried each slice individually because we have only a  small frying pan. It's just a simple matter to fry the slices in butter. Nothing else is needed beyond the addition of some salt and pepper when finished.

 As the slices fry they take on a creamy golden color. The insides stays soft and creamy, almost like brie cheese. I don't consider this mushroom to have much flavor so the butter is necessary (oil would not make them nearly so good).

 Mom and I ate about half the puffball. Lunch tomorrow is already planned.