Category Archives: old house

Jack Frost Visits

Jack Frost on my windowpane in the studio.

After a balmy winter holiday, the temperatures in the Midwest plummeted.  We recorded minus 4 degrees (F) this week.  Needless to say, I’m a wuss and am not spending much time outdoors.  However, even working in my studio has challenges.

As I have mentioned before, my studio is an old summer kitchen about 30 feet from the back door.  It was designed when cooking was done on wood-fired cook stoves (which it actually had when we moved here.)  This was to keep the heat out of the house in the summer.  You’ll find one of these buildings on many old farms in southern Indiana and throughout the Midwest and South.  I am lucky that ours is about 15 x 25’, which is pretty large for a summer kitchen.  In this case, the family and field hands actually ate in the building.  It is a perfect size for a studio.

Unfortunately, the whole purpose of the design was to keep the heat out of the house so they didn’t really care about insulating the building.  Thus, it’s very drafty.  Although I have a gas heater, unless I want to go broke, I keep it turned down.  This week I was wearing a hat, many layers of clothing, two pairs of socks (the cold comes up through the floor), and I was still chilly.

I snapped this photo of the beautiful patterns of the frost on the windowpanes.  It looks like giant feathers.  With all of our insulated windows and super-heated houses, window frost has become more and more uncommon.

The beauty of nature is all around us, even in the most unlikely places.

Since I was confined to studio painting, here are a couple of my recent works.  Plus, I tweaked the still life with red cabbage and artichokes that I posted on here a few weeks ago.  Artists are never quite satisfied with their finished work. Renoir was known to bring his paints to gallery exhibits even after his paintings were hung, just so he could make changes.  I’m not quite that bad but I might fiddle around with a painting which doesn’t quite suit me.

Here’s hoping that the weather is better where you are and that warmer days will be here soon.

Artist Still Life, oil on canvas board, 10 x 10, Kit Miracle

Down by the Creek, oil on canvas, 20 x 16, Kit Miracle

Red Cabbage and Artichoke, 18 x 24, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle. Still Life revised from previous version.

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Surprises

A nest of baby mice found while splitting firewood.

Life in the country often means some hard physical labor, always trying to keep up with the garden and chores.  But sometimes there are surprises.  Yesterday morning we were splitting firewood and found this soft nest of sweet baby mice.  Look at their tiny toes and ears.  Unfortunately, mice are a constant problem in the country but today, we gently set the nest behind the woodpile.  Maybe mama will find them.

Felling a giant

Memory of a giant

Memory of a giant

Several years ago, I did a painting called “Saturday Morning.”  It basically depicted men working together on, yes, Saturday morning.  This is what people do here in the country.  You cannot do everything yourself so you pitch in and help the neighbor, or he you when you need it.

This morning we had to say goodbye to an old friend.  We have a giant elm which  was here since we bought the place over 25 years ago.  Everyone marveled at its beautiful shape and how it had magically escaped elm disease.  Unfortunately, it began dying last year and we had to take our old friend down today.  It was very close to the house and would have been a real danger during the next big storm.

Taking down the elm which was leaning one way while we wanted to fell it in another was challenging and not without risk.  Fortunately, these two guys have felled many trees but anything can happen.  I documented this not only for my old tree friend but to let you know of some of the dangers.  If you don’t know anything about taking down a tree, hire an expert.

Distractions

As an artist, I have many distractions.  Don’t we all?  With a large yard and garden, this time of year finds me outdoors most evenings and weekends.  Yes, I’d rather be painting but sometimes I have to do some other stuff.  Work for one.  Gardening.

Swifts in corner of my studio porch

Swifts in corner of my studio porch

But this spring, as the past three springs, a family of swifts have taken up residence on the porch of my summer-kitchen studio.  I don’t know why they choose this particular corner as there are plenty of other good spots – woodshed, shop, eves, …yes, even birdhouses.  So they get touchy as I go in and out of my studio which puts a bit of a damper on my painting activities, especially at night.  I even covered the window with a black drape so I wouldn’t scare them.  Sometimes I go into the studio by the side entrance although mostly I forget to unlock that door.

Also, I love to garden.  Well, I love the results of gardening…not particularly the labor that goes into making it happen.  But it beats my hours at a desk so who should complain?  My husband plants a little spring garden – lettuces, kale, onions, asparagus, tomatoes, basil.  And I plant the big garden, about a quarter of an acre.  Tomatoes, peppers, beans (those durn rabbits), peas, squashes, corn, sweet potatoes, more basil…and loads of sunflowers.  In the winter when I’m having a nice vegetable soup or some homemade salsa, I think of all the sunshine that has been captured in my vegetables.  Maybe monetarily it isn’t worth the work, but it is to the spirit and soul.

View from the patio towards the big garden

View from the patio towards the big garden

House in springtime, plein air

House in spring, final, oil on canvas 18 x 24

House in spring, final, oil on canvas 18 x 24

Plein air painting in the spring sunshine is one of my favorite things to do.  I love the fresh colors.  Check out my step-by-step page for a how to demonstration.  https://my90acres.com/artwork/plein-air-painting-in-spring-time/

Country living, the good and the bad

If you’ve been following my blog then you know that I live in a 130+ year old

Seckle Pears, also called sugar pears

farmhouse in a county that doesn’t even have a single stoplight (and they’re proud of it.)  This is a big change from the megalopolis that I lived in 25 years ago where I had to fight three and a half million people to work every day.  Yippee for rush hour!  Now my drive is about 25 minutes of beautiful rolling countryside.  Yeah, the weather can affect that which is why I have 4 wheel drive.  It’s a necessity out here.

I often have people say to me, How can you stand to be so far away from everything?  Don’t you miss the services in the big city?  What about shopping?  I just give them one of those are you kidding me? looks.  So…I have satellite TV.  I have satellite internet which is faster than my high speed internet at work.  And, well, UPS delivers.  I’m only about an hour from an international airport but I live in the middle of my 90 acres.  Taxes are low.  I can’t see even a single neighbor from my house.  And those neighbors that I have, I actually know.  As an aside, did you ever realize that when you are packed in like sardines in the city, that you often don’t even know your next door neighbor?  How sad is that? 

My mailman will actually bring a package to my door and, if I’m not home, just stick it in my studio.  My husband exchanges recipes with the UPS guy.  If you need help, you just call someone.  People actually show up!  And much of the payment for services might be a basket of pears or some fresh eggs.  Or an I’ll catch you later

In case you’re looking for your own place in the country, I can tell you that property is usually much cheaper.  My 90 acres isn’t in the heart of NYC or LA.  It’s not actually enough to make a living on unless you’re doing some intensive farming, but it’s a nice place.  In Texas this would just be a big back yard.

So, what are the disadvantages of country life?  Well, you know those friendly neighbors?  They really do want to know all your business, or at least seem to.  I’ve always contended that it would be easier to hide in a city with a million people than it would to be in a place with a million acres.  People out here notice things.  Not in a bad way necessarily, but if your cow is out, they’ll stop and tell you.  Or bring you a pie when you are sick. 

There is also that shopping thing.  When I run out of that essential ingredient for a recipe, it’s a long way to town if the local mom and pop store doesn’t carry it. (You learn to improvise a lot.)  And restaurants tend to be a little more countryfied.  You probably won’t find that goat cheese pizza at Sally’s Truck Stop.  The wine offerings at Wal-Mart are certainly limited and the clothes down at the J.C.Penny….well, let’s just stick to basics.  On the other hand, think of how much money I can save from impulse buys! 

A trip to the city usually involves a good part of a day and lots of stops.  I find myself saving up all my shopping for a single trip.  Also, there is a constant list on the fridge of what I need to buy next time I go to the big city.  But art supplies, books, even tractor parts can now be purchased on line at often cheaper prices than at the stores so what is wrong with that? I’m saving money on two fronts, i.e., not shopping as much and doing more internet shopping.

One really big advantage of living in the country is the stars!  I just love to stand out in the dark gaze at all that magnificence.  And just wait for a meteor shower!  Wow!  There are also the critters, for better or worse.  Possums and skunks, rabbits (there go my new expensive perennials), squirrels, and chipmunks.  Deer are pretty but very dangerous to vehicular traffic.  We’ve had run-ins with seven of those rats with antlers, one resulting in totalling a brand new car.  Coyotes running the creek beds on a frosty night will send shivers up your spine and make you snuggle deeper under the covers with their howls and yips.  Whipoorwills are nocturnal and blasted persistent if one happens to take up residence in a tree outside the bedroom window.  And very occasionally a bobcat which sounds like a woman screaming.  OOOOooooooo.  

But overall, the country life is the life for me.  I love the peace.  The decompression on the way home at night.  I love the change of the seasons which seem so intense. I love picking fresh vegetables from the garden or fruit from my orchards.  Yep, green acres is the place for me.  (I can’t believe I just said that.)

Handmade bricks

New - old sidewalk

New sidewalk from very old brick

This old house is at least 130 years old that we know of and, we think, about 30 years older.  The front half is log, yeah, the REAL old logs, and we think it was part of an original land grant in these parts. 

Even though we’ve lived here for over 25 years, we are always uncovering surprises.  This summer, my son who was home from college, decided to replace the brick sidewalk we had in front.  (All without any prompting from mom.  Thank you, Ben!)  A few years back we had the old metal roofs replaced (subject for another post).  In the process, it was more expedient to take off the old chimneys which were no longer used.  That pile of bricks was behind my studio.  So…my son took it upon himself to clean off all the century-old grout from the bricks.  Upon examining them closely, we realized that they were all handmade.  And if we looked really closely, we could even see the fingerprints of the maker.  That person is long gone but his legacy lives on. 

This is why I often feel the history of the old place.  Many times we get caught up in our own little immediate problems but they don’t seem so big when put in the perspective of looking back over a 150 years of births, deaths, droughts, storms, wars, and all manner of other “immediate” problems.  Makes ya think, doesn’t it?