Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Miracle

My jade plant is blooming. A rose in December may be possible in England, but it stands the same chances in northern Pennsylvania as a snowball in hell. And here, even less likely--the indoor blooming jade plant. This thing is almost 5 feet tall and probably outweighs me, which explains why it has not left its south-facing window in years. It was started by a cat, now deceased, who, during her kitten rampages around the house, took a cutting from the plant of my friend, now deceased. Happy New Year, friends and pets on both sides of the great divide.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Using A Fat-Old-Cat-O-Meter to Optimize Burn Rate & Fuel Usage in Your Woodstove

The beginning woodstove owner may question whether they are operating the stove properly, and getting the optimal amount of heat per stick of firewood. The Fat-Old-Cat-O-Meter is a simple tool that takes the guesswork out of deciding when to add another log to the fire, and when to open or close the damper (air intake). The large indicator on the Fat-Old-Cat-O-Meter is easy to read even with your glasses off, and because its working parts work as little as possible, it will provide reliable feedback for many years.

Fat-Old-Cat-O-Meter Guide to Fuel Usage & Damper Position in Common Situations

  • ·      Indicator lying directly on hearthrug: Fuel quantity ideal, burn rate well calibrated.
  • ·      Indicator off at a distance but still in the same room: Damp it down a little, you’re burning too hard. (See illustration.)
  • ·      Indicator hugging chimneystack in upstairs hallway: Fire has died down overnight. Add fuel and open damper.
  • ·      Indicator smoking: Close the stove door, extinguish the indicator without waking it. Fuel and damper probably OK. Do not operate woodstove with door open.
  • ·      Indicator in the dog bed all the way at the other end of the house: Did you get that firewood for free? Are you hoping to move your truck into the garage after the wood is gone? Damp it way down and don’t add any more logs until it’s nothing but coals. Wasteful jackass.
Good luck with your new woodstove. We wish you many years of comfort and energy independence!

Monday, November 3, 2014

I Go Out Walkin' After Midnight

This is our tipi. If you look carefully at its interior you will see an old brown Adirondack chair. And then you will know where the center of the tipi was until we were visited by this weekend's high winds, under whose influence the tipi started heading south, literally. Fortunately, when it got light out Sunday morning, John noticed the effect that the cover was having on the frame, and struck the mainsail before the whole thing sank.

In the background to the left you can see a side view of the partially fallen tree we talked about last time.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Archaeology by Nonhumans

This fringe of roots is still attached to a tree that blew over in a hurricane about two years ago. The tree is still alive and growing aslant, with its limbs resting comfortably in the limbs of another tree some distance away. When the root mat flipped up, I naturally could not wait to look under it. There I found a rectangular stone box with fitted lid that I think may have been a water feature back in the Sheep Days (the earth is full of springs around here). I thought this was a sufficiently thrilling discovery to do for one downed tree, but this summer, as you can see on the left of the photo above, some helpful groundhog (Marmota utilis digibus) in the course of her labors, started tossing up terra cotta pipe fragments from the burrow she sited under the root mat overhang. You must admit, this is a very convenient spot to live, as it includes this huge covered porch. So I think the pipe shards are definitely associated with drainage, but I don't know if the groundhog hit a refuse dump full of broken piping (middens are another thing we have a lot of here), or if she is burrowing right through the old drain system itself, long since crushed by the weight of the world. In any event, water and marmots and the passage of time, and the passage of water and marmots through time, seem to be the theme of the day.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Severed Limbs

Just in time for Halloween, Great Aunt Matilda has been reduced to a pile of severed limbs. She was the enormous and fabulously old Christmas cactus I inherited when my friend Rodrica moved away, and she did alright for a while, until the summer that my daughter was in the hospital and I spent a lot of time driving back and forth. Whenever I got home, I watered the plants, on the theory that I didn’t want my plants to die and who knew when I might be back again? Consequently Great Aunt Matilda began a downward spiral that I just this morning realized was caused by root rot. However, unlike GAM, I am not ready to lie down and die. I saw where Lestat the vampire is back again, and if he can do it, so can we. 

I partsed out Great Aunt Matilda, threw out her truly disgusting crown and nasty soil, and am presently aging off her cuttings in the nice warm kitchen, whence they will be re-planted into a scrupulously moist-but-never-wet, highly porous soil and given literally THE BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE. Which in our case means against the back wall of the south-facing, upstairs media room, a place suffused with bright indirect light. If she likes violent video games, moody French cinema and TV crime dramas of questionable intelligence, all the better. She will be borne forth in her clay litter to summer in the tubercular ward, if she lives that long. She will be treated to kelp cocktails. She will be fawned over tirelessly. This is an explicit bribe. 

I only hope it works.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Welcome Home Delegation Arrives at Woodbourne by Balloon

Fact: no cup of perfectly balanced, tropical terroir coffee, steam-brewed by a free-range barista imported from Seattle and shaman-certified to have a wholesome aura can beat a cup of $7 a pound grocery store coffee that you drink while walking your own goldenrod fields with your own dogs.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Garlic Scape Apocalypse

A couple weeks ago I pulled all the garlic and laid it on the front porch to cure for awhile before I hang it in the cellar. After a few days, the garlic scapes lifted up into the air, I guess so as to continue blooming unimpeded. It's a little creepy.

I said to my son, "I don't like that these garlic plants are strategizing. It's like they're conscious. I don't eat things that used to be conscious."

He said, "Their consciousness is just a chemical cascade."

I said, "So is mine."

"Well, you're screwed then. You have to stop eating."

I am eating anyway. I am just making sure to say thank you first.

Monday, June 23, 2014


John removed a bunch of brambles from one end of the shrub border a summer or two ago by scraping them off the face of the earth with the bucket of the tractor. Now a great clump of foxgloves has volunteered on the spot! There are a lot of foxgloves sprinkled around the hill, but I didn't realize they would lie dormant in the soil, awaiting their chance at conquest. This makes me want to go around experimentally scraping places here and there to see what happens. Sure, you might get yellow dock and pig-ear plantain, or you might get extravagant columns of pink and white bells!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Return of the Native

Almost ten years ago, the viburnum leaf beetle arrived in our orchard and ran through the highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulum var. americanum) like forest fire. For years we saw scarcely a leaf of it anywhere. But last year or the one before, little short bushes began to appear in our brush islands, and now look! The cranberries are flowering again! Planting for wildlife is one of my guiding principals in developing our place, so I am overjoyed.

In other red news, we learned this week that the chicken and duck flock on the next hill to the north was wiped out in its entirety by a bobcat, who was caught red-mustached on the neighbor’s gamecam. I suspect this is the individual who killed Enterprise.

And the latest tooth-and-claw update—the ducks went way too far from the house and were attacked in broad daylight by a very large raccoon, who was then killed on the road that night, no doubt leaving behind a litter of orphans. Brutish, nasty and short—an excellent summation. The ducks are confined to quarters, where they are nursing neck wounds and testing the new fencing for weaknesses.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Murder Most Fowl

Enterprise was dragged from her bed and murdered during the night. I don't know who the perpetrator was, but it must have been someone large and strong and gutsy, to walk right into a barn full of sheep and hissing geese and haul away a 20 pound turkey. I'm glad she jumped down out of the Hen Room on Easter Sunday and spent her last couple of weeks getting some sun and hanging around with other animals.

The sliding door to the Sheep Room no longer closes, and I am uneasy for the 3-Headed Goose that is sitting on the next nest over from where Enterprise was snatched. The geese are a lot louder and more violent than the gentle, docile turkey, but they are still essentially helpless against carnivores.

As you have probably guessed, John is going to Colorado tonight.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Easter Turkey

Turkey eggs rock! They are big and speckled! They make great Easter eggs! And they will make enormous deviled eggs next week!

Enterprise, the turkey, has a hard time walking now, because she is an overbred White. Fortunately she has decided to turn things to her advantage by sitting on her eggs (but not until I got enough for the holiday). There is no male turkey, so there will be no poults, but it gives her something to do.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Beans Are Done

Those Salem Witch Trials hearth-baked beans? If you wanted them for supper tonight, you should have started them when you got home from the courthouse in 1692. Possibly if you grew them yourself it would take less time to cook them. In fact, growing them yourself and then cooking them in the fire might take less time than cooking store-bought beans there. Because OH my god. How old are these things anyway? My next experiment will involve pressure cooking these store-bought beans for about an hour at temperatures typically only available on the planet Mercury and THEN letting them spend 9 hours in the fire, getting all savory.

The other problem being that an unscrupulous person, and I use the term loosely, sold us unseasoned firewood in the middle of winter. So not unlike the cook fires of Salem in the late 17th century, this wood is bewitched and will not burn. Either that or it's that new fireproof safety wood from Monsanto.  In any event, the whole Sugaring On The Coronet plan is off until next year, when my woodshed will be in better order and my temper will have receded to its normal placid levels.

I am full of gratitude that my life and my family’s lives do not depend on this firewood and these beans. As my off the grid friends say, “Praise the fossil fuels.” Only I, you know, actually mean it.