I don’t know how the weather is where you are but this past week here in Southern Indiana, it’s been all over the place. A week ago the temperature was up to 82 per the weather app on my phone. In February! Yesterday, Saturday, it was a chilly 30 degrees with frost on the car windows. Friday we had four inches of rain resulting in the creek bursting out of its banks and over the driveway, storms, winds up to 60 mph, and a tornado warning sending us to the basement for a bit.
The reason we moved here 35 years ago (after ten years in Michigan) was that the winters here were relatively mild (jacket weather) and the summers were endurable. But the past couple of years have been hotter or wetter or just plain off schedule. I’ve counted the tree rings in old trees and could see the drought of the 30s (thinner rings). Maybe it’s climate change; maybe this is a normal cycle.
Spring still seems to arrive on her own schedule. Last week we went for a walk in the woods to find the tallest cedar. We did. I also spotted this tiny orange fungi. And some odd-looking bumps on a sycamore tree. I have no idea what that is.
The crocuses are still pushing up, often in odd places where I know I didn’t plant them. Can they travel? The tulips are still emerging but seem to be on the wane, most likely due to deer and rabbits. Several types of daffodils are blooming despite what Mother Nature is throwing at them. The frost doesn’t seem to affect them at all. Even the pulmonaria is pushing up. The buds are swelling on bushes and trees. We seem to be about three weeks ahead of normal…and I’m not ready for spring yet.
I was outside early yesterday morning to take photos of the golden frosty sunrise. In my robe and boots again. Thankfully we have no near neighbors as I’m sure I was an eyeful.
But I always look forward to spring’s promise no matter how fickle she is. Just no more tornado warnings, please.
What do you think of when you hear the word country?
For some, it might refer to a nation but I’m thinking of a place a little closer. For many it means a state of mind, an attitude not a specific place.
For me the term refers to a rural place, a landscape. An escape from or to. Getting back to nature. A walk in the woods. A bench in the park, or even a geranium on the window sill.
Country is a feeling, an attitude, a breath of air. The first daffodil or garden tomato. Watching a tiny spider try to climb a blade of grass. Or the cute tree frog plastered to the window at night, staring back at me with his big eyes.
I live in the country, or what many people think of when they hear that term. With fields and woods, streams and private places. In a very very old house which still echoes with the laughter of children from long ago and more recently.
The walls are a foot thick and not one of them is exactly perpendicular. And that’s OK; neither am I these days.
The best compliment I’ve ever received was from my great Aunt Catherine who was visiting many years ago. She was sitting in an old wingback chair with some music playing softly in the background. The windows were flung open to catch the breeze and she remarked, This house is just so comfortable. And isn’t that what anybody wants their guests to feel? Comfortable?
No matter where we live now, most of us are only a generation or two from the country life. Fortunately we can still experience a taste of country with that pot of tomatoes on the deck or the geranium in the window. Take a walk in the park. Feed the birds. Just sit in the shade and tune into nature’s sounds.
Frequent visits to my grandparents as a child planted the seeds of my love for the country life. Collecting still-warm eggs from the chickens. Playing with cousins in the hayloft. Giving that mean old sow a wide berth. Living on that little farm in the county was always a dream of mine.
My husband and I realized this dream thirty-five years ago when we actually bought the farm at auction. That resulted in a lot of work to bring the old place up to date. We were much younger then and had watched way too much of This Old House. Ha ha. Not quite so easy. Add a twenty-five mile commute to work (and the grocery). But it’s been fun through the years with lots of rewards (and some trials).
I love the version of country that I’ve been living for the past couple of decades but I also realize that you may have a different version. Do you decorate with simple hand-made furniture and quilts? Or put your green thumb to work on those patio plants? Maybe you can walk down to the ocean shore or river to check out the wildlife? Or are you a birder, waiting in a swamp for the first rays of dawn in order to photograph those cranes that are passing through?
What does your country look like? Is it comfortable?
Unless you were vacationing in some tropical paradise this past week, you probably are aware of the big arctic event that blasted through the center of the country this past week. After a relatively balmy fall season leading up to the holidays, this is what my little corner of the Midwest experienced this week.
The weather forecasters were urgently warning much of the nation to pay attention and take appropriate action. Which we did. The cellar was loaded with firewood in anticipation of the deep freeze. The fridge was full of the usual supplies. Our son and his girlfriend were rushed to Louisville on Thursday in anticipation of their very early flight back to the west coast on Friday. (Fortunately, they experienced only a small delay.) We made it home by early afternoon before the big blast and battened down the hatches in preparation.
By early evening, the temperatures began to drop, the misty rain turned to driving snow, and the wind cranked up the volume. It didn’t stop until today. The high here yesterday was zero. I didn’t even step foot outside the house until today when I went for a walk and to catch up on outdoor chores.
The sun was out and everything was sparkly. The bird feeder has been popular. We’ve gone through forty pounds of sunflower seeds in the past two weeks. I saw plenty of tracks here and there, especially around the mulch pile. I was looking for another visitor, too. I spotted a mink skulking about last week which was the first that I’ve seen around here. Haven’t seen any deer or turkeys but I’m sure they’re holed up somewhere. Leo the cat has been taking marathon naps and very quick trips to check the weather. The dog doesn’t care and is always ready to play with anyone who ventures outdoors.
We haven’t had a big freeze like this for many years so it’s been an adventure.
Anyway, I hope that wherever you are spending Christmas day that you’re warm and cozy and safe. Enjoy your families if you’re near, or your friends if you’re not. Or better yet, make your friends into a new family.
Let the warmth of your hearts extend to those in need. Stay safe.
August has been scorching here this summer. Too hot for outdoor work. So I spent much of the month in the studio just being an artist. This was a great respite from all the other chaos of the summer.
However, we did have a couple of days of lovely cool temperatures, in the low 80s. Fling open the windows! I took advantage of the cooler weather to clean out my studio. This meant dragging nearly everything outdoors, rewrapping and packing many of the paintings, vacuuming, debris clean out. Just making an inviting space to work again.
Our garden was in name only this summer. And I only gave cursory attention to the weeds and flowerbeds. This meant that I had plenty of time to devote to creating some art.
I began with building up some inventory, especially of sunflowers, some of my favorites. Although I usually grow several different varieties from the mammoth giants to the multi-stemmed, to all the colors that are available, this year I only had a few to work with. I planted them but they just didn’t want to make an appearance. So I used some of the many photographs that I’ve taken over the years.
I did several sheets of minis. I can get four 4 x 6 on a quarter sheet of watercolor paper. Although I often repeat a theme, they never turn out the same. I buy mats and backs in bulk so it’s pretty easy to prepare them for display or shipping.
Then I did a few larger ones. After that, I created duplicates of two local scenes. These are not standard sizes so I have to cut the mats to size for framing. More time and money involved.
Finally, the last half of the month, I was really missing our usual vacation. This was probably prompted by selling some previous western scenes so I dove into that subject. These paintings were larger and more complex, the smallest being 9 x 12 and up to 12 x 16. I have some pretty extensive photo files from some of our western vacations so plenty of subject matter to choose from. The most difficult part with these paintings is canvas prep. And trying to come up with new titles. Grand Canyon Vista #1, Grand Canyon Vista #2, etc. But it’s so satisfying to just put on some music or recorded books and zone out. Due to the many years of plein air painting, I can generally produce a painting a day, maybe two. But I did discover that I had duplicated two scenes from previous years. They came out similar but not exactly the same.
Overall production for the month of August was twenty-five. Not all are shown in the multi-image above as several were duplicates. And I didn’t work every day. It’s very rewarding to spend time alone with my thoughts and just create. To build inventory for online shops, the holidays, or local and regional shops.
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?”
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.
Posted onJanuary 2, 2022|Comments Off on Hello 2022, good bye 2021. A year in review.
I don’t know about you but the past year has certainly been a roller coaster ride, one of ups and downs, good and bad. It seems as if we’re all in a bit of a daze and ready to say good riddance to 2021.
Way back in January, we were all just beginning to fall off the cliff into the realization of the seriousness of the pandemic. Confusion reigned. Many countries were still locked down or were thinking about it. We were getting tired of being confined homebodies. But hope reigned with the news that a vaccine was on the horizon. Some of us were scrambling to make sure we could sign up as soon as possible.
On top of this, the nation looked on with alarm at the mess in the capitol before the inauguration. Most of us had never lived through anything like this but there were some memories of the demonstrations back in the 60s and 70s. Life repeats itself.
Many good things also happened this past year. For one thing, the new Thyen-Clark Cultural Center in Jasper opened. I had a small part in working on that project for ten years before I retired. Others picked up the ball and saw it to fruition. So proud of the town and citizens. What a showplace!
Remember when people were stockpiling toilet paper and bread was hard to get? I reposted my Artesian Bread recipe. My friend Miriam said that making bread was the highlight of her spring. But I was also forced to buy 25 pounds of rye flour when I couldn’t find it in smaller packages. My husband is a great bread maker. Lucky me.
After months of playing hermit, my husband and I sneaked off for a quick trip to Florida. We rented a house so we were still hermits, just with better weather.
My big solo exhibit in May / June at the cultural center went off without a hitch. It was so satisfying to see two years’ of work on the new gallery walls. Loads of visitors, including friends from all over the state. Thank you!
Spring threw some surprises at us. We had some beautiful flowers but I held off planting. Good thing as we had a very late snow on May 10th! I covered up the things that I did plant and everything turned out well.
Then there was the cicada invasion. Thousands of the little bugs, all singing their mating calls at 90 decibels. Very annoying but it passed eventually. The birds and toads were really happy.
Our garden produce was heavy and bug-free this year. We couldn’t even put up all that we grew and tried to give much of it away. All this despite the late planting, and planting fewer plants.
We were very grateful to be living in the country where we could get outside, go for a drive, eat lunch by the river.
September saw the requisite visit to the pumpkin farm. Paintings in three shows. And winding up for the holidays. Overall art sales tripled. Time to set bigger goals.
I hope that as you take time to look back over the past year, that you have some good memories, too. Let us all hope the coming year is much improved.
We’ve had some pretty warm days this past week so I thought it would be a great opportunity to plant some seeds that I’ve collected this past autumn. I had the kids help me collect a five gallon bucket of black walnuts, and I harvested all my bee balm and redbud seeds.
I took a walk up to the big woods to sow some redbud a couple of weeks ago. This is a beautiful understory tree with pinkish-purple flowers in the spring and heart-shaped leaves the rest of the year. You barely even notice the tree when it is not in bloom. It seems to grow well wherever dogwood will grow. We have lots of dogwood but no redbud except in the yard. I collected all the seed pods that I could (a two gallon bucket) and sowed half of them up in the big woods.
This week I sowed the remainder in the second-growth timber on the west side of the property. I crushed the pods by hand and just scattered them as I walked through the trees. I’m sure some will take eventually.
Also, this past fall, I collected all the bee balm seed heads that I could find. I got a coffee can full. I had noticed earlier this summer that the bee balm that I scattered along the road frontage few years ago had made a nice stand of flowers. Our pollinators always need some more help so I thought this would be a good thing. These seeds I scattered in the west second growth timber, along the lane and more road frontage. We’ll see.
The walnuts are a different matter. These are black walnuts and, as I reported earlier this fall, they can make quite a mess in the yard. Highly desired by cooks and very expensive to buy in the store, the trees can be very prolific as they were this year. We had walnuts everywhere. The trees also emit a chemical called juglone which is often poisonous to other plants nearby. Not counting the mess. I thought if I could get some to grow elsewhere on the property, then we might remove the trees close to the house. In past years, local youth groups would come and pick up the nuts and take them to the mill for money. We were happy; it helped them and they helped us.
So earlier this week I took a walk carting a heavy bucket of black walnuts and a shovel. I planted some and others I just tossed out. The squirrels do a great job of planting the nuts. An arborist friend said they do just as well to be scattered as actually planted.
So later this week, I took the remainder of the big bucket of nuts and scattered them in the woods to the north of our house. We have some oak growing there but plenty of room for more trees. We’ll see.
Looks like some cold weather moving in again so I won’t be planting any more bulbs or nuts or seeds this fall. I would be happy if even ten percent of what I sowed this fall comes up. That will make a difference. And help in my fight against the invaders of honeysuckle, multi-flora roses, Russian olives and privet.
It was nice to see that the Virginia pine trees that we planted over thirty years ago are now tall trees. But most of the white pine were eaten by the deer. Well, somebody benefits in the long run.
If you’d like to learn more about planting trees, I highly recommend the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohleben. I asked my local library to order this book last year. They were a bit skeptical and thought it would have limited interest. However, I was recently told that the book has been off the shelf ever since they got it in. Now it is in audio format, too.
October has been so busy here on the homeplace. The temperature was in the 80s at the beginning of the month. Now it has dropped to 50s in the day with dips to the 30s at night. Might have had a light frost (which I didn’t actually see) but will definitely have one later this week.
The garden has been picked clean. All of the last peppers, beans, and tomatoes have been gathered. It’s been mowed, tilled, and a winter wheat cover crop has been planted. This will get tilled under in the spring and helps provide needed body to the soil. The flower pots are being emptied and cleaned out. The spiders have been chased from their homes on the porch and all the summer shoes, boots and gardening tools have been rounded up and put away.
We’ve had a bumper crop all summer with the fruit trees being loaded so much we couldn’t pick them all. This trend is continuing into the autumn with an abundance of walnuts and persimmons. You really don’t want to stand under a walnut tree on a windy day. It sounds like gunfire. I’ve picked a bucket of redbud seedpods and have scattered them in the woods. They’re an understory tree so wherever the dogwoods grow, they’ll do fine, too. And I picked another container of beebalm seed heads. I’ll scatter those along the drive and edges of the fields. There is a nice stand of this plant where I sowed the seeds a couple of years ago.
With the warmer weather, some of the plants and bushes have been a bit mixed up. I noticed that one of my lilacs was blooming. That was a nice surprise in…er…October. And the forsythia always seems to get a second autumn bloom.
Fall break meant the grandkids got to come out and spend some country time. A walk in the woods is always fun. We never see any wildlife (due to the dog running ahead) but we spotted a great variety of mushrooms and other fungi. I took the granddaughter to see an especially lovely exhibit of paintings by Louisville artist Joyce Garner.
And I was particularly busy doing arty things. Driving one way to drop off paintings for a show, and the other way to pick up some work. Often in the same day! Recorded books make the time go by quicker.
And finally, went to my class reunion. Who are all these old people?! It had been postponed from last year due to COVID, but it was nice to reconnect with some old friends. It’s a lot of hard work so kudos to the committee who tirelessly kept prodding everyone to sign up, and actually show up. Another long drive accompanied by recorded books. And some beautiful fall scenery.
On this last day of October, celebrate a little. Go out and beat the drums and howl at the moon. Or maybe snitch a piece or two of candy from any little people who may live with you. Or buy an extra bag for yourself. Happy Halloween!
The day started out gloomy and rainy. But after a couple of hours the sun was out and we were ready to make our annual visit to the pumpkin patch. It turned out to be a beautiful day for a drive with the grandkids, plus, it was my husband’s birthday. The kids didn’t know where we were taking them, just that it was somewhere special.
It is a little drive in the country, about 60 miles, but it was a beautiful day for an outing. We saw some Amish people putting up corn in shocks, the old fashioned way. I remember my grandfather doing it that way. And passed a lake with many water lilies and swans. Farms with donkeys, goats, cows and some big, big fields. Some farmers were already harvesting. The leaves are just starting to turn colors.
We arrived at the pumpkin patch before the big weekend crowds. I expect many people were a bit put off by the weather, or maybe we were visiting earlier than we have in the past. Cornucopia Farms is so well-organized. In addition to their large offerings of pumpkins and squash of every variety, they offer mums, fresh flowers, good things to eat, lots of activities, such as, hay rides, a corn maze, and so much more.
But we were on the hunt for that special pumpkin. Of course, we found many, many. They mostly charge by the pound for the special varieties, but flat fees for others. It doesn’t matter. I seem to lose all sense when it comes to this seasonal decoration.
After pulling our wagon (provided) around, it was full within a short time. We got the gnarly ones with warts, the large orange ones, the little white ones, striped, speckled. You name it. Plus some yummy things to eat later.
Last year I painted several paintings from my pumpkin patch adventures but I’m not sure I can do so this year. I’m just so busy with other projects right now. But I’ll try to post some more photos later of our day’s adventure.
If you’re looking for a fun fall activity for the family, I highly recommend a drive through the country and a visit to your local pumpkin patch. Enjoyable for all.
It’s that time of year in the garden. I have been picking tomatoes by the five-gallon bucket load. The freezer is full and we have just about run out of room.
We have been growing tomatoes for decades. We try different varieties. Some years we like this one, another year we might like another one. This year I decided to make a semi-scientific analysis of the different varieties that we usually gravitate to.
First of all, I don’t start any plants from seed anymore. Been there, done that. I can usually find a good variety in the local stores and garden centers. Also, we don’t use any sprays and rarely fertilizer (none this year.) But I do rotate the crops in the garden so the same thing is not planted in the same place each year.
This year I planted fifteen tomato plants (not counting the five that I planted in the spring garden). I have planted as many as sixty-four plants in the past but that is ridiculous. The varieties that I planted this year are: Goliath, San Marzano, Roma, Better Boy, Pink Brandywine, Red Beefsteak, and Park Whopper. Not counting the cherry tomatoes (Sweet 100 and Yellow Pear). I did all the planting on May 15th because we had a very late freeze and SNOW earlier. We had plenty of rain earlier but not too much since mid July. Sometimes we’ll water, especially if the plants are little but usually not. I planted the seedlings very far apart, about five feet, so they had plenty of room and we could get down the rows with the tiller. We also put them up in cages with stakes and ties.
I have lost track of how many tomatoes that I’ve picked but in just one day last week, I picked three five-gallon buckets and gave one away. I have to pick about every three or four days. Our freezer is full.
So let’s go down the list.
Goliath. We’ve liked this tomato in the past and it started off well but slowed down. I paid a lot for just one plant so will probably not plant it again next year.
San Marzano. This is supposedly the king of Italian tomatoes. VERY prolific. I can pull the tomatoes off the vine in handfuls, like grapes. But they seem a little dry and have quite a bit of white/green core which is not tasty.
Roma. We’ve grown these before but they really produced this year. Much larger than the San Marzanos which was a surprise. Very meaty but sometimes a little black inside which is probably blossom end rot from uneven watering.
Better Boy. Good but nothing to write home about. Will probably pass next year.
Pink Brandywine. These were a real surprise. The tomatoes are huge, at least six or even seven inches across. A beautiful pink color and low acid. Really tasty and very meaty. One slice is enough for a sandwich.
Red Beefsteak. Very meaty but knobby. Difficult to use for a slicing tomato but pretty good for canning. However, not worth the trouble even though they are so large and produce well.
Celebrity. We’ve grown these before but for not for the past few years. VERY good producers. The tomatoes just keep coming. Great for putting up or eating just plain.
Park Whopper. We were told by a friend that this is his favorite tomato so we thought we’d give it a try. Very consistent shape, good taste, but not very large. And they’re petering out, even in mid-August.
The final verdict? We’ll definitely plant the Pink Brandywines, Romas and Celebrities next year. But….depends upon what other options catch my attention.
Meanwhile, back to the salt mines…er ummm….the garden. And don’t talk to me about beans and corn. Ha!
I'm a professional artist, retired director of a performing arts center, bona fide book addict, and enjoy the quiet life...most of the time. I'd love to hear from you or get your ideas for future posts. Come back soon!