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.

Pinehaven - A Closer Look (Part Three)

Here's the first floor bathroom we built so many years ago (the spring of 1987). This was originally part of an indoor porch area. My brother scored the concrete floor and my cousin laid water and sewer pipes. I meanwhile, did the electrical work.

We paneled the entire bathroom, put down a nice wood floor. It's been a joy to have the convenience of a first floor bathroom for these many years. And we've not had so much as a single leak.
Below you can see our dining room. This was my maternal grandmother's table so Mom holds it especially dear. We bought the chairs about 1980 but always thought they were a good match. This view faces roughly northwest.

Now, looking more due south, you can see more of the dining room and the door which leads out onto the enclosed porch. If you've followed this blog, many of the pictures of flowers are of those that spend their winters there. With frost and cool temperatures already this fall, we've already brought all of our plants in.

Pinehaven - A Closer Look (Part Two)

Join me in the living room. The room is 25' wide, originally made by joining two rooms, probably a bedroom and a parlor. This fireplace has been one of our favorite parts of the house. The mantel is from wood taken from a barn which originally sat over on Farmersville-Germantown Pike (very near the village of Farmersville). A Buck stove insert means that it's fairly energy-efficient.

This view (below) is of the south end of the living room. My "spot" is on the left side of the couch you see. We've always admired the built-in bookcases throughout the house, particularly the one on the right side of this picture.

The north half of the living room (below) is where Dad (chair on the left) and Mom (chair on the right) have their favorite spots. Doesn't everyone? The slanted area in the middle of the picture is the underside of the steps that lead to the second floor (there's a small storage area underneath; see the small door?)

Our kitchen is also large and many a great meal has come out of there. We love the large windows that face the woods. It's a special place for watching nature.

A view of the south side of the kitchen shows the door to the bathroom which my brother and I built when we first moved here. A second floor-only bathroom would never do! Now that we're all older, it's even more convenient.
That butcher block table, now an antique (made in Michigan), has been another favorite of ours. Moving it when we had the carpet laid was a challenge. No wonder the previous owners sold it to us with the house. How could they have taken it along? It is not hollow as many are today but solid maple. I can't even imagine how much it weighs.

Pinehaven - A Closer Look (Part One)

Pinehaven basks in the August sun in this shot.
Yesterday I took a series of pictures to capture Pinehaven, inside and out.

This shot (all below the describing text) is the house taken from the north. The dark place on the bricks between the two first floor windows is where the fuel oil tank stood for many years. There's no way to clean the spot as it is the soil of the ages. It's built right into the brick, I suppose. I have to look at it only one way: it's a mark of living, of character.

The south side of the house shows the year-old heat pump and most notably to us who live here, the lack of a chimney for the furnace. We no longer need one and had the roof built over the opening. No more leaks! It's pleasant to lay abed and night and know the roof is solid, the attic dry as a bone!

The 2.5 car garage has been a Godsend. We can store so much there! In this shot, the slanted roof above the kitchen shows and the DirecTV satellite dish, just over a year old, points skyward.

The back patio, wet from a shower, has been the place of many a pleasant conversation. I've rocked in those chairs, recorder in hand, watching nature unfold her miracles here.

Finally, the barn. Situated at the south end of the property, we've never put it to good use. We should have rented the space for storage. Instead it holds wood scraps and cut wood for the fireplace. The barn is a great place to be when it rains. How noisy are the drops from there!

If there's a prettier piece of property in Montgomery County, I don't know of it. How pleasant have been these almost-23 years.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

'Praying' for spring?

It is the season of the Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) and I look forward to seeing these alien creatures each fall. For if there is not proof that extraterrestrials have visited the earth, surely it is right here in these strange insects.

Mom and I went to Miss Molly's Bakery & Cafe in Farmersville for breakfast and I parked near the bank. When we came out (about 9 a.m.) this mantis was sitting on the driver's door. I gave him a quick examination before climbing into the car - mostly to make sure he wouldn't fall into the crack of the door - and drove off, sure that the wind would blow him away. But when we arrived home, he was still clinging to the shiny surface.

Oddly, the creature has only been in the United States for 110 years. It was introduced on nursery stock from Europe in 1899 (technically, the Praying Mantis is the European Mantid). Considered a "beneficial predator", the Praying Mantis will feast on other insects. The trouble is, it will also feast on others of his same species.
Once we arrived home, I picked the insect up and deposited him on the limb of a Blue Spruce. He turned his head, looked up at me with almost a "thanks!" and scrambled up the branch. I suppose he is by now having lunch.
Come to think of it, that's a good thing to do.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Crackling Fireplace

Last evening (09/30) as we finished September, we found the evening air becoming chilly. Not yet wanting to turn on the furnace, we set up a nice fire in the fireplace. Here's the result:

This was shot through the screen so it has an unusual texture. The fire was made with wood cut here on the property, with pine cones liberally sprinkled in for their wonderful scent and a lower stack of crumpled newspapers to get the whole thing started.

I'm told that it's not wise to add charcoal to an indoor fireplace ... but we do and we've never had an ill effect. The risk is carbon monoxide poisoning, I'm told, but our CO2 detector (when we had it) never detected anything unusual. The fireplace, though, has a Buck stove insert and draws well so perhaps there is little danger with our set-up?
As the evening dragged on, the fire snapped and crackled and made lovely hissing sounds as we watched TV and had a small snack. The temperature in the dining room rose from 64 to 66. Even when we went to our beds, the fire burnt on.
It was a good night for a fire as we had our first patchy frost. That's early for us. Our usual first frost is 10/06. We bottomed out at 36 and a look into the back yard before we left with the laundry showed some of yesterday's mown grass white with frost.
What's better than having a bitterly cold fall night and not turning the furnace on? It did not cost us a cent to have the fire and pile extra blankets on the bed.