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.