Sunday, February 16, 2014

Location, Location, Location

     The first sign of approaching spring peeked through my living room window this morning, even though there are still seventeen inches of snow in my front yard.  It wasn’t a robin, and I haven’t heard the peepers yet because they both have sense enough to wait until the weather is actually warm enough to promise spring.  But the sun doesn’t wait for the weather to change.  It courses across the sky, slowly slipping south for the winter and then rising from that low horizon as the seasons change. Today, for the first time since fall, the sun painted a faint yellow stripe on my living room wall. The northern hemisphere of the earth is once again tipping towards the sun.
     My house was built in about 1895.  We’re pretty certain of that date because we found a penciled inscription on one of the two by fours in the ceiling when we remodeled.  This house was built in a time when central heating and good insulation didn’t exist.  I think my pioneer builders planned for the sun’s position in the sky during each season.  When we remodeled, we didn’t move any windows or doors.   During our first year of living here, we noticed that, in the winter, the back side of the house gets full sun almost all day long.  That side has lots of windows, so even in the coldest weather I am cheered  by the yellow light streaming in.  In the summer, none of the windows receives full light except in the early morning and late afternoons.  And in fall and spring the light is neutral.  This beautiful arrangement means that the house is warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. 
     But, that’s not the only indication that the builders were in tune with nature.  Our house is tucked into a small hollow which shelters it from the worst of the winds, but we are just high enough that we have a spectacular view.  There’s also a spring less than thirty yards from the back door and a patch of rich soil for a garden within watering distance. 

     This morning, I was grateful for pioneer ingenuity.   That first stripe of sun painting a gold line on my living room wall was such a blessing.  Spring can’t be far behind.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Breakfast Merry-Go-Round

     Feeding the animals their morning breakfast should not be rocket science, but this morning it is.  I take the calf bottle out to the shed and hang it in the holder and then turn to the ewe, who has followed me in.  She wants her grain, but what she really wants is the calf’s grain, which I haven’t put out yet.  I persuade her to leave him and follow me back outside where I dump her grain in a pan.  The chickens come running.  I don’t want them eating her grain because it’s rather expensive, so I dip some cornmeal out and call, “Chick, chick, chick.”  The ewe comes running.  I chase her back to her dish which is full of red hens.  I chase them out and herd them over to the cornmeal, which I’ve poured in two straight lines along the ground.  The chickens settle in and I turn to the dogs.  A little kibble in the morning helps keep them warm.  When I pour Luke’s in his pan, the ewe hears the rattle and comes running.  I have inadvertently locked Luke in the shed with the calf, so I shoo the ewe back to her grain and hurry inside to free Luke so he can eat his breakfast before the ewe does. 
     When I go back out, the ewe is licking up the last of the dog food and the chickens are pecking up what she has dribbled on the ground.  I hurry over and pour Rex his breakfast and step down to the creek to dip out some water for him.  While I am down over the edge of the bank I hear him bark.  Climbing back up, I see Luke eating Rex’s food.  I chase him back to his empty bowl with a promise of more food if he’ll just be patient.  He wags and follows me back to the shed where the calf has finished his bottle.  I dip out some grain for him.  As I’m pouring it in his trough, I hear the door behind me rattle.  The ewe pushes through and I grab her by her neck wool and drag her back out the door.  The calf follows and I chase him around the shed twice before I manage to get him back inside.  The ewe has taken advantage of my distraction and slipped in to finish his grain. I pour him some more, muscle her back out, and cross back through the shed to grab a flake of hay for her.  When I go back outside, she is just finishing the chickens’ cornmeal.  Meanwhile, they have scuttled over and are eating out of the horse trough, where I had dumped some grain earlier.

     Luke has watched all of this with interest as he waits for me to refill his bowl.  I drop a little food in it for him, but the ewe runs up and pushes him out of the way.  I give up and head back to the house.  Luke runs behind me and slips in the door.  I had placed a pan of leftover gravy in the kitchen for the cats and apparently he could smell it from over at the shed.  He scatters the cats and they hiss and complain, so I shoo them outside. They have a bowl of dried food on the porch and they’ll just have to be satisfied with that.  Except it’s empty.  There’s a blue jay perched on the edge of it laughing at me as he swallows the last bite.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Too Brown or Not Too Brown?

     Check out any country decorating magazine and you will find houses with white sofas.  Really?!  White?! Have these decorators ever even been near a farm?  I can’t believe that anyone in any of those farm decorating magazines ever actually sits on the sofas and chairs that look so pretty against the robin’s egg blue walls.
     One of the hardest things for me to get used to as a farm wife was the enormous amount of dirt that finds its way inside my house.  It sneaks in on boots and pant legs and dirty hands and calf bottles.  So we built a mud porch and I believed it would capture all the dirt, just like the butter yellow one on page 23 of Good Housekeeping Magazine with the neat cubbies and tidy boot trays.  I forgot to factor in hay twine and 50 pound bags of calf milk replacer and a box full of stove wood and egg buckets and stacks of egg cartons.  I forgot that all of the boots it takes to keep a farm running won’t fit on a nifty little tray.  They barely fit on the large bookcase I placed there for them;  tumbling off to lie at odd angles on the floor.  I forgot to factor in barn coats and good coats and rain coats and coveralls.  I didn’t plan for a space to hold ear tags and syringes and stray boxes of nails and fence staples.  In fact, I would challenge any decorator to organize my ten by twelve foot mud porch in a way that would stay neat and tidy.
     Then there are my floors.  A friend and I once had a conversation about choosing floors for a farmhouse.  I was admiring her multi-colored brick design linoleum.  “Oh, it’s so ancient,” she said.  “But, I keep it because it doesn’t show dirt.”  You would never see those words in a country magazine, but it’s been my decorating philosophy for the last twenty odd years.  If it doesn’t show dirt, it stays.  I’ve had brown sofas, brown chairs, brown floors, brown trim.  There are lots of beautiful shades of brown: chocolate and ochre and clay and sienna and cedar and burnt umber.  I’ve learned to love brown because it allows me to love my family in all their farm dirt glory.  The men in my family don’t have time to unlace their boots every time they need to step in for a moment.  If I love them, I cannot ask them to go change into clean clothes before they drape their bone tired bodies on my couch.  It would be senseless to challenge them to bring in wood for the stove without dripping bits of it all over the floor.  When a calf needs to be warmed by the stove, it would be heartless to say, “Leave that mess outside!”

     Love decorates for comfort.  It finds ways to exist with the realities of the life it has chosen.  So, when my husband offered to buy me a new couch for my birthday, I began shopping on-line looking at all the shades of brown available.  Once I had an idea of what I thought would work, I took him along to help me pick it out. Joe dutifully sat on every sofa, in every show room, until we had both found one we could live with.  It was white.  Then he said, “How about we look at fabric samples and choose one we like.”  I strolled over to the sample counter, confident that I knew just the shade of brown that would work.  While I leafed through the floppy fabric books, he grabbed one and handed it to me. “How about this?” he said.  The sample was blue.  Like the top of the bowl of sky on a summer day.  A clarion, clear blue.  It might show dirt.  I stared at it longingly before answering, and good sense won over.  After all, we are middle aged and it’s high time we took some risks.  My blue sofa will be here tomorrow.