Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Three of Us

Here we are, all three, as 2009 comes to a close. Pinehaven (the book) is already a decade old and the ravages of those ten years are written in our very bones. Lots has happened since I put that book to press and for at the past three years I've shared much of it with you here.

Here's Dad at 85 years, now in poor health and fighting bladder and bowel problems. He'll be going to the hospital in the next week for some tests and we hope he comes home feeling better and with a clearer understanding of what ails him. Dad, by the way, hasn't had a haircut in months. We called the local barber and he promised to come but we've seen nothing of him so far. Dad says he feels "like a sheepdog". I think he looks fatherly and it's an image of him I've never seen before.

Mom's now 84 and holding up well. She gets up early each morning (certainly by 5:15 a.m.) and is busy making breakfast when Dad (7:15 a.m.) and I (7:42 a.m. - precisely) rise. She's charged with making lunch, too. All other tasks (including the dishes) are shared. Mom's two main activities are reading and knitting and this is the exact spot where she does both.

For myself, I'm now 60 and beginning to show some signs of wear. On the bright side, nothing's broken or fallen off. This picture was taken by Mom as I sat in my usual spot at the end of the sofa, lit by the light from the living room window.
While we're changing by the day, Pinehaven itself seems all the more constant. We've kept the house up with steady improvements and never failed to make repairs where needed. At this point, I have no doubt that the house will handily outlast we three.
I have never taken black and white photography except to dabble in it in the 1970's. Now that we have digital cameras that produce dazzling, hi-resolution color, I thought I'd go back and have a look at the past. And so I made these shots in B/W and in as high a resolution as my camera allows (I only post thumbnails).
Unfortunately the camera did a good job of recording us as we are, blemishes, wrinkles and all. But just as we want books that ring true, so do we want our pictures to reveal the true nature of their subjects.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Every now and then on Sunday we enjoy visiting Panera Bread for their wonderful Broccoli Cheese Soup. Of course the atmosphere and the wonderful bread that goes with the soup makes the trip worthwhile.
But we like the soup more often than we can afford to buy it and so we searched for a recipe. Could the Panera version be made half so well at home?
It can .. and here's where to find the basic recipe we used.

Because we're vegetarian, that was another reason to make our own and be 100% sure it was free of all meat and meat by-products (the Panera version is probably not; they likely use chicken broth as noted in the recipe).
So we substituted Knorr Vegetarian Vegetable Bouillon for the chicken stock. The recipe is just as good - I can't tell any difference at all - and no animal is harmed in the making of this soup.
We also substituted frozen broccoli (Kroger's offers an excellent choice) for fresh. Again, it tastes just as good and is easier to make this way.
We almost never use butter, either, but usually have Blue Bonnet margarine on hand. If you're a butter chauvinist, go ahead.
Otherwise we made the recipe as noted on the link above. What a wonderful bowl of soup this makes on a cold winter day. We at Pinehaven recommend you try it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Season's First Snowfall

The season's first snowfall is always magical to me ... until I have to drive somewhere. And this morning we planned breakfast at Miss Molly's Bakery & Cafe in Farmersville with my brother, Bob. I went out and brushed a path on the back patio and Mom and I met him there at 8:45 a.m. The roads weren't too bad, actually.
What of our dinner bell at the south edge of the patio? I love how the snow, blown in from the north, plastered itself on the heavy metal top. There wasn't a very deep snow to contend with - only 1.5" - but it changed the entire atmosphere from late fall to early winter in a single night.

This view (below) is facing towards our barn from the patio. My 20" National Weather Service precipitation gauge is there on the bottom right. How pretty the tree branches were at this time of day before the temperature rose above freezing and the snow began dropping in great clumps to the ground.

Here's a shot (below) looking out our driveway (eastward) and S. Clayton Road. The maple and the overhanging pines are lovely with the night-fallen snow. The path out the drive isn't totally covered as the snow was too light for that. It means I'll be able to easily get the mail.

This shot (below) looks northwest from our patio and the burn barrel at the edge of our garden (now hidden from view but just to the right of the barrel). That's our bluebird house on the post in the distance. The row of pines, maples and pignut hickories are now wearing their winter best.

Beside the bay window at the kitchen, this horizontal branch holds our suet feeder (far bottom left, barely visible) which the woodpecker regularly enjoys. I've watched a titmouse and male cardinal feeding there, too. Farther to the right are two birdhouses, also quite hard to see with their covering of white. This shot faces roughly northeast.

Finally, looking towards the woodpile and the meadow beyond, I enjoy the wintry view most of all. In the distance, one Scotch pine is draped deep enough with snow to be bending down under the weight. A night time snow is always a surprise, even when predicted.

And so Pinehaven is now draped in its winter's coat and we are inside, snug and warm. What better place is there on earth than this?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Greetings

Happy Holidays to all of you blog readers. The poinsettia I've pictured below is sitting on the kitchen countertop by the large bay windows so that it gets enough light to keep blooming through the Christmas season.

Mom somehow manages to keep a poinsettia indefinitely. Next summer I'll see a few straggly blossoms on this very plant, I'll bet. We seem to buy them once and keep them forever. This plant, by the way, was purchased during Stockslager's open house a couple of weekends ago. $3.99! Now that's a good deal!
Anyway, you won't be getting a Christmas card from me for a couple of reasons: 1. I don't know many of my readers and 2. I don't send Christmas cards. But I send my well wishes just the same so let this be my card to you instead.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hard Water

A small pond responds quickly to changes in the weather. I suppose the pond water actually averages the extremes of recent weather and writes them on its surface. Such was the case this past week. The lovely row of White Pines, which I gaze at through the summer, is now reflected in thin ice. Isn't it odd how the reflection of the sky is bluer than the real thing?

From another angle, the southeast shore of the pond shows roughly in the icy surface. The ice itself is striated with lines, imperfect freezing brought on by the high winds perhaps?
On 12/09 I recorded a wind gust of 56 mph. The brutal Arctic cold front really pounded the area for 18 hours. Finally the winds have subsided and the temperatures have moderated. I recorded a low of 13 the last two mornings.

This cove (foreground) is shining like glass. The ice is, of course, not safe to walk upon. And the park doesn't allow skating anyway. Too bad as this would be the perfect spot.

So we have managed to get through the first cold blast. I spent a couple of nights sleeping in the living room so that I could keep an eye on the kerosene heater which we used in the kitchen. Anything that keeps the electric furnace quiet for a while is a good thing!
I awoke a couple of nights ago at 2 a.m. and as I came back to bed (i.e. the sofa), I looked out the living room window to the southeast and beheld a thin moon ever closer to new. It was just a touch of light and a star or planet hung nearby. Still, it lit the cold, bare fields and I felt the warmer for being snug within the walls of Pinehaven.
These times will not last. I know. And so I cherish them while I can.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Frost's Fine Etching

We are now in the first Arctic cold snap of the season. The daytime temperature barely made it out of the teens. And the recent rain and snow and the wild wintry winds (to 56 mph) began their usual etchings on our bathroom window.
Look at how the icy threads go every which way: horizontally, vertically, diagonally. If you look closely at the image below, you'll also see numerous "islands" of ice, spots which seem to have formed spontaneously. But even more importantly, look to the lower right where a loop of ice has formed. How is that possible? What could possibly bend the formation of ice crystals?

Or is the answer quite simple? Was it the wind?

This shot (above) is of the window on our porch (both windows presented face south) with the sun shining fully on the night's icy creation. Here the filigrees shoot off at odd angles and here, too, one bends.
Tonight we are to bottom out at 11 degrees and I suppose we will see new etchings made.
Because we fired up the kerosene heater for the first time this season - and because Dad is ill - I slept on the living room floor so I could keep an eye on things. But all was well, but for the dollars I hear the furnace burning.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fall's Final Fog?

I was out of bed at 7:30 a.m. and outside enjoying the exquisite fog not too long thereafter and I took my camera along for my morning walk. First I admired the neighboring farmer's mailbox standing at the end of his lane, rising sun as backdrop, gnarled old maple as frame.

The picture doesn't look particularly cold but I recorded a low of 30 and it hadn't risen past freezing as I shot this. About a quarter way back the lane, I turned and looked back towards S. Clayton Road and had my breath taken away by the Mockabee Farm (now owned by Coffman's) standing still in the enveloping fog. What a pretty picture the silo and barn make in their silky garb!

Nearing Sam Cornett's home, an aspen that stands by itself at the edge of a field, bare but for the fog wrapped about its branches, seemed particularly haunting in the muted light. To add another note to the scene, behind me - perhaps a quarter mile off - a lone cow was bellowing, as though the whole world had come crashing down upon its bovine shoulders. A ghost might as well have been flitting about in the mist!

Finally, as I completed my walk and again neared Pinehaven, I took a wide angle shot and then cropped the top and bottom strips from the picture, leaving only the panorama of fog-enshrouded trees. Our house - unseen - is about a quarter of the way in from the right edge.

I might have slept longer on such a misty morning - the warm electric blanket felt especially good - but I'd have missed what will surely be the fall's final fog. And that, dear reader, is not to be missed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pinehaven Coffee Cake

When we got home from the library today Mom said that she had considered making a coffee cake yesterday but decided against it. She was too tired. Of course once the bug is in my ear, I'm hungry for coffee cake!
"I'll make it," I said. And so I did.
The house now smells of the sweet scent of baking. Cinnamon lingers throughout Pinehaven.
This particular recipe, distilled from several others, has become our own. And here's how to do it ...

Pinehaven Coffee Cake
2 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening (we use stick margarine)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
3/4 cup cold coffee
chopped nuts as desired (we like black walnuts)
Combine dry ingredients except for soda and baking powder
Cut in shortening (the resultant mixture will be lumpy)
Hold out 1/2 cup of this dry mixture for the topping
To remainder, add soda and baking powder; mix thoroughly
In a small bowl (or measuring cup), beat egg into coffee (just use a fork)
Combine this liquid with the flour mixture
Pour into 9" square greased pan
Sprinkle reserved dry mixture on top; add nuts as desired
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (use a toothpick to test if done; it should pull out dry)
This is excellent with a nice cup of coffee! A note: before this is baked, the batter in the pan seems fairly slight. But it will double, so don't be worried!

We Three

Every year about this time I take our annual Christmas picture. Mom includes a copy in the Christmas cards she sends to out-of-town relatives. We figure those who live close get to see us fairly often and we don't want to put them through that any more than we have to.

Myself, 60 (l), Mom, 84 (m) and Dad, 85 (r) have managed yet another year here beneath Pinehaven's wonderful (and now dry) roof. We take the picture if for no other reason than to see for ourselves the decline that another year has brought to our fragile frames.
While Mom and I have been well, it is Dad who has been having a tough time of it. In the last week he's been fighting a urinary tract infection and the burning and pain has just about driven him crazy. He told me that last night he didn't get a minute's sleep. "I just watched the clock," he said.
That said, I suppose none of us have too many years left here. We'll enjoy - to the fullest - the time that we do.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I'm always trying to get at something from a slightly different angle. Offbeat, I suppose, and sometimes even a little crazy. Have a look at the picture below and make a guess at what's going on before scanning down the page.

Pretty clearly it's a picture of trees and clouds, perhaps even sunset clouds lit by the setting sun. Or is it a painting by Monet or some other French Impressionist?
Now have a look at the picture below ...

That's the picture as I took it, right side up. It's a picture of a row of trees at the north side of our yard as reflected in the rainwater that collected atop our burn barrel at the edge of the garden. Besides the white reflecting clouds, you're seeing the orange rust that's on the surface of the metal lid. That's responsible for the "sunset" quality of the shot.
I like how the pastel shades are somewhat prominent and the picture takes on a surreal quality, even other-worldly.
This is simply another angle one may use to view today's rainfall. It created the surface by which Pinehaven was transferred to 19th century France.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Good Bowl of Soup

It's not a cold fall day. Far from it. It's 64 degrees as I come back upstairs from my lunch. Today's menu: homemade potato soup!

Mom makes delicious soup - vegetable, bean, chili, potato - and every recipe is without a speck of meat. I became a vegetarian in 1968. My parents followed in 1980. And at first Mom thought cooking without meat would be difficult. Not so.
Have a look at the potato soup I just had for lunch. It's made totally from scratch and garnished with sprigs of homegrown parsley (we grow it on the north side of the garage; it seems to take to the shady spot).
A good hot bowl of soup is perfect now, even before the cold weather comes.

Friday, November 13, 2009


It is mid-November - or so the calendar says - and we are still enjoying our daily walks at the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Park as though it was a month earlier. The air was warm (62), the air was still and I enjoyed the sight of the pines reflecting in the tranquil water.

This deciduous tree near the ponds north edge doubled itself in the pond's surface.

And this lovely view beneath the pines which line the western edge of the pine suggested a nice place to lie down and take a nap. The pine needles and scattered cones looked positively warm in the golden rays of the setting sun.

While we (Mom and I) were driving to the pond for our walk, I noticed two sundogs, points of rainbow colors on either side of the sun. Slight cirrus clouds provided just enough water vapor for the prismatic action. I hoped to photograph them but like all ephemeral things, they were gone by the time I arrived and parked the car.
It is better that way. What we cannot quite grasp becomes all the more dear to us.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fall Sunset

With sunset an hour earlier, I was still out walking as the sun went down yesterday. Coming south on Clayton Road, I happened to look eastward towards the cell phone tower (which is itself east of Venus Road and just north of our house), and the moon was perfectly behind it, as though the top of the tower had a halo.
When I got back, I grabbed my camera and walked back up the road but by then the moon had moved quite a bit higher. Nevertheless, I found a spot which pretty well illustrates what I saw had the moon been just a tad lower.

At the bottom of the picture, the rusty-red glow of a still-to-be-harvested field of soybeans stands there in the orange sunset, highlighting the deep shade even more.
Then, as I approached home I turned westward and shot our property silhouetted by the sunset itself. You can't see it in the picture but the sky over head was a brilliant clear blue as the air cooled into the upper 40's.

This looks like a good shot to put summer to rest. The deciduous trees, now bare, ready themselves for the bitter days ahead. They cannot be far away.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

It's Halloween so Mom's brought out her terra cotta pumpkin and fired it up with a candle inside. It's a tradition here. It's just not Halloween without the pumpkin on the back porch until well after sunset. The flickering flame can be pretty eerie, I'll tell you.
That's not half of the weirdness around here this year. Have a look below:

What is the world, you may ask? For some reason Mom got the urge to make masks and the only supplies she had were paper plates. Then, how to hold them on? I suggested a couple of properly-placed holes that we could slide the earpieces of our glasses through might work (all three of us are nearly blind). It worked. You don't suppose we spent too much on costumes this year, do you?

It's odd that Mom gave me my moustache back.

OK, I admit it: the people at Pinehaven can be a little strange.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Me, Myself & the Moustache

Back in the early 1970's - probably 1972 - I began growing a moustache that I've had ever since. It was in style then. Remember the 60's?
Well, I've been tiring of it of late and needed a change. On Sunday, 10/18 I reached the point where I just said, Enough!", grabbed Dad's electric shaver with sideburn trimmer, and mowed away!
Here, then, is the "new" me:

While very few people who see me on a daily basis even mentioned it (including my brother), it sure felt different. Being covered with hair for almost four decades, I found my upper lip very sensitive to touch. Though I got rid of the moustache for the extra work is caused (constant trimming), I find that daily shaving of that real estate is not exactly a fair trade. I probably spend more time now.

Nevertheless, it is gone and I am happy about it. Unfortunately the same old face resides underneath, now even more exposed. My mouth seems too small! I have the option of growing it again someday if I decide I like myself better with fuzz. But for now, this is how it's going to be.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


A few days ago I saw a katydid on the bricks at the back of our house but I didn't have a camera with me. Later I happened to see one perched on the south window of the porch and I walked out to take a shot.

This is truly nature's living leaf. I have always loved lying in bed and listening to the late-summer sounds of the katydid. The drone is enough to quickly put me to sleep.
Particularly I used to find the insects most interesting when I was camping. I noticed that the sound fades throughout the night and ends before first light. Have you listened to the drone of a katydid (not to mention their mixture with the common cricket) until you could no longer hear them? It's like starting at a color until you can no longer see it.
Watching a katydid is fascinating to me for their perfect camouflage. What excellence nature provides the dress of this insect! With cold weather, the windows are again closed and the sound has already disappeared.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Leaf Fall

Each fall there is one day when the trees lose most of their leaves. It was the night on 10/23 this year. We had a late night rain (it began at about 5:30 a.m.) and the leaves began falling en masse in the cold, wet air. I almost had to shovel a path to the garage. Here's what the north side of our house looked like yesterday morning.

A similar view from the south shows the back porch nearly buried in gold. How I do not look forward to all that raking!

The kitchen roof is buried deeply in leaves. Next weekend, my brother will stop by and help me clean the rain gutters. I can reach the ones that are low but I can't handle the long aluminum ladder to get to the second floor. The ladder is simply too heavy for me. Each year Bob stops by and helps me set up and move the ladder around three sides of the house as I fish fistfulls of leaves from the gutters. It has to be done before freezing weather.

I thought this maple leaf (below) was particularly pretty as it floats in rainwater collected in the lid of our burn barrel. You can see the pines reflected in the water so you are looking down and up at the same time. In fact, copy this picture to your own computer (right-click; save picture as) and flip it upside down. You'll find the view enchanting (and completely reasonable) in that configuration, too.

So fall is coming to a close (even though it runs until 12/21). I consider November to be the start on winter regardless of the calendar. The days of going out without a jacket are nearly over. The golds of fall are soon to be replaced with winter whites.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall Mushrooms

I can positively identify only one mushroom enough to have it for lunch (the common morel) and this, I'm afraid, isn't it. But every day as we've walked at the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Park,. we've watched hosts of mushrooms spring up.

First it was a rather flat massive mushroom with the color of old butter and with healthy porous gills galore. After a rain, they came up in various masses, pressed together so closely that they pushed the edges of their neighbors up at odd angles.
Now these pure white mushrooms have taken over and they seem particularly well suited to life beneath the great White Pines. These push the pine needles up - even before the mushrooms are visible - so that you know where the next is about to pop.
These white mushrooms are so perfectly formed and so pristine and clean that I think I must bring them home for a meal. But, no! I know nothing of them and don't relish the thought of death at so early an age.
Better to wait for spring when the sponges again hide from me in the leaf litter of a nearby woods. They are unmistakable, they are delicious and they await me on the other side of winter like buried treasure.
Yet all mushrooms intrigue me. If not food for the body, they are all food for the soul.

Monday, October 19, 2009

First Freezing Night

Sunday morning (10/18) and we've dipped to 26 degrees and ended our growing season. The grass isn't just spotty with frost but fully white in places. I'm glad I got the back and side yards mowed. We're down to the raking of leaves and then the fall season's work will be officially ended for us.

This picture (above) is a close-up of the edge of our burn barrel, a 55 gallon metal drum which resides at the perimeter of our garden. It was feathery with frost before the sun rose and melted it in a sudden blast of light (though hardly, it seems, heat). Why does the frost form thicker crystals on the edge?

Here, then, is a wider look at the top of the barrel. The flat rusty top, which one would expect to collect the most frost, is barely white, while the curled lip of the lid is festooned with feathers of ice. There's a scientific principle at work here but I don't know what it is. It is enough to enjoy the effect, I suppose.

In the back yard, not fifteen feet away from the barrel, are red and orange maple leaves from the tree by the barn. They are also edged in frost and so the principal carries across materials. Look at the grass - and a few henbit leaves - on the ground beside the leaf, also coated in white.
This is a gorgeous season even if we've had to have the furnace early this year. Our goal is to wait until November, or as close as we can come, before adding heat to the house. But not so this year! We've added heat for the last week and a half.
What does this say about the coming winter?
My electric throw has been added to the bed and I've been content with the the lowest setting for the first week. But Saturday night I moved the dial up a notch and it felt wonderful.
So winter - almost - is upon us. Indian Summer first, of course, and we'll enjoy the warmer days ahead as we would enjoy a break during a race. The sprint has begun.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Playing Catch Up

And here's some odds 'n ends photos taken these past few days that don't really have a theme but which I'd like to share anyway.
First, one day when I walking about the yard - still in the late afternoon - I found that Mom had already turned on the window lights. I walked close to the front window and took this shot showing a reflection of the soybean field across from us. We have these window lights in both first floor front windows. With the white lacy curtains in the background, I think it's a welcoming image. Every time I come home from a meeting at night, it is these two lights I first see. They produce in me a warm feeling.

Then, this maple by the barn is turning such a lovely orange right now that it's almost startling when it comes into view. Especially after the past few cloudy days, the tree is almost blindingly bright. Ah, but soon the leaves will turn dark and fall and I'll be left to rake them and clean the rain gutters. Neither are projects I much relish.

Another view of the same tree, this from the back porch with the flag fluttering. My National Weather Service 20" rain gauge is just off the left side of this picture.

Pokeweed! I find these substantial plants coming up in the most unlikely places! This one is north of the woodpile and near the henhouse. After researching the plant, I find that the seed won't germinate until it passes through the digestive tract of a bird. So that explains the randomness of the plants, planted ny nature herself.
As a child, I once picked a bucket of these berries, thinking them elderberries. Good thing I didn't use them in the planned wine. They are poisonous. Though the green leaves may be eaten (Poke Salet), they require great care in the preparation. I won't chance it and so I have never tasted the plant. I remember my Uncle Joe and Aunt Sally considered this a delicacy, but it's one I'll willingly fore go.

Then, walking back Sam's lane, I marveled the other day at the contrast between the drying soybeans - such a golden brown color! - and the light blue sky. Pinehaven is in the right side of this picture. Doesn't this explain what we love about the place?

And so, too, I am still collecting black walnuts on my walks back Sam's lane. With each wind and each rainy day, another harvest awaits my grasp. Yesterday, just after I had passed, a nut hit the lane with such force I thought it had been thrown. It had, I suppose, by gravity.
The nuts are laid out on newspaper on the garage bench, awaiting drying. Over the early winter, when they have turned black and have dried, I'll hammer the husk off, let them dry some more, crack the nuts in our vice and take them into Mom for shelling. We will have the bitter nutmeats for the next year. My applesauce raisin cupcakes (the recipe can be found on this blog) almost requires them.
And so the fall weather is upon us here at Pinehaven and we have scenes such as these to enjoy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pinehaven - A Closer Look (Part Four)

When you climb the steps to our second floor, this is the first room you come to. Bedroom? We have a bed in it and it's certainly large enough to be a room of its own. But there's no privacy here as to get to any other room, you must first walk through this one.

Here's (below) my bedroom. It's at the southeast corner of the house. You can see another of the built-in bookcases in this picture. On the end of my bed you can see my folded-up electric throw. How nice it's been this past week. It's really not so cold yet but we've added no artificial heat so the house has slowly cooled. Having an electric blanket on a very low setting is certainly nice!

Mom's bedroom (below) is on the back of the house. The small window you see in this picture faces west and gets the worst weather. It's an Anderson we bought when we first moved here: it's double-paned and doesn't leak a drop of air.

Looking towards the north side of Mom's bedroom and you can see a third built-in bookcase.
The house is certainly too big for us at this stage of our lives. There's too much to mow, too. But who wouldn't love a place like this? I'll have happy memories forever because of Pinehaven.

Here (below) is the second floor bathroom. The shower stall is "new" from a few years back, a nice replacement for the very crude shower which was here when we moved in. I love the space afforded by a bathroom like this. In the morning, when it's cold, I use a space heater to bring it up to a pleasant temperature before getting a shower.

A fiberglass shower is easy to clean. That's the main point. Nothing sticks to it that you can't easily remove with a cleaner. The hint is to do it often - at least monthly - and a shower will stay like new, even with hard well water.
There you go. That's a current look at Pinehaven ... inside and out.