Tuesday, January 29, 2013

So Not in the Present Moment

On a 10F morning last week I found myself longing for a sweater.  Not just any sweater, but the mother of all sweaters.  Something that would encase me from neck to knees in spacious wooliness.  Something both soft and substantial and possibly good looking.  Something that would warm  the chilly cockles of my heart.

I was in Manchester Center, the town that outlets built, on yoga business anyway, so after class I walked into a couple of stores.  I thought that not only would they have sweaters, but sweaters would be on sale.  But there wasn't a single woolly, serious sweater in sight.

Instead, the stores were crammed with tiny shorts and sleeveless tops, all in icy blues, sherbet pinks and acid greens and yellows.  Spring had apparently arrived and was in full swing in the world of retail.  It did not make me feel  happy, and it utterly failed to warm the cockles of my heart.  In fact those silly clothes in their silly colors set my teeth on edge, and made me feel even colder than I already was.

Retail is famous for rushing the calendar.  Halloween arrives in stores on the heels of the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving happens in the early fall, and sometimes I feel like it's Christmas all year round.  But not to be able to find a sweater in the middle of January--in Vermont yet--goes beyond the pale.  Here I am, doing my best to enjoy the season, trying to be at one with the cold, and the stores want me to think spring!  They want me to hate the  cold and the snow and  buy a pair of shorts in the hopes that it will make the winter go away faster.  If I didn't like this kind of winter I would not have moved to the Vermont in the first place, or I turn into that animal  not found in Nature, a snowbird, and fly to the Gulf of Mexico to splash in the surf until mud season was over.

But I am here because I like it cold and white and dead.  All I want is a good sweater to keep me warm.  Do you hear me, stores? 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hens Below Zero

I've been trying hard not to write about the weather, but the nights have been below zero for a week now and my frontal lobes, which is where I mostly write from, have been taken over by the state of the thermometer.

The farmers around here have been busy keeping their livestock from turning into deadstock.  Driving past big dairy farms I notice that the veal calves, who are kept in individual plastic igloos away from the rest of the herd, are wearing snug little coats.  I'm sure the coats help some, though they can't compare to the warmth and comfort they would get from their mothers' bodies.

I have my own livestock concerns.  How do you keep nine hens comfortable in such frigid temperatures?  I've read that using heat lamps weakens chickens' immune systems and makes them less resistant to bad weather.  So I'm limited to simpler techniques, such as delivering bucketfuls of warm  drinking water laced with cider vinegar, and bowls of hot powdered milk thickened with laying mash.  Also extra "scratch"--chopped grains that you throw on the ground so the hens can scratch for them, an activity which gives meaning to their lives. On sunny days I open wide the shed door so they can at least stand on the top step, the rest being snow covered, and get some vitamin D.

It's a kind of miracle that they have all survived so far.  Just before Christmas the black hen developed an impacted crop.  I won't go into detail, but the standard treatment for this condition involves getting the chicken to vomit.  I did this several times but it didn't help much, and I was sure she wouldn't make it through the late December cold spell.  But she is still alive, even though I suspect that her problem has not gone away completely.

A couple of red hens have chosen this particular time to molt.  Chickens molt every year, usually in the fall, and they temporarily stop laying.  My two molting hens are a pathetic sight:  their long  tail feathers are gone, and their heads are almost bald.  Their backs and bellies are sparsely covered in the downy feathers that normally constitute a chicken's underwear.  How would you like to go out in this weather in just your long johns?

This is not a young flock.  Three of the hens are three years old, and the rest are two.  In an industrial egg farm they would be slaughtered.  But despite advanced age, impacted crops and inopportune molts, I'm getting five eggs a day from this hardy bunch.  True, I turn on a light for them for several hours in the evening, which helps to keep them laying, but it shows remarkable enterprise on their part that they're laying at all.

Last night when I brought in the eggs, one had frozen in the nest.  The expansion of the contents had made a long crack in the shell, through which I could see the intact inner membrane.  I left the the egg in a bowl on the counter to defrost, thinking I would save it for the dogs.

This morning when I picked picked it up, mirabile dictu! the crack had disappeared.  The contents had shrunk as they defrosted and the edges of the break had mended so perfectly that there was not a sign of the crack.

For all their apparent fragility, eggs are tough, and so are chickens.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Most Off-Putting Blog Topic Ever

No, it's not death, but close.  It's Long Term Care--what we'll all probably need if we aren't cut down in our prime by cancer, cardiac arrest, a drunk driver or someone with a gun.

Have you clicked me into oblivion yet?

Inspired by my mother, whose insurance is saving her descendants from financial ruin now that she's in a nursing home, last fall I researched the average costs long term care in Vermont.  I realized that the insurance my husband and I had signed up for in our carefree forties was woefully inadequate. 

There followed a flurry of phone calls and consultations with agents and financial planners.  Large packets of information, featuring disconcertingly white-haired young people on the covers, arrived in the mail.  My husband and I endless hours over these, comparing apples to oranges and avocados and forcing ourselves to speculate on the vagaries of fate:  how long did we expect to live?  Of what did we think we would die?  Would we, alone or together, stay in our house to the bitter end, and if so, would we need assistance with the "activities of daily living"?  Or would we prefer a nursing home, and would we want a private or a semi-private room?

Who wants to think about this stuff? 

But we gritted our teeth and thought of our descendants and filled out the applications.  Next, the insurance companies told us, they would request our medical records, and then they would send a nurse to our house to look us over for physical and mental flaws.

Yesterday afternoon we had our home visit.  It was conducted by a friendly local nurse who insisted on meeting our dogs.  After a cursory physical exam came the cognitive part.  I must confess that being put on the spot to do simple multiplication and division in my head freaked me out a little, since it reminded me of third grade and my German nuns. 

The other questions were easier, but I found them more disturbing because they gave me insight into the depths of deterioration that the insurance company anticipated of someone of my advanced years.  One question was, where would I store ice cream?  I came close to messing up on this one--we haven't had ice cream in the house in ages, and I almost said "the fridge" instead of "the freezer."  What, the nurse wanted to know next, would I do if I accidentally swallowed poison?  Then she asked me to walk from the dining room into the kitchen and back, while she timed me.

Is it possible that one day I won't know where the ice cream goes?  That I'll swallow bleach by mistake and won't know who to call?  That I'll barely be able to make it from the kitchen to the dining room?  The answer, of course, is yes.

Ash Wednesday is coming soon.  Every year while I was in school the priest would trace a cross of ashes on our childish foreheads while he muttered pulvus eris et pulvus reverteris--dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.  These days one doesn't get many formal reminders of mortality or of the deterioration that will most likely precede it.  I should be grateful to Mutual of Omaha for reminding me of what actuarial tables show with depressing certainty:  that none of us lives forever, that we  cannot count on retaining even the humblest skills--walking to the kitchen, knowing where to put the ice cream--while we are still alive.  And that we'd better strengthen our spiritual and emotional muscles so we'll be able deal with the future, when it comes.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Comfy Chair

In Barcelona, when I was nine years old, the German nuns in charge of my education used to assign ten long-division problems every night.  That is a lot of problems at any age, and I would sit for what seemed like hours at my little desk until finally, in despair, I would fill in some random numbers to make it look like I'd at least tried.

Ever since then, I have hated to sit at a desk.  I wrote my high school term papers reclining on my bed, and sweated out my dissertation on the living room rug of our married students apartment, index cards crammed full of data fanned out all around me.  Especially when writing, I love a change of scene.  In this respect, the laptop has been a godsend, allowing me to write in the garden in summer, by the stove in winter, and in bed in all seasons.  I am awaiting the invention of a gizmo that will plug into my brain and type out my thoughts as I think them, anytime, anywhere, without need of fingers or batteries.

Most of the posts on this blog have been written in my study, a cell-like room in the second-floor, northwest corner of the house.  The best thing about this modest space is its three windows with their views of hills and woods and fields, a kind of weather station that allows me to check if a storm is coming in, which way the wind is blowing, and whether the driveway is snowy, icy, muddy or navigable.  Unfortunately the room is quite small, but when we moved in I crammed into it a desk top supported by two file cabinets, a desk chair, a bookcase, a drawing table, a table to hold art supplies, a low cobbler's bench (our former coffee table in the married students apartment), and my writing spot:  a single bed topped with six pillows of various sizes and shapes.

To write I would sit cross-legged in front of the laptop, which was itself perched on a pillow that wobbled with each key-stroke.  When I needed to change position, I would like back against the pillows, the laptop on my belly, and curl up in a semi-crunch to reach the keyboard.  This was good for my abs, but not my concentration.  And there was always Bisou, with her DNA-inscribed compulsion to be on my lap, fighting for space with the computer.

This has been my circumstance for the last eight years, and I hope by now you are feeling very, very sorry for me.  But you can save your pity for the victims of wars and natural disasters, because  I am typing this post in an ergonomic paradise, my just-acquired comfy chair.  It is a real armchair, with matching ottoman, which I found in a real furniture store--not in Vermont, of course, but over the border in that other state with all the stores and malls and those unfortunate billboards.

It was my first visit to a furniture store in about thirty years, and I was shocked to find that everything seemed to be designed for obese McMansion dwellers.   I wandered for a long time among gatherings of XXXL sofas, recliners, chairs and chaises longues, trying to imagine the race of giants that might buy them.  Eventually I came upon a human-sized, elegant and comfortable leather chair from Italy that I almost bought, until I realized that there was no room on it for both Bisou and me, and therefore held no hope of peace or concentration.
I finally settled on something that I thought Bisou would approve of--a chair and ottoman upholstered in pale brown-and-white ticking.  It allows room for my elbows as I type and for Bisou's hips as well as mine, and is comfortable enough for the occasional nap.

In my newly arranged study now the comfy chair and ottoman are placed on a diagonal, giving me a lovely west-north-east view.  The drawing table is gone (one must make choices).  The phone and computer on the cobbler's bench are at hand's reach, and Bisou has found her spot on the ottoman, next to my leg.

The ostensible reason behind the purchase of the comfy chair is to increase my writing output.  But I am not fooled.  Whether lying on that now discarded studio bed or snuggled in the embrace of the comfy chair, it's still just me and the words.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Think I Need One Of Those Assault Thingies...

Just kidding.

But around here the war is escalating.  You might say that Nature is in surge mode.  Last night, when my husband let him out to scare any deer that might be feasting on what's left of our plants, Wolfie was attacked by something in the yard.  From the description--low to the ground, a bit smaller than Bisou--I think it's a fisher.  Speaking of Bisou, it's a good thing she was asleep upstairs with me at the time.  Usually she's right on Wolfie's heels, sallying forth into the outer darkness.

Anyway, poor Wolfie yelped, and the critter scurried, and Wolfie came limping into the house.  There was no bleeding, no particularly tender spot that we could find, but he could not put weight on one of his hind legs.  It's amazing how miserable a solid black dog can look.  And there's something about a big dog in distress that makes you feel particularly helpless.  You can't pick him up and put him on a comfy pillow.  You can't exactly cuddle him.

I gave him a couple of baby aspirins in a teaspoon of peanut butter.  He could not climb up to the bedroom, and whimpered so pitifully at the bottom of the steps that I decided to sleep downstairs, to keep him company.  But he couldn't settle.  He was desperate to lie down but in too much pain to do so.  I gave him two more baby aspirins and he finally lay down and went to sleep.  Then of course I worried that I had overdosed him, and kept putting my hand on him to feel his breath.

Thanks goodness for Penelope Lively's How It All Began, a witty and wise novel that you all would love.  I read for a couple of hours and then turned off the light.  But the minute I closed my eyes I remembered that it was supposed to snow heavily today.  If Wolfie was still in distress in the morning, how would we get him to the vet?  I fell asleep, but Wolfie woke up and put his head on my knee.  It occurred to me in my stupor that this meant that he was still alive.  Then I did some coughing (which I've been doing for a month now, along with everybody else) and slept for about a minute, and Wolfie put his head on my knee again....

This morning it is in fact snowing hard.  Wolfie seems a bit better, and ate his normal breakfast.  But I don't relish the prospect of having to take him and Bisou out on leashes every night.

This cloud is not, however, without a silver lining.  Fishers are the only predator known to kill porcupines.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Lament, Continued

Let me know if you're getting tired of hearing about my victimization at the paws of non-hibernating creatures, but in the meantime, here's the latest.

Taking advantage of the time-honored January thaw, I went outside to take stock of the depredations and implement defensive measures.  My most depressing discovery:  the baby apricot that I  espaliered against the side of the house last spring is probably dead.  I had wrapped a spiral plastic protector around its skinny little trunk to keep the rabbit away, but I did this after the heavy snow of Christmas week, and I did not realize that with the milder temperatures the snow next to the house had melted.  This exposed a couple of inches of bare trunk between the protector and the earth, and the rabbit had chewed almost, but not quite, all the way around.  It had also started working on the lowest branches.  In the hope that that little bit of intact bark will enable the apricot to survive, my spouse built a wire cage around it.  We'll find out its fate in the spring.

That same rabbit has been making tunnels under the snow all over the chicken yard, which is covered in his poop.  I finally figured out what he's been after:  the long, twisted stems of kale that were left when the chickens ate all the leaves.  He's been systematically denuding them of their green outer layer, leaving only the yellow, fibrous insides.  (I am not a monster--I do not begrudge him the kale stems.)

Next,  I cut lengths of burlap and wrapped them around the deer-eaten cypresses, and the Master of the Knot secured them with old baling string.  Then I made another upsetting discovery:  not only have the deer been eating our cypresses, but they have also attacked the low-growing evergreen bushes that I planted in front of the house foundation. There was no way I could cover those earth-hugging bushes with burlap, so in a fit of pique I dumped a bucketful of woodstove ashes on them.  The ashes may repel the deer, or they may kill the bushes.  We'll find out in the spring.

The Seventh Squirrel has been caught and deported by the Master of the Trap, with a stroke of red paint on its tail so we can greet him by name when he returns.  The ermine remains elusive.  The Master of the T baited the trap with a freshly-caught (dead) mouse from our basement, and put a dab of peanut butter on his back to make him more attractive.  The next day the mouse was gone, but the trap was unsprung.  Everybody who hears about our ermine warns me of the impending murder of my hens if we don't catch him.

The birds are the only creatures with whom I'm not at war right now.  They go through a lot of seed and suet, and the ground beneath the feeder is covered in guano, but they haven't tried to kill anything yet.  Though who knows what they'll have gotten up to by spring....

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Evil Passions Of Men

James Michener, in Iberia, published this list of rules for women, which he found posted in a church in rural Spain in 1943, the year my parents married.  I grew up in Barcelona, but spent summers in the countryside, and although some of these rules don't ring a bell, some do.

Women shall not appear on the streets of this village with dresses that are too tight in those places which provoke the evil passions of men.  Ah, those evil passions.  I heard about them as a child and for years wondered what they were.  "Never trust a man who has a nose on his face," my mother's mother used to admonish me when I reached puberty.  All this caused my girl friends and me to grow up thinking of ourselves as sticks of dynamite, liable to cause widespread damage any minute.

They must never wear dresses that are too short.  By the time the 1950s came around, this was fortunately no longer an issue, because mid-calf skirts were the thing.

They must be particularly careful not to wear dresses that are low-cut in front.  While I mostly chewed my nails or amused myself by staring at the row of hairlines in the pew in front of me during Sunday sermons, I do remember one priest thundering against women who decorated their decolletage with a cross.

It is shameful for women to walk in the streets with short sleeves.  My mother and my aunts certainly wore short sleeves in summer, and no men that I know of burst into flames at the sight of their upper arms.  But they could not appear in church without sleeves down to their elbows.  This widely observed rule caused many problems when Northern Europe discovered Spain as the ultimate vacation spot and the churches were invaded by hordes of scantily dressed, sunburned walkyries.

Every woman who appears in the streets must wear stockings.  That rule had gone by the wayside by the time I was born.  In summer my mother and aunts would drop into church (for a visit with the Blessed Sacrament) in bare legs and espadrilles, though they may have put on stockings for Sunday Mass.  No mention is made of the need, first dictated by Saint Paul, for women to cover their heads in church.  It was too deeply ingrained.  And by "cover" I don't imply little hats, or those eensy "chapel veils" that used to do the job in the U.S.  Women wore mantillas to church, which covered their head and neck and were gorgeously embroidered, semi-transparent, and often more beautiful and more inflaming than the hair they were intended to hide.

Women must not wear transparent or network cloth over those parts which decency requires to be covered.  Must be the same parts that inflamed the evil passions of men.

At the age of twelve girls must begin to wear dresses that reach to the knee, and stockings at all times.  This rule was no longer in operation by the time I came along.

Little boys must not appear in the streets with their upper legs bare. What is this doing on a list of proscriptions for women?  I remember my male contemporaries wearing really short pants until they turned fourteen or so.  I remember their upper legs turning bright red in winter.  Maybe that too inflamed the evil passions of men.

Girls must never walk in out-of-the-way places because to do so is both immoral and dangerous. Obviously the "immoral" part indicates a strong tendency to blame the potential victim.  However, despite my belief that ideally women as well as men should be free to go anywhere, anytime, I think that while we wait for this imperfect world to become perfect it's a good idea for men and women to be led by common sense, and play it safe.

No decent woman or girl is ever seen on a bicycle.  Oh, my rusty, brakeless bicycle on which I rode the dusty summer roads around my grandparents' farm with the smell of rosemary in my nostrils, hoping for a glimpse of a shepherd and his flock under the blazing sun!

No decent woman is ever seen wearing trousers.  I wore not only trousers but shorts in the summer, but I never saw my mother in pants until we went to Ecuador and she had to buy a pair of blue jeans for trudging around in the jungle.

What they call in the cities ‘modern dancing’ is strictly forbidden.  I suspect this referred to dances imported from America, such as the fox-trot, which even when done by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers don't hold a candle in sexiness or inflammatory potential to the most threadbare flamenco danced around a gipsy fire.

(Thanks to Dona artistseyestudio.com for reminding me of these rules.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Under Attack

The winter fauna are getting to me.  Here, in order of increasing annoyance, is the latest:

1.  A squirrel is back at the bird feeder.  It's a plain old gray squirrel, so I can't tell if it's one of the four that we trapped and deported across the state line.  It hasn't gotten inside the squirrel-proof bird feeder or into the chicken house yet, or into the trap that we have set under the feeder.

2.  The ermine, which I mistakenly identified as a stoat until corrected by Marty--  http://www.wcax.com/video?clipId=2211121&autostart=true--is still AWOL.  My husband baited the trap with one of the dead field mice he had trapped in our basement (traps upon traps--it's the dark side of country life).  The next day the mouse was gone, the trap unsprung....

3.  And, this is the worst, the deer have, for the first time in eight years, invaded our yard.  Yesterday, walking in the woods behind the house with Wolfie and Bisou, I noticed that my previous tracks on the snow were a palimpsest of deer hoof prints which ultimately led to our backyard and to the baby Leyland cypresses I planted last year in a desperate attempt to camouflage the failed wattle fence around the hen yard.  Alas, those little cypresses have been eaten down to the top of the snow.  I dearly hope there is some living bit of cypress left under that white duvet.

I have since moving to Vermont met dozens of people who can't grow evergreens, or hostas, or vegetables on their land because of the voracious deer.  I have always mentioned, with a humble smile, that "our" deer seem to find enough to be satisfied with in the fields in front of the house, and never wander into the backyard because of the mystical, magical effects of my marvelous dogs.

Well, that's all over now.  The backyard is the playground of the deer.  Was it Lexi's assertiveness (you remember Lexi, she was euthanized last spring) that kept them at bay?  She kept Wolfie and Bisou firmly in their places, and she may have done the same for the deer.  But Wolfie is a lot bigger and scarier-looking than she ever was....

If I were a dog owner like the dog owners of past millennia, I would tie Wolfie out on a chain and leave him out all night to earn his kibble.  There's no question that we would not then be troubled by deer.  But I am a 2013 tree-hugging, quasi-vegetarian, tender-hearted dog owner, and Wolfie is accustomed to sleeping next to our bed, plus he gets weird sores on his pasterns in deep snow.  I'll sacrifice the cypresses for the sake of his comfort if I must.

I have asked my spouse to let Wolfie out for one last patrol just before his bedtime, which is considerably later than mine.   And I have bought a roll of burlap with which to swaddle the remains of the baby Leylands.  Whether the burlap turns out to be a cozy blanket or a shroud, only spring will tell.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Petting The Warrior

Originally I got him as a decorative object, but now we have a relationship.  I'm talking about my Betta splendens, my Siamese fighting fish.

I could not believe that a creature with an iridescent blue body surrounded by a corolla of pale yellow fins veined with delicate blue and pink could be had for a mere $4.  So I whipped out my Discover card and brought him home and gave him an elegant apartment in a two-gallon flower vase that I found at Target.  I also bunged a nice green plant in there, and some aquarium gravel and, to give him privacy, a hollow floating "log" to hide in.

When the weather turned cold it became apparent that an ambient temperature of 66F was not appropriate for a creature that evolved in the rice paddies of Thailand.  So we got the little warrior a heater of his own, but that didn't raise the temperature enough, his optimal range being between 70F and 80F.  We replaced that heater with another which still didn't do the job.  We tried a third heater, but when a cold wave came through yesterday and it was -14F in the morning and the furnace couldn't quite keep up, I set the flower vase on top of a warming tray, and that finally got the water temperature up to an acceptable level.

Why, you ask, go to such trouble to ensure the comfort of a potato chip-sized creature?   Basically, because he lets me pet him.  I never thought such a thing was possible.  Pet a fish!  Who would even want to?  But I noticed that whenever I came near his flower vase, which sits on the kitchen counter, he would swim in my direction.  That led me to put my finger on the outside of the glass and move it around slowly, and by golly, he followed it, flaring his fins.  The next step was inevitable:  I put my fingertip in the water, and he came up to it and I made the slightest stroking motion on those butterfly-thin fins and he stayed put, saying clearly, "Do that again."  So now every day, as I do my rounds misting the houseplants, feeding the chickens, and brushing the dogs' teeth, I make sure to remember to pet the fish.

This puts me in a philosophical quandary.  If an inch-long creature can actively solicit petting, what does that imply about the rest of the minor fauna around?  What about the chickadees at the feeder-- are they longing to perch on my arms?  And the field mice who invade our basement in the fall--would they like to join us as we read by the woodstove?  And those poor squirrels we deported....  Then there are the houseplants.  Who knows what they think of me, what they long for?  Maybe I should murmur to them while I mist them.    At this point, I can't even bear to think of the chard and the kale and the spinach I grow in the garden.  How, I wonder, do they feel about being cut down in their prime and eaten?

This living, feeling biomass that pulsates around me often leaves me feeling anxious and confused.  The only thing I know to do then is to mumble the Buddhist blessing, "May all beings be at ease...."

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Some Moral Reflections On Needlepoint

I just this minute finished a needlepoint pillow I've been working on for almost a year.  And by "finished," I mean finished--backing attached, stuffing stuffed, the last seam sewn and the final thread firmly secured.

But as I look at the thing my thoughts turn, as they have every time I've looked at it over the past months, to the day I bought it.  I had been suffering from one of my periodic bouts of itchy fingers--the  urge to do something mindless with my hands--and had found a website, Ehrman Tapestry,  that had the most gorgeous needlepoint designs I had ever seen. Instead of the hearts and kittens that are the staple of crafts stores, here were reproductions of medieval tapestries, Art Nouveau motifs, and designs taken from the paintings of Gustav Klimt.

I badly wanted one of those kits--in fact, I badly wanted half a dozen of them.  But they were expensive, around $100, and I really did not need another pillow.

Still, my fingers kept itching, and I thought that maybe someday I would buy one of those Ehrman kits.  But not now, not right away.  As a recovering Catholic, I knew all about deferred gratification, and how good it is for the soul.

I decided that before I got the kit I lusted for I would test myself with a cheaper, humbler one, just to see if I had the perseverance, dedication, and moral stamina to finish the project.  That way, if I lazily and irresponsibly gave it up half-way through, I would only have to feel a little bit ashamed.

I told my plans to a friend, and on a sunny, icy day we drove an hour to the nearest needlepoint shop.   I was not enchanted with the selection.  My friend watched me sifting dispiritedly through the stacks of hearts-and-kittens kits and said "You know, you should get something you really like."

"Look," I said, picking up an ultra-conventional design of blowsy roses on a white background, "this is not too bad."  And I bought the thing.

I brought it home and put it on the needlepoint stand and worked on it halfheartedly for months.  And without fail every time I threaded my needle I thought about those medieval tapestries and those Klimt designs.

Now that the pillow is finished I can direct a compassionate look at the deferred gratification virtuosa that was me, and let her go.  No more little useless sacrifices that don't do anybody any good.  From now on, it's pleasure first, and the devil take the hindmost.

Go to the link above.  See the pillow with the eye-popping poppy?  That's what I'm ordering the minute I post this.  It's not even on sale, and I need a pillow even less than I did before I finished the blowsy roses one.  But carpe diem is my motto now, because who knows how many diems I have left, how much longer my eyes will be able to find the holes in the canvas and my hands to grasp the needle?  

Bring on the needlepoint, then, but only the kind that will take my breath away every time I look at it!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Winter Fauna

I've long been under the impression that wild creatures hibernate, or at least slow down, during winter.  But around here the cold weather seems to have raised activity levels by several notches.

A couple of weeks ago, for the first time in the two decades we've had our squirrel-proof counterweight bird feeder, the squirrels defeated it.  The feeder consists of a metal seed container with a feeding tray and a perch in front of it.  If anything heavier than a tufted titmouse lands on the perch, it closes the feeding tray.  This year the squirrels--sumo-wrestler, rabbit-size gray squirrels--managed to undo the latch of the seed container, crawl inside, and have Roman orgies. 

Then they got tired of gobbling sunflower seeds and made for the chicken house, where they feasted on the all-vegetarian, high-protein, Omega-3-enriched laying mash and stressed out the hens, who all but stopped laying eggs.  

I sniffed skeptically while my husband set up a humane trap next to the hen's feeder.  But the next morning, mirabile dictu, there was a squirrel in it.

He put the trap in the car and drove off to the next state, where he released the squirrel into the wilderness.  Then he set the trap again.  The next day, there was another squirrel in it, whom he also deported.  We caught four squirrels in as many days.  We seem to have run out of squirrels, at least for the moment, and the hens have resumed laying.

Meanwhile, at the bird feeder, evolution is at work.  In Vermont cardinals are fairly scarce, and I was glad to see a pair at our feeder after the last big storm.  Unfortunately, the seed that spilled from the feeder would sink instantly into the snow, where the ground feeding birds, such as cardinals, couldn't get it.  That's when I saw the male cardinal clinging for dear life onto the hanging suet feeder, eating blueberry-studded peanut butter with the finesse of a woodpecker.  It's safe to say he'll be passing on his DNA next spring.

I was in the garage yesterday, carrying their winter breakfast of hot powdered milk and laying mash to the hens, when something small and sleek and very white scurried from under the car and hid behind a stack of cardboard boxes.  For a nanosecond it turned to look at me, and I saw a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, two bright black eyes, and a tiny muzzle.

Google tells me that it is a stoat, a member of the weasel family.  Unlike most species, which grow in size as the latitude increases, stoats get smaller as they approach the pole.  This accounts both for my stoat's cuteness and the hens' survival (I once lost an entire flock in a single night to a weasel).

So now the trap is set again, this time in the garage, and baited with a bit of lunch meat, stoats being carnivorous.  But I don't think that if we catch our little stoat we'll deport him.  I really just want to get a closer look.  Has anybody ever tamed a stoat, I wonder?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Into Deep Silence

After the Christmas hullabaloo and brouhaha are done, a deep silence sets in.  It helps if, as happened this year, a good thick snowfall comes to muffle the sounds and obscure the sights that might distract from the journey inward.

Now, with the presents put away and the guest laundry done, there is, for a little while, not much to do besides water the houseplants and brush the dogs.  And figure out what to do with my life.

Or at least with my writing.  I haven't been posting here much in the last year.  Instead, I have been working on a book-length manuscript, a memoir of my years with CFS.  I figured that working on that and posting daily might be more than I can manage, even if that is what I would really like to do.  Because of my CFS, I have to be ever wary of  my enthusiasms.  I never know when something I enjoy, something that feels great while I am doing it--whether physical or mental--will plunge me into a relapse one or even two days later.  So I have to be careful.

But I've really missed writing here.  I like the feeling of completion, of achievement that writing a post gives--there, that 's done for today!  Plus, I get comments from you good people, which takes away that voice-crying-in-the-wilderness feeling.  Whereas working on a book feels precisely like being lost in the wilderness, crying and endlessly wandering with no idea whether I'm getting closer to home. 

I may be getting closer to home with the book.  I've been working on it exclusively on the computer, and this week I plan to print it out for the first time.  I'm hoping that getting physical with the thing--shuffling the pages and making notes on the margins with an actual pencil--will enable me to find the shape of the story.

Still, during this momentary lull, when the world outside is holding its breath and there are no trees to prune/weeds to pull/seeds to plant/ chard to harvest, I will try to post more often.  And I hope that the CFS will be o.k. with that.

In the meantime, new year hugs and blessings to all.  And if the title of this post has a familiar ring, it's because I semi-stole it from a documentary, "Into Great Silence," about the Carthusian monks of La Grande Chartreuse.  It is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen, and you can get it on Netflix.