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First frost tonite!

"Almost Lost" dishclothsDirk cutting brush

October 17, 2015

It’s been a long time and a lot of yard work since last I wrote in this blog. Now that the big rush to beat the cold has walked right up to the line, I think—I HOPE—I’m ready to let go of my garden, inherited from Sue, the wife of the previous owner, now in Heaven, and let the garden sleep. Sometimes I talk with her about her plants, which I’m now nurturing, and I hope she approves of my moving things to areas with more sun, since the trees keep growing taller. I haven’t seen any butterflies for quite a while, although honey bees and bumble bees are around daily. Japanese Dogwood has dropped its bumpy pink nickel-sized fruit, and the bees are all over it. My buttefly/honey bee garden has thrived, even in limited sun, and I hope it will come up in spring. The bees are enjoying the hummingbird feeders, so I’ve left them up until the bees go to bed for the winter, too. I know Dick, our neighbor who sells lovely honey from his hives, won’t mind if they have a little extra sugar. I did as I had planned:  when walking the dogs, when they did “no. 2,” I buried it and planted clover seed over and around the area, so I hope in spring, to see little surprise clover patches all around, beside the roads. I saved that clover seed for that express purpose, when I gave away all the left-over rye grass and vetch seed I’d use twice a year to enhance the sheep pasture, to my shepherd-friends!

I miss the security of having an endless supply of manure for my gardens, to mulch things over winter, as well as to keep weeds down in summer. Weeds aren’t such a problem here, since the soil is so poor—sand and rocks, mostly. We’ve been composting all summer, kitchen scraps go right into the flower beds, and Dirk has a small mountain of grass clippings that he keeps turning. I’m actually finding the occasional earthworm, a sign of progress. Yesterday, walking along the Town Beach, I kicked the seaweed, and realized with a shock that I now had all the mulch I wanted! If it was good enough for my Irish ancestors, to fertilize their fields, it’s good enough for me! I had a bucket in the car, so filled that one and brought it home. Today, running right up to the frost threat, I filled three more buckets with seaweed from the beach, where the high tide leaves a line of it. Dirk kindly carried most of it to the car for me—it was pretty light, since it hasn’t rained the past couple days, and it was four hours after high tide. Now when I walk around my bee garden, rose bushes, and Beauty Berry, I smell the tang of the sea 🙂  I hope the cozy blanket will shelter things that haven’t had much time to establish a good root system yet. As a final touch, I swept and raked up several buckets of leaves and dumped those over the most vulnerable plants, inside their small fenced-enclosures. Now I can only hope. Who knew I’d be trading sheep manure for seaweed!

I dug up the iris in two beds over the past month and re-planted it in new beds, with lots of space for it to spread out. I’ve moved my small piece of my great-grandmother Jordan’s peony, which my Dad had moved to Robert Jordan’s yard for safe keeping at least 30 years ago, to a sunny spot. Two of Sue’s peonies, which are competing with shade and tree roots, have also moved to that more sunny flower bed. Today I planted the last plant waiting for me to figure out where to put it—a red rose bush. I needed to move some lilies to do that, so about half of those are in a new garden, also, and mulched with sea weed. After two cold nights, it will get warmer for a week, and I can add a layer of leaves for winter. I’ve covered my flower garden, hoping for that extra week of color. Today I bought some crocus, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs for the spring garden, as well as paper whites to force inside.

I have lots of pots to tend over winter. We picked up some shelves today to stand in a sunny west window. Rosemary, lavender, catnip as well as some flowers are in pots to enjoy. I planted basil seeds around the edge of the rosemary, so maybe I’ll have basil sprouts, along with the pot of oregano which is inside now. I have a bowl of meadow mint tea, trimmed from the plant after dark, while I balanced a spotlight between my knees, to wash and store in the freezer for pitchers of delicious tea over winter. After I picked it, I covered the bed in seaweed, and a bucket of leaves. I’ll put the frozen mint tea leaves beside the bag of frozen basil, to brighten up dreary winter days to come.Since I picked some of the catnip and let the cats all share it, I’m now hearing yowling and scuffling of cats drugged on their favorite herb. I have a catnip plant in a pot, alongside some sprouted corn (they eat the leaves like it was grass) but I doubt it’ll last until Christmas, the way the cats are enjoying it!

Yesterday and today were the Senior Center Bazaar, where a great many people strolled through buying gifts for their family and friends. Our knitting group’s one large area had taken in over $700 the first day, double last year’s earnings! The more knitters there are donating items, the more variety there is, and this is a group of around 30 women, so they had a great many neat creations. My dozen pairs of mittens were all gone but two pairs when I left yesterday! I had also done eight of the “Almost Forgotten Dishcloths,” (thanks, Katie Verna for the pattern!) and some of those went, also. Since I was gardening today, racing to beat the frost, I don’t know the final tally yet.

Our organist/choir director had shoulder surgery recently, and is on the mend, while we sing with a sub. director, who is very skillful, also. Dirk and I miss our a cappella congregational singing of some rousing hymns in the Mennonite tradition. The choir director said she’d like to see our hymnal sometime, and now that she’s mostly resting, we’re bringing her one of her own next week. I’m looking forward to a small hymn-sing as we sing her some of our favorite hymns, and leave her a list of more, along with her own book. I’ve had the sort of sad process of paging through the hymnal making a list of our favorite hymns. I do miss our old church, although we’re very much enjoying our new one, as well.

We celebrated the birthday of one of our neighbors last week, and got to know neighbors all around us. It’s humbling to realize that they all live in homes built in the 1920’s by their grandparents! We’re definitely the new guys on the block. Having my mother’s family’s roots here helps me feel at home, however. I hope, as time goes by, to meet more of my distant cousins. One of the women at church is one of those, having an ancestor who married my ancestor in the late 1700’s. Small world! Our house was also built in the late 1920’s, so the age of the house is the same, but the family line is not.

Now the weather’s getting chilly, my warm-weather hand-spun, hand-knitted items are coming out. People keep petting my cria-alpaca shawl (thanks, Punky, for that windfall of unwanted alpaca!). I wore my purple sweater, last year’s NC State Fair first-prize, with wide cuffs of Elaina’s wool/mohair/angora roving which I spun—and people are petting that, too! There’s something special about spinning my own fiber. People who have only bought wool really don’t know there is such a difference between commercial yarn and the special long-staple, soft, hand-spun. It’s so soft, I can well understand people stroking it, smiling. They tell me about the wool they can’t wear because it’s itchy, and I wouldn’t wear that, either. Feels like steel wool. Sad that there’s not a different name for “wool” to indicate the soft kind. Well—I guess there is: “handspun,” as long as the fiber is evaluated before buying for fine and soft, long-staple wool.

I’ve been bringing my spinning wheel to the town dock in the late afternoons. Some women I know from the knitting group routinely go there to feed the ducks and visit until it starts getting dark. Amazing how early that suddenly has become! They used to sit there and relax until nine in the evening. I think as much about spinning with that group as I would about knitting, but the amazed look on peoples’ faces still tickles me. I’m getting some spinning done in good company, watching sail boats come and go, people sailing by on paddle boards and kayaks, and occasionally a visit by the harbormaster’s police boat. The tide comes and goes, boats rise and fall, water sparkles in the sun, wind blows my roving around, people come, sit and visit, and go again, and the world seems to spin just as it did before we moved to RI, except for the bonus of the salt air—oh, and seaweed!


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July 24, 2012

 It rained! It rained buckets-full in an hour! Less than an inch, says the rain gauge. But for the first time in 2 months it RAINED! My rain barrel was so near to empty I tilted it forward to fill the last bucket of water I drained from it yesterday. All my rain buckets on the deck were empty. The well was producing so poorly that the pump turned off in less than 10 minutes of watering the garden and barely ran from faucets inside. Last year we had 20 minutes to water the garden, and the well was not on empty. I started to think I’d need to ask the neighbors where they were buying water in Apex to fill a tank under their house, so they’d have water to run out of the faucets.

 During rolling thunder, lightning flashing around as I duck, I dodge back into the garage when a really loud boom blasted some poor pine tree, I pull Dirk from his computer to saw off the lower end of a drain spout that at present runs water out into the woods. Problem–it was completely filled with black mulch, years’ accumulation of old, composted, pine needles. I found a short screw driver to shove up inside while a great deal of water was pushing down, and it took only a few jabs with the tool, and banging on the drain spout to loosen it up, and we had some good rich mulch for the garden, followed by a gush of water.  We have a large, black, water tub which used to be for our larger flock of sheep. Now it’s gathering water from the roof, and today was filled many times over. A gathering of buckets surrounds it, all full to the brim. Standing in rain, I dipped one cat-litter bucket after another out of the large reservoir into other containers–a trash can, two large plastic storage bins, a large garbage barrel, and many cat litter buckets, while the gush of rain kept gurgling. At the same time I put another plastic storage bin under the rain barrel faucet, full open, since water was running over the top of the rain barrel. With some pushing, the overflow ran into the bin, but when I went to turn off the faucet, the bin prevented the faucet from turning. I had to pull, lift and shove to get the full bin moved, and shove another bucket under the faucet. 

 Maeve, our Aussie, dutifully followed me in and out of the garage as I looked for any possible water-container to put to work in the yard, using a bucket to dip water out of the large water tub and fill the next container. Maeve is as wet as we were. She’d occasionally be right in front of me, looking up as though she wondered why on earth I was going out in the rain again!  When I walked off across the yard carrying a full bucket, each, to the white pine (the next-last one died in last summer’s drought), a huge tulip poplar, and my lilac, she just went back inside and waited for me to finish my fool’s errand.

By the time the rain turned to a light shower, I couldn’t see through my glasses thanks to sweat and rain water, so I propped them on top of my head. My Birks were soaked, as were my clothing. Living as far out as we do, if the rain was still pouring down after I’d filled all those buckets and tubs, and if we weren’t in a middle of a thunderstorm, I’d have grabbed my shampoo and had a rain-water shower right outside on the back deck! 

 We now have a deck full of buckets, another cluster of full buckets beside the driveway, and another storm coming from Greensboro sometime soon. Tomorrow I’ll pull out the “mosquito donuts” that keep larvae from hatching, for the biggest water containers. We really do need another water barrel, if not two, for summer’s gardens, also for watering trees we intend to live through this drought, now in its–seventh year, is it? I feel so wealthy, and so at ease, now having water! Having the means to keep the gardens alive for another month, keep the flowers on the deck alive, and not need to worry. If we lose power, we can still flush the toilets. Now how delightful is that?!

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Guardian Great Pyrenees, Emily; Guild helps tornado clean-up of destroyed farm


I recently spun up some Emily-Pyr-yarn and knitted a small purse on a long string to donate to the NC Great Pyrenees Rescue group in Winston-Salem as a fund-raiser. I can’t say enough for Martha R. and her wonderful people. Emily is our second Pyr, so I speak from experience. A farm with sheep and goats volunteers space for Pyrs for a month or so after their basic medical and obedience training are complete, to sell to livestock owners, if they “have the genes.” Pyrs protect flocks from–in our neighborhood: packs of free-running neighborhood dogs (by numbers the greatest killer of livestock), coyotes, foxes, lynx, bobcat, the occasional black bear… Pyrs are gentle giants–but any four-footer encroaching on their turf would be better off slinking away. Emily morphs into a predator herself when there’s a potential invader outside her fence. I hope I never see her behavior if something got inside.

I haven’t told you about a spinning guild project–cleaning up Kelly C.’s tornado-destroyed sheep farm. You’ll see earlier tornado pictures from when I literally drove almost into the Raleigh one on 4/16. A few minutes earlier it had destroyed Kelly’s house and farm, barn and chicken coop lofted to the Land of Oz, as far as she can tell. A contractor, Steve Jolley, at my church, Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, decided to round up a work crew to build Kelly a shed to store her things until her poor old house can be destroyed and rebuilt. I’ll add a couple pictures here of the first and last work day. He expects 2 more Saturdays will complete it–roof shingles and siding, ramp and 6-foot wide door. Windows are already in. Another big wind storm ripped the tar paper from the roof and heavy rain has started the process of the collapse of the ceilings inside the house, and some of what had been dry is getting wet. Kelly’s livestock loss is one sheep and one chicken –miraculous when you see the scope of the disaster there. Since then, one cat wandered off and has not returned, and her old Aussie had various medical problems and had to be put down within the past month–painful losses. Hundreds of hours of volunteer labor have cleaned up most of the yard and some of the pasture, huge trees still lie across original fence lines, and new fence is going up around those obstacles. Kelly’s struggled to develop her farm over several years, and this has been a devastating situation for her. With a wide circle of friends, however, she’s coming back! Can’t keep a good woman down!

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The times are a changing… the once-subdued forest edge encroaches


Round-up drips slowly from the inverted quart container, the unscrewed top in my other hand, the last drops landing on shiny green leaves of the poison ivy encroaching on my garden. The itching rash on my legs indicated it’s also encroached on my own bed via the feet of my two kitties, who hunt at night in the poison ivy, entwined with vines of Virginia creeper and Vinca major. Kitty jumps on bed, I sit on bed, and bingo–I have a nasty reaction. I’ve nearly emptied my second bottle of witch hazel, which is the only “itch killer” nearly as good as very hot water in the shower. I have experience with this–I catch poison ivy easily. We got sheep and an Angora goat fifteen years ago to eradicate the nasty vine, and they had done so. Now, however, the sheep are aging, and the forest is returning, reaching out toward our garden and house.

I toss the empty container on the grass, walk around the yellow pine trunk into the perennial bed of my garden, and gaze in awe at the amount of honeysuckle enveloping my azalea. Rounding the 2-foot-diameter pine tree I can see that the honeysuckIe’s crushing vines choke my shrub. Since my sheep love to eat honeysuckle, I  always leave some vines growing on the bush. Also I love the perfume of the blooms in spring.  A few snips and I unwrap the twisting vines from the stems of  one side of my azalea, bundle them up as I harvest them, and walk down the pasture to the barn where the sheep restlessly await this picnic. Deborah and Suzie” baa” impatiently demanding their treat. Black stands in front of the fan, enjoying the breeze while he waits. Can they really smell the treat I’m gathering for them from 200 feet away? They seem to know a treat is coming, as they call to me, and pace back and forth in the barnyard.

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Beckie, our Australian Shepherd


Becky, our herding Australian Shepherd, is now around 15 years old. She was a rescue, so that’s just a good guess. We know about the last 13 of those years. She’s getting a little gray, and had a stroke last fall which has left it’s residual deficits, but she’s still our pet, although retired from herding now. She still vigorously defends the borders of “her territory” against wandering neighbor dogs, and against the trucks coming and going from the house next-door–a foreclosure that has ended its 1.5 year tenure of vacancy.

Her eyes still watch our every move when we’re eating, the magnetism seems powerful enough to lift the food from our plate into her mouth. Her red fur I value to spin with, both alone and combined with wool for very cozy hats and mittens. Since I can’t ever keep up with it all, I have to brush it off the rugs she has decided are her personal beds.

Since she’s not as strong or as coordinated as she used to be, I commiserate with her in the frustration of her not being able to use the “doggie door” to go in and out of the house, which has kept us home for many months. We’ve finally figured out a way that she can come and go, which is a relief to both us and to her. However, I well recall her younger days, before she had spent a year with us calming down somewhat, getting over her terror of anything that was over her head, even a tray of supper, or the broom when I swept up around the wood stove, slinking off to hide, looking so disappointed in us. This incident occurred before we had taken her to obedience classes, and was one of the incentives to do just that.

Growling, snarling, two dogs locked together with teeth embedded in each others’ necks, frothy saliva flying through the air as they struggle and lunge. John has his Husky, who a moment before had her tail straight up in the air, dog-talk for, “I can lick you!” on a leash, and is hauling her front end up off the ground trying to get Becky to fall off of her. Becky, our two-year old rescued Aussie, recently arrived at our home, unbeknownst to me, had “protection issues,” they called it. I learned that meant she’d fight to protect me, her loved owner who fed her, brushed her, gave her treats, let her sleep beside my bed, helped her to learn not to be afraid when we carried a tray of food across the kitchen over her head and she cringed under the table and slunk away. My sweet Red Merle battles for my safety in the traffic lane of our country road, her back feet dancing a rapid jig around the owner of the  dog twice her size, who has his dog by the neck. My husband stands by speechless. I dance around with Becky, reaching for a back leg to pull her off the other dog. John delivers mighty kicks to Becky’s shoulder, but Becky’s tenacious. My heart beats a rhythm I could never count as I finally grab that back leg and start to haul Becky back, while John is pulling on his dog’s leash in the opposite direction. Suddenly there’s a “POP” as the two dogs are pulled apart, their teeth yanked out of the flesh of the other.

That terrifying dog fight cost us around $400 by the time we were done. Another abscess or two turned up that the vet hadn’t found to irrigate on the original visit, there were antibiotics, dressings, twice daily wound soaks…

We decided after that that the “magic fence,” a wire all around the yard, and a collar that shocked Becky if she got to close, wasn’t going to keep her inside if she decided she needed to do some protecting! We gave that up, and bought two more sections of electrical mesh sheep fencing, so we could enclose the entire front yard, keeping her in, and visiting canines out. That has worked for many years. After a couple shocks on that fence, she never challenged it again, so the electricity has been off for many years.

We took her to obedience classes after that first year, and all of us learned better ways to communicate. When an aggressive dog appears, a 45-degree turn in any other direction works well, as long as I see the other dog coming before Becky does. Thanks, Caesar Milan! I don’t know what I’d have done without his shows and book.

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Thunderstorms, huge garter snake, magnolias

right outside my writing window, perfuming the yard


We had heavy thunderstorms for about three hours today, gradually waning for another hour, and about 3-5 inches of rain! The garden loved that! I had Emily, the Great Pyr’s, food ready to bring to her between storms, but it just never let up! Becky, our Aussie, was under my feet every step I took. I wish she could tell me about her previous two years of life before we welcomed her from Australian Shepherd Rescue. She’s terrified of storms, yet she, in her younger years, could move a flock of sheep without blinking–not a twinge of apprehension in the face of a lot of huge, determined and beavy animals. Finally the thunder seemed distant, so I put on the huge yellow slicker Dirk uses outside, and my old beat-up garden Birkinstocks to wade in, and slushed off to the barn, splashing in the running water like I  had done when I was a child. One positive thing about living in NC is that you can get wet and not get cold!

When Emily saw me coming, she started barking her protective bark, the hair raising along her back, even though she was dripping. When I spoke to her, she recognized me, wagged her tail and all was well. She slowly and carefully walked down the hill, which is not her usual style, but she knew she’d spook the sheep if she ran down to the barn for shelter. What amazing genetic selection, thousands of years ago, produced these guardian dogs. I’d no more leave my Aussie in the pasture with my sheep than I’d play in traffic!

When I got to the barn gate, lo and behold there was the largest garter snake I’ve ever seen stretched out in a lazy “S” there, just above water level in the trickling gutter we carefully maintain to keep the water out of the barn. The big yellow hood partly covered my face, so I didn’t see him until I was one step from his tail! He perceived me at the same time I saw him, and took off in a flash under the large black water tub. “Go and be well,” I called after him. “Any garter snake your size has been feasting on mice and rats in the barn, and I hope you continue to enjoy your meals here!”  I didn’t know they got to be four feet long–but this one was! Fat, too! Amazing!

Before I stepped inside the barn for a pat of hay, I looked for the copperhead that hang out there last year. I never could connect a shovel to it.  That’s the only snake on the place that’s not welcome. Anything that can put us or one of our animals in physical danger has no place here.

Entering the barn, I put Emily’s food down at the side where she won’t be in the way of the sheep milling around grazing on the huge bucket of greens I’d trimmed from alongside the various gardens before the storm. No sense wasting the good graze–I can’t very well let them graze in the garden! Well, they’d enjoy that…  I didn’t need to bring down an ice block today for their water bucket–the storm cooled things down nicely. I left the fan going, though, to circulate the damp air. I love to see them standing in front of it, with the breeze blowing on their faces, and the ice just below the fan, cooling the air a bit. Even sheep like cool water on a hot day. OK–I spoil my sheep. You already knew that, right?  🙂

I tucked Emily’s chicken chew, which I usually give her as I leave the pasture at the top gate, sticking out the front of the dog feeder for her to find it, and remind her there’s more food in there if she wants it. It’s a relief not to have the aggressive Border Leicesters here now to eat the dog food out of that feeder. I can’t imagine they liked it–I think it was a dominance thing–I can, so I will take this!

By the time I had filled their inside water bucket, the thunder was rolling again, and I walked up the slippery hill as quickly as I dared to,  my heart thudding as I hurried up toward the gate. We’ve had lots of lightening strikes out here, and it frightens me to be outside in a thunder storm. I also know that a fall after a hip replacement can be dangerous, so I have to watch out in mud and wet grass. Besides–I had just realized I’d left my cell phone in the house, so would have had no way to call for help, which is exactly what had happened to Dirk last year when he broke his hip out there. (Don’t tell Dirk–I’m after him all the time about this!) I can blame my forgetfulness on the thunder storm…  As I looped the chain over the top of the gate, I smelled the perfume from the magnolia tree, which is loaded with blooms now. One of those blooms perfumes my kitchen.

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Cicadas and roses


There’s so much life on the back deck! Think if each one of these rose stems became a bush, it could become a thicket to surround an old enchanted castle! The fragrance is exhilerating, and the pink snow of petals surrounds the bush like a carpet. New buds are everywhere, a few with the tooth marks of squirrels on them. The spent stems I’ve cut and piled up to go down to the barn for a treat for the sheep. Mom would be pleased to see her rose thriving in this new place.

The cicadas are so noisy it sounds like an electric siren. I know they’re singing their joy over their freedom to inhabit the sunny upper realms for the first time in their 13 years of life, mating and laying eggs to start their cycle of life again. But the noise as I open the door is jarring! What a din–70 decibels by the meter!

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