Category Archives: old house

The oldest house

Farmhouse with Red Maple

I have mentioned several times over the history of this blog how rural and sparsely populated this area is.  In fact, until just last year, we were the only county in the state that didn’t even have a stoplight…and we were proud of it.

But times change. 

This was brought home to me last week as I pulled out of our driveway and drove down our short road.  I noticed a new house being built.  Well, I knew it was being built; it’s a former neighbor who is moving back to the area.  We’re happy as they were good neighbors. 

This set me to thinking about all the new houses that have cropped up since we moved here over 35 years ago.  At that time there were only six houses on the whole two and a half mile road.  Now there are twelve.  Yeah, I know, not many but still doubled. 

This led me to reflect upon which house was the oldest house.  And…it’s OURS! 

When we bought this house at auction (that is a lot of money to spend at the drop of a hammer), it was in the position where it could have been rented out and run into the ground in about ten years, or someone could put some money into it and fix it up.  We chose to do the latter.  We had been looking for a place such as this for over a year.  We could either find a house in the country with no property, or property with no house.  Despite what the Hallmark channel would have you believe, it’s difficult to find a nice old home in the country.  Still a desirable goal but increasingly scarce.

The road out front was gravel (since paved).  We do have city water but it had only been in for about three months which is probably why there wasn’t too much competition for the home (few people knew about the city water which would have made the property more valuable.)  It’s also only a few miles from the state’s largest natural recreation area, a desirable place.  But it’s the setting that everyone always comments on as they drive up.  The house sits in the middle of the property.  We found a cornerstone that dates it to 1883 but I think it’s probably about forty years older.  Probably an original land grant, several of which we saw when we were in the market. 

The front of the house is log with layers of clapboard, insulation, and siding on the outside, and lath and plaster, new drywall inside.  The walls are about a foot thick which makes for a very quiet home.  I’ll regale you with all our adventures in remodeling a house this old some other time.

I’ve often reflected on why someone would build a house in the middle of the property rather than on the road with easier access.  The road used to kick up lots of dust but this was before automobiles.  Probably because the house site is flat with several close water sources – creeks, dug wells, springs, etc.  I have also noticed over the years that we found many pottery shards and Indian artifacts, chips, etc.  This may have been a dwelling site long before the country was settled.  The attraction of water sources, abundant wildlife, a large river a few miles away would have been the same for native Americans as they were for settlers.

This also led me to reflect on the house numbering system.  (I had a lot of time to think on the drive that morning.)  There are some places in Japan where the house numbering system is based on the age of the dwelling.  The first house on the block is number 1, the second house on the block is number 2, etc.  That is totally confusing for a person who was raised in the Midwest where roads are laid out in grids, usually of a mile.  How does anyone find a house in the Japanese system?  Do people go around and around the block until they spot the desired number? 

I am not an historian but I do enjoy learning how a community or area got settled.  It reminds me of Pete Hammill’s book Downtown: My Manhattan, Harriette Simpson Arnow’s Flowering of the Cumberland, and other similar stories.  Who came first?  What was it like then?  Why was this area selected? I’m sure that your local library, county museum, or historical society can direct you to information on the settling of your own locale.

Anyway, these are some random thoughts I had on a little trip to town the other day.    

Painting local

The Little Cottage, acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14, KitMiracle I was driving down a side street of nearby Birdseye, Indiana, when this scene captured my attention. One of the smallest houses in town with the largest tree in town. The front path and gate are framed by beautiful lavender and blue irises. Painted in heavy impasto, a very impressionist-style painting.

One of my favorite parts about traveling is seeing new vistas.  Visiting the mountains, the parks, the ocean, historical sites.  It’s all good.  I always take my art equipment and capture the areas on canvas.  Parking my easel on the edge of the Grand Canyon and painting for a couple of hours is my bliss. 

But one of the best parts about traveling is returning home and seeing your own world through new eyes.  Noticing that which you may pass every day but in a new way.  You can look at your own home town as a tourist.

At the Crossroads, Schnellville, Indiana. Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14. KitMiracle It was a spring morning and the sun was playing in and out of the clouds. This little road has many twists and curves, the beautiful hills catching the sunlight. This little crossroads only has about six houses and reminds me of many villages in Germany or France.
Seven Cedars in Spring, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12, KitMiracle. Along the same Schnellville Road, these cedar trees were silhouetted against the spring sky.

Spring here in Southern Indiana was so beautiful this year.  Often we’ll receive a late frost or freeze which pretty much ruins everything, but this year was spectacular.  The wild flowers in the forests and fields put on a show to remember.  I captured the spring greens of the fields and byways for several weeks, and even had my husband drive while I was shouting, stop here! to take photographs.

The Old Lady’s House, acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14, KitMiracle. I used to drive past this house frequently on my way to work. A very old lady lived there who always mowed her lawn by hand, and she always wore a kerchief. I think her grandson lives there now. Located in central Dubois County, this is a very typical spring view in these parts.

The results have been paintings of spring fields and crossroads, little villages, gentle vistas of all types.  Not my usual big, bold colors but a much more gentle palette.  Often painted in the style of Pissarro or Monet but not actually deliberately.  I just want to bring to the viewer’s attention and appreciation the overlooked landscapes of our everyday world.

Take a look around your own world, your home town, the back allies.  I’m sure you can find some wonderful vistas, too, which you may have overlooked a hundred times.  They’re out there, I promise.

View more about these paintings online at this link.

Spring in bloom

Several varieties of daffodils bloom throughout the spring. So easy to grow.

I wasn’t sure if spring would ever arrive this year.  We’ve had weather ranging from sleet and snow and ice, to upper 70s and 80s two days later.  Very unpredictable.

But I love the spring greens this time of year.  It only lasts a few weeks before the heavy greens roll in, but that bright yellow-green just perks me up. Didn’t we used to have a crayon called “spring green?”

The bluebell blossoms start out as pink, then turn sky blue when they open. They pair well with naturalized narcissus.
From one small patch, these blue bells have naturalized all over the yard. I have given starts away and even planted some along a wooded path last year. When they’re finished blooming, they totally die back and won’t be seen until next spring.

I have been driving around just gathering photos for future reference.  One day, I even had my husband drive the little country roads while I took pictures. Have to capture the scenery while it’s here.

However, the beauty just in my own yard has been refreshing also.  A cacophony of whites and yellows, blues and purples.  The really exciting thing about the spring flowers is that they’re so fugitive.  They don’t last for long and I know that I won’t see them for another year. And in most cases, they are pretty much maintenance-free.

Now the real work begins.  Planting the garden, preparing flower beds, trimming the lane, picking up winter debris.  It’s always something here on the farm.  But I love it.

The lilacs have been particularly spectacular this season. The scent is almost overwhelming but welcome for their few weeks of blooming.
Here are more naturalized flowers by the old well.
Wisteria on the arbor. This is the first year that our wisteria has bloomed. Such a beautiful flower but a little invasive. I have to trim it back from nearby trees and bushes.

Spring paintings

Farmhouse in Spring. Acrylic, 12 x 16. Kit Miracle

Although spring officially began a little over a week ago, the season has been sneaking up on us for a while.  The grass is greening with that lovely shade of spring green.  The trees are sporting a haze of pinky-red buds or some with more greenish buds.

The daffodils and crocuses are out.  The yard if full of spring beauties, a tiny white flower with a pink stripe.  It looks like snow in some areas.  And the forsythias in the yard and out by the road where I had my son transplant shoots over fifteen years ago.  I think it adds a little colorful surprise for passersby.

I’ve been so busy with other activities but have been able to sneak out to catch a painting or two.  These are some of my favorite recent ones.  One depicts our house sitting on the little hill with the morning sunlight catching the fronts of the buildings. The middle building behind the big house is my studio.

The second larger painting is of our North field looking west.  You can see the farm rows from last year’s crops.  The white dogwood, some redbud, and the various spring colors on the big trees.  Such a pretty time of year.

North Field in Spring. Acrylic on canvas 16 x 20. Kit Miracle

Snowmageddon

I love this view of the ice-covered branches, sparkling in the sunlight.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or on a remote island this week, you’ve heard about the huge snowstorm that swept the nation.  News stories abounded, showing endless reels of people who were worse off than you.  Ice, snow, trees crashing, roads impassable.

Well, this was our reality this week. 

The ice was the first to arrive, coating this rhododendron right outside the window.

Fortunately we had plenty of warning as we watched the storm roll up from Texas through the Ohio River Valley.  Watching hours of local weather predictors guess whether the front would stay upstate or come down our way. Where is the snow line?  Who will see sleet and ice?  It’s tiresome after awhile.

But we were a little nervous.  Ice on trees, add some wind, pop, there goes your electric for a few days.

My husband gets in pioneer mode.  Park the newer car in the garage.  Park the other vehicles away from the trees.  Make sure we have supplies in – milk, bread (I live with a guy who bakes), wine.  Check the oil lamps, the kerosene heater, the electronics are charged up as is the backup.  I spoke about this before in a previous blog.  We have a gas (propane) stove and hot water so no problem.  Can’t use the gas furnace or the wood furnace because there would be no electric to run the blowers.  But we do keep the wood fired up low to keep the pipes from freezing.

We were lucky this time.  First the ice, then some sleet, then some snow.  No wind.  No loss of power.  Just enjoy the peace inside with some books and the TV. 

View down the drive, with the late afternoon shadows. We didn’t really have any trouble getting out, especially after grading the driveway.

My husband and the neighbor got outside to grade the drive with their tractors.  I took a few walks with the dog.  The glittering ice on the trees was so beautiful, tinkling a bit with a little breeze.  Kept the birdfeeder filled.  We buy sunflower seeds in forty-pound bags. Now we’re listening to the giant thumps as the ice melts and slides off the roof.  The grandkids are over, taking more cooking lessons and playing with the toys that they don’t see every day.  Stomping and sliding outside with the dog. 

I hope you were able to find some good in the storm, even if it was just a little peaceful time to count your blessings. 

The birdfeed has been popular this week, normally with dozens of birds at a time. Cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, titmice, juncos, and more. We go through forty pounds of sunflower seeds pretty quickly.

Trees in the neighborhood

Spring is in the air down here in Southern Indiana.  The temperatures are warming.  The spring flowers are blooming.  Our yard and fields are showcasing daffodils and spring beauties.

Earlier this week I was in the woods planting some small saplings of native trees.  These are free from the state DNR.  As I was locating the new plants, I looked around at all the other trees in the area.  In the many years of living here, my boys grew up knowing how to identify trees by bark, leaves, the wood and even the smell of the wood.  But I realize that many people have never had the opportunity to explore the woods with some knowledge.  So here are some of the trees in our own woods with names that will be familiar to you.  By just the bark. 

Let’s see how good you are at identification.

Sycamores are an extraordinarily beautiful tree, especially in winter. The upper limbs show bright white against the rest of the drab forest but the lower trunk has a shaggy, peeling bark. They have very large leaves and little fuzzy seed balls. I can never see sycamores without breaking into our state song, Back Home Again In Indiana…. Now you can’t get that out of your head, can you?
This is a very large sugar maple in our front yard. In autumn, it hosts a beautiful display of reddish leaves. Actually, there were several of these trees on the property when we moved here. As you can see, the poor tree is nearly done with interior rot. We have never sugared but I imagine it was popular in the day. It was the host to a pretty neat tree house when the kids were young.
We were delighted to find a whole little grove of shagbark hickory in our woods when we moved here many years ago. It has a very distinctive shaggy bark. (Thus the name.) The nuts taste like pecans. If you can get any. The squirrels and other critters usually harvest everything.
Young locust on the left and mature locust on the right. A rather shaggy bark, these elegant trees can be found on most old homesteads. The wood was often used as fence posts as they seem to be resistant to rot. They have a small leaf so there isn’t anything to rake in the fall. They also have the most beautiful creamy white racemes of flowers with a heady perfume in the spring. The bees love them. They’re the tallest trees in our yard towering over 80 feet. They also propagate by underground runners so they might appear anywhere nearby. I don’t know if these are black locusts or honey locusts but I still love their stateliness.
This hackberry tree was a real puzzle to us when we first moved here many years ago. It has a very knobby bark and tiny whitish/green blossoms. It seems to reseed well but I don’t know if that’s an advantage. The young one on the left has more pronounced knobs but the mature one on the right is also still knobby. A good shade tree, it stands about 60 feet high in our yard.
The native dogwood tree bark reminds me of a puzzle with many interlocking pieces. These days they’re under attack from an imported disease but so far, they’re holding their own. A beautiful understory tree with large white blossoms in spring, they go unnoticed the rest of the year.
This crab apple was given to me as my first Mother’s day gift many years ago. It has a glorious display of pink flowers each spring. It’s progeny has been shared with many people. As you can see, the woodpeckers have been having a go at it as well but it’s still hanging on.
The cedar tree is often thought of as a trash tree but they are quite handy to have. We have used them as fence posts, bird feeder posts, and built an arbor out of cedar logs. We even had some milled to use as benches. They have a lovely red variegated color inside and a wonderful smell.
Wild Cherry with some problems. These trees have a very dark bark and are messy. These are not cherries to eat but contain cyanide so they can be poison to livestock and animals.

These are just a few varieties of trees on our property. I haven’t included the red and white oaks, river birch, ironwood, hazel (a bush, really), sweet gum, pines and more. What is native to your area?

Soft days of autumn

View of Madison, Indiana, from the inn. It’s a quaint, arty little town about forty minutes up the river from Louisville. I wanted to get a photo of the sunrise in the morning but the whole river valley was fogged in. Couldn’t see a foot in front of myself.

The soft days of autumn seem to be sneaking up on us. From temperatures in the 80s a week ago, to lows in the 50s and even 40s now.  I love autumn with the smell of wood smoke and newly fallen leaves.  The golden sunshine and the reds and yellows of the leaves.  Everything seems to be winding down…but not quite yet.

This is the view from the Clifty Falls Inn. That is the Ohio River and Kentucky on the other side. Another week or two, and those hills will be ablaze with color.

My husband and I visited Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, Indiana.  This 1400 acre park sits on the banks of the Ohio river and boasts some beautiful views of the river scenes, foliage, and the town of Madison. There is some great hiking here, too.  Unfortunately, with the dry September, the falls weren’t running so we’ll have to plan a visit for another time.

The variety of pumpkins and gourds at the farm was amazing. I could have brought home three times as many. But they provide a little fall color for the season. And in the end, get tossed into the chicken pen. The ladies are very appreciative.

We just spent one night at the inn but it was a pleasant getaway.  On our return, it seemed as if the leaves had begun changing colors overnight.  We stopped to buy pumpkins at the Cornucopia Family Farm.  This was our first visit but apparently they have many visitors from a wide area.  Whole families were there for the hayrides and popcorn, children’s activities and, well, to buy pumpkins.  I have never seen so many varieties.  I wanted them all but had to restrain myself.

We discovered this beautiful little country church as we were looking for the pumpkin farm.

As we drove home on the country backroads, we saw little churches and just enjoyed the day.  There were several Amish buggies on the roads.  It was Saturday, after all.  Just so relaxing to be out and about.

Late garden harvest of loads of peppers and a few tomatoes. Plenty more peppers to pick, too!

Summer tasks are winding down here on the farm.  The garden has about had it but I’m a hold out for the last green bean.  Still have plenty of peppers to pick as well as the sweet potatoes.  And the zinnias which I grow for cutting are still vibrant. Some of them are taller than me!

Firewood. This is nice, dry and seasoned firewood and splits easily. The basement is already stacked but there’s plenty more wood to split.

It’s time to put away the fishing gear. Although, really, does the season ever end? The impatiens and coleus are getting a little leggy.

The leaves are starting to turn and drop.  We usually just grind them up with the mower for mulch.  And our stack of winter firewood is growing.  We share a log splitter with the neighbor which is great for gnarly old pieces of wood.  But the boys actually like to split the wood by hand with a maul.  There is a lot more skill to this than it looks, requiring just the right swinging rhythm and twist of the wrist.  It’s nice of them to come out and help the old man out once in awhile.

The zinnias that I use for cutting are still going strong. Some of them are taller than me! In the background are the desiccated stalks of the sunflowers that the goldfinches have stripped. And those poles on the left hold motion sensitive lights which help scare away the night critters. Sometimes.

The next month will find me out tidying up the place before it gets too cold.  Maybe sitting by the firepit with a hot beverage and a book.  I hope you have a quite place to retreat, too.  Enjoy the season.

The last rose. Well maybe, maybe not. Sometimes I bring this little beauty inside in the winter just to enjoy the beautiful perfume on a cold day.

July flowers in the garden

One of the smaller sunflowers. I think it is Ring of Fire but am not positive.

The heat has arrived and the humidity has never left.  I’ve been occupied with painting in the studio but the yard and garden are never far from my mind.  A quick tour around this week reminded me that I need to get out there and weed again.  Didn’t I just weed that?  Well, time to go around again.

Zinnias which I use for casual arrangements.

The garden is going well and starting to produce.  Green beans, squash, peppers.  The snow peas are nearly past and the lettuce and asparagus are long gone.  We had to replant the corn as the first plantings weren’t doing too well.  I think probably due to some wascally wabbits.  Anyway, the next crops of corn are coming along nicely.

The hostas are almost over. These are actually light purple.

So far, only some cherry tomatoes but the other varieties are heavy with fruit.  Won’t be too long.  And the eggplant has survived the flea beetles and are looking healthy.

I love the shape of the budding sunflowers. They are such interesting flowers with lots of geometric shapes.

But I always have a passion for flowers.  They grow all over the yard.  Many perennials and some are very old as they were here when we moved here decades ago.  But the garden will always have zinnias and cosmos for cutting.  This year I have six kinds of sunflowers in two long rows.

The new sunflower patch. I’m so anxious to see the whole patch in bloom.

Plus!….I added a new 30 x 30 foot patch to plant sunflowers.  This is just below the spring garden.  And, I planted it with the birdseed sunflowers, probably oiled sunflower seeds, as I felt they probably didn’t have any chemicals on them since they were for the birds.  By the time I got to this area, I was flagging after all the other gardening work.  I just sowed the seeds, scratched them in with the rake and called it a day.  I thought the birds and the rabbits would have them all.  But, to my surprise, they took off and are now blooming.  Yes, there are some weeds in there but plenty of flowers. It’s always fun to experiment with new gardening ideas.

All the sunflowers feed the birds (or whomever).

Purple cone flowers.

The last of the lilies.

Mystery flower. These flowers started coming up in my peonies a few years ago. I let them stay as the butterflies seem to like them. But I really don’t know what they are? Any help out there would be appreciated.

A spring tour of the yard

One of my favorite views is of the front yard and the old woodshed. The white patches are swaths of spring beauties, a delicate tiny white flower with faint pink stripes. The forsythia are past but the lilies of the valley are coming in as are the day lilies.

After an unseasonably warm early spring with temperatures in the 70s and even up to 80, the flowers and other signs of spring are nearly overwhelming.  I love spring!

This old house had an abundance of established trees and flowers when we moved here but we have added many ourselves over the years.  Plus, I’m a great one for digging things up and moving them.  I’ve also shared many plants over the years with friends and family.  Did I mention how much I love spring?

Come take a little walk around the yard with me to see what is happening.

The east field is a study in various shades of green. The yellow flowers are actually weeds but they’re pretty this time of year.

Crabapple from a start from another tree in the yard. Before is a white magnolia (not in bloom yet) with shiny leaves.

Columbine. No work at all except that they spread everywhere. Such a beautiful, delicate flower.

These bluebells are so easy to grow and require no maintenance at all. They totally die back to come up again next year. I love the way they start out as pink and then the blossoms turn a beautiful sky blue. I’ve moved them all over the yard. The little white flowers are spring beauties, along with grape hyacinths, and some spent daffodils.

The lilacs were here when we bought the place. You can smell their perfume all across the yard.

Not a flower but the martin nest built on the porch of my studio. Yes, we have a martin house but the bluebirds live there. The martins usually build on top of their previous nest but it finally fell down last year. It took them about two weeks of bringing mud, weeds and moss to make this new home.

Narcissus take over after the daffodils are done.

Violets are wildflowers that some people think are weeds. But I love their beauty and variety of colors from blues to deep purples to variegated to cream.

The redbud is a delicate under-story tree which grows from central Indiana and south, throughout the Midwest and southern mountains. The flowers are directly on the branches. The heart-shaped leaves don’t come out until later. They pair well with dogwoods which are just starting to come out and the woods are loaded with them.

I love tulips but they’re difficult to grow around here. The deer think they’re candy and they often don’t make it to bloom.

We call this a tulip tree around here but it really is a variety of magnolia. It’s a new addition to the yard so we were surprised to see it bloom this year.

Azaleas. This color pairs great with the orangey/peach azalea next to it.

Putting things into perspective – not talking about art

Sunrise, a new day, a new beginning.

Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.  Helen Keller

I don’t usually comment on current events or situations, but I thought I’d do a little reflecting on the current situation that is occupying everyone’s minds these days.  With the craziness of people hoarding toilet paper or buying twenty pound bags of rice and beans, I’d like to add a few of my own thoughts on the matter

We live in a 140 year old house.  I often think about how many chicken dinners were cooked in the kitchen.  How many people have passed through the doors over the years.  That the former owners lived without electricity or central heat or running water and some of that wasn’t really that long ago.  They boiled their clothes in a tub outside.  When we first moved here, there was an outhouse in the backyard.  Although we removed it, it sure would have been handy when the kids were little so they didn’t have to come in the house to use the bathroom.

Our place is about twenty-five miles from the nearest real grocery, not counting the local dollar store for bread and milk.  This means we keep the cupboards stocked a little better than most.  But we also grow a pretty good sized garden which helps.

The power goes out once in a while when a storm has knocked a tree onto the lines.  We’re prepared with oil lamps (yes, you can still buy those at farm supply stores), or kerosene heaters, or a camp stove.  We don’t have to use those items often, but they’re handy.  When Hurricane Ike rolled through the Midwest in 2008, the power was out for five days.  Fortunately it was summer so we just opened the windows and “pioneered” it.  Our teenagers took off to stay with friends when the batteries in their devices ran down.  My husband and I enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Although we’re both retired now and don’t have to go anywhere, we’ve got plenty to occupy our time.  Clean up after-winter debris and prepare the garden for planting.  Finally get around to cleaning those attics.  Painting, of course.  Plenty of reading material.  Go fishing or biking or hiking.

We still have electricity and running water.  Really, folks, I don’t think those things are going away during this crisis.  The factories are still making toilet paper and food deliveries will still arrive from the warehouses.  Be patient and put things into perspective.

I have people from all over the world who follow this blog.  Many are not so fortunate as we are regarding supplies and medical resources.  Let us be grateful for what we do have.  Many of you are working from home or have restricted activities.  Why not take this time to enjoy your families?  Try a new recipe or two or ten.  Pretend you’re on Chopped and see what you can concoct just from your cupboards.  Spend some time with your kids or significant other.  Write your memoirs or plant some seeds.  Call your parents.  When was the last time you talked to an old friend?  Now might be a good time to catch up.  Try a new hobby, particularly if you already have the equipment sitting in the closet or basement.

Maybe we can all view this time of uncertainty and turmoil as an opportunity to reset.  Turn your faces towards the sun and feel the warmth.