Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Under Seige


Our farm, our house, and our lives have been under siege now for seven, very long weeks, and time is still counting. Since the last week of September, a steady stream of trucks bringing workers to address various issues of twenty year old buildings and their long and much needed upkeep, have arrived each weekday in the early morning with their ladders, saws, and hammers. Beginning at the crack of dawn they have buzzed, banged, and hammered the days away, fixing this and that, until the late afternoon when their tail lights have drifted down the driveway, leaving an eerie, and temporary, silence in their wake.

We began in late September with the barn. A twenty year old roof that had suffered under numerous hail attacks and the effects of time, was torn off and replaced with new shingles. The whole structure was pressure washed inside and out, displacing unknown numbers of spiders who had called the rafters home for decades. Long tubes of dried mud from the industrious dirt daubers that had lined the walls were washed away in sickly streaks of yellow and orange. Rotten wood was replaced and the whole barn got a fresh coat of new paint and once again it was a nice space to walk into. Hercules could not have done a better job if this barn had been added to Eurystheus’s to do list.

During this time when focus was on the barn, I fenced the horses away from their stalls and paddock to keep them out of the way and out of trouble. For weeks they stood in shock and in utter amazement at the goings on around their world. Kitty, my older and alpha mare, continually pawed at the gate in her furious disapproval of the situation and at the shunning they were getting. In doing so, she eventually dug up the buried hot wire for the fencing and managed to shock herself by hitting the exposed wire. Adding this insult to her malady resulted in some momentary, and very theatrical head tossing and airs above the ground. We reburied the wire and, after all work was done and stray nails picked up, finally reopened the gates. My herd is happy again.

The house project has been a bit more of a challenge to live with however. Remodeling always begins with demolition and demolition always means there is going to be a mess, and its magnitude is the big unknown. There is also the issue of there being no privacy in remodeling while living in a changing house. We have lived for years in a fish bowl out here in the country with no curtains, because, there weren’t any close by neighbors to see us, but now, having had a constant parade of tile layers, carpenters, painters, and their helpers in and out of the house, has often left me wishing for a very large sized invisibility cloak.

Simply leaving the house/farm while work is being done has simply not been an option. There are so many unknowns when the sheetrock comes off the wall, or the floor gets ripped up.  There are just so many decisions that are made before the project begins, but there are even more that get made as it progresses, and these are the ones that have required my input, my executive decision. So for 99% of the time of our siege, I have stayed here in the house or, in the barn for very short breaks, directing this and correcting that. The 1% of the time, when I thought all decisions were made for the moment, I left for a quick lunch. When I got back, I found that one tile had been laid that was just not right, and stood out and not in a good way. So now I wait for that to be corrected, and it will be, but, my bad on leaving too soon.

Fortunately, during the process of remodeling, it can, thankfully, have its lighter moments.  In the removal of our old fiberglass shower unit we found that behind it, nestled sweetly in the fiberglass insulation, was the currently uninhabited home of some Mickys and Minnies. It looked as though they had been in residence for some time judging by complexity of the burrowed tunnels in the fluffy pink insulation, and also by a large amount of crunched up acorns that lay on the subfloor that used to be under the shower floor. The real surprise was though, alongside these empty nut shells were ketchup packets with obvious bite marks where the mice had opened the packages. Our guess was that these house mouses had been dipping their acorns in the ketchup for a little extra flavor. Maybe they were tiny chefs? Our house is set under a canopy of large oaks and so finding the stashed acorns was not a total surprise, but ketchup packages? Where in the heck did they get them and how did they haul them all the way under the house and up the walls to their hideaway, and better yet, why?

The carpet is being ripped up today and is being replaced with new. Twenty years of history peeled like an onion, every cat and dog who left their mark, every spilled blob of paint, and every uh-oh is being erased and their attached memories will soon be forgotten and there will be a certain poignancy in their fading away. Each of their marks told a story, the stories of my children’s youth and how they lived in this space they called their rooms. With time I hope that these remodeled rooms will be filled with new memories that will be added to the fabric of this house, only cleaner I hope and will perhaps last well until I leave this house for the last time.

To live in any house is a responsibility. It is important to take care of it and to be a good steward for the next person who will share the running history with these walls and floors, living under the shade of this roof. Twenty years ago when we built this house we built with a strong emphasis on the bones and regrettably needed to use some lesser quality finish materials and details as place cards. We have had to wait until now to finish the details like I had wanted to do then, and I am glad to have this chance to do it. I designed this house, and feel it is part of my legacy, and not a tiny one, to me. I had wanted to leave this house in better shape than it had been in for a while, and so now in its closing moments of remodeling for this project, this process has been worth the pain. There is certainly more left to do. There always will be. The process is continual, but after twenty years of waiting, we have made a good start.

I was not surprised at the stress levels it would raise doing all of this, and it certainly has, but we were not new to remodeling and were resigned to its inconveniences. The details that needed attention, the corrections, the changes, the dust, the roaming through the house to find a bathroom that still worked, and the intrusion into our lives has been rough.  For the most part though, I have survived. And I know too, that when I watch those last tail lights heading back to town for the last time, I will be ready for a serious massage, a very large and very cold martini or two, a very quiet house, and in no, particular order.




Tuesday, September 15, 2015


The other morning, Sunday, while still sleeping, I realized I was no longer dreaming and the outside world beyond my involuntary imagination was beginning to shine through the window and beckoned me to join it, and so slowly, I did. After coffee I walked to the barn with my posse of dogs under a dark, clear blue sky, thanks to the cold front that had come through overnight, to the whinnies of the mares waiting for their feed. I knew they wanted, and are still expecting me, to bring them pears from the trees in the front yard.

There are still a few pears left hanging but are well out of my reach, and these will most likely drop and get eaten by first finders, and that includes but is not limited to squirrels, the dogs, hornets, deer, butterflies, and raccoons. The horses would be there first but theirs is a life of fences and restrictions from doing such things. Left to themselves, they would sit under the pear trees and eat pears nonstop, until they exploded, or foundered, in no particular order of that. So they get no freedom there, only treats.

These pear trees have been very valuable to me over the years for many reasons; first and mainly, we have planted them on each farm that we have lived on over the decades, because their fruit is the core of the delicious relish that I make each summer that was my grandmother, Miriam’s, recipe, but they have also been the enticer to my young horses to leave the barn when I have first begun to ride them alone and away from the herd. Once they learned of the sweet treats that hung, and lay on the ground under the trees, they willingly marched away from the barn, boldly going all the way to the other side of the house, out of sight of the herd. With frothy mouths they would lower their heads and crunch with undistracted contentment on the fallen orbs. Nothing matters when pears are in season, except for the pears. But now, the season draws to a sad close and the mares, and all listed creature above, will have to wait until next year’s pears, but at life's present speed, that won’t be long.

As I went about my day on Sunday, I meant to make a list of things I saw through the day but never made the time to jot them down. A few that I do remember are, a butterfly dancing with its own shadow, an orange Fritillary, by size looked to be a male. It flitted and flirted with a shadow butterfly below it for many minutes. The sun was above and to the back of the butterfly and its shadow was in hard outline on the pool deck below it, and the dancing shadow was as equally mesmerizing to this guy, as his flitting about was to me. It was charming to me to see how focused this butterfly was on his reality of his moment, that he was courting and dancing with a wonderful dancer who knew and mimicked his every move. Just like Ginger and Fred, they were together in perfection.

 Later, I saw a Red Shoulder hawk fly in a rapid whoosh, up from the woods to the edge of the pond where the north wind was rising as it was pushed over the dam. The rising winds lifted the hawk and it quickly rose as it flew in lazy circles higher and higher. The sun shone through its tail showing its handsome black and white bands in clear definition, and once it had reached how high it wanted to be, off on a tangent it flew and was gone from sight.

With the weather’s change for the nicer, our weekend project was to reclaim some of the overgrown trails around the farm. As we worked on clearing the trails back in the woods near the creek, I was stunned to find that so many of our large Sweet Gum trees have been girdled by the large, orange teeth of what must be, an army of beavers. The sap from these poor victims is now oozing down their smooth, bark less trunks, to the chips laying at the base of the trees. These trees will all begin a slow death and will leave new holes in the canopy as they lose their leaves, their limbs, and then fall.  The beavers have rarely been this destructive to the Sweet Gums and it makes me wonder, why now, and why these particular trees?

Beavers have never been very high on my list of animals to have around when you have trees and water, both of which we have a lot of, but my tolerance of this new and recent killing of our trees is wearing their welcome thin to say the least. In reality, I know that is a fantasy to think that “removing a few” will significantly lessen the pack of them. No, they only just call in more friends and family up from the bowels of the creek. There will always be, beavers.

After our work reclaiming the main trail down to the creek and cleaning up the camp site, we sat in faded plastic chairs and splashed some rum over some ice. I had sadly forgotten to pack the tonic but we did have limes. We looked down at the still water of the creek which was now divided into long pools of clear as gin water. I could see flat backed turtles rising and falling and an occasional ring perhaps made by a Gar that I could not see.

Then one of those mists of tiny bugs came floating down the creek, a grouping of hundreds of tiny flying bugs that moved as one creature. Inside the cloud of these bugs, individuals moved vertically, up and down, and they too danced like the butterfly in the light of the sun. I suppose someone knows the answer to the why of their behavior, but it was a beautiful thing to watch without being burdened by that knowledge, and they simply became fairies in the gloaming of the afternoon. They danced for several minutes, and then they, too, were gone.

Some things have very clear end and beginning points, like taking the turn out of the driveway to start a fun trip, the turning of the last page that says “The End” of a great book, or disappearance of the last morsel of a really good cookie. These moments are real and have hard edges.

The awareness of the beginning and ending of a lot things, however, can be foggy and aren’t really noticed, until later.  A particular date may well be marked on a calendar as the seasonal change but the real change of a season is more elusive. It is hard to tell exactly when the last time is that I will cut the yard, jump in the pool, sweat from the humidity and heat, swat a bug, or pick up the absolute last pear.  These moments happen like bubbles with an ebb and flow, and life moves on until the cycle repeats itself again, next year.
My apologies for no photos this post. There was a glitch somewhere. Imagination helps

Monday, August 17, 2015


It is the end of the summer months. It used to be, as a kid, that August got to be ridden to the very end, to the very last day, before school was started up and fun time was over. In August’s wake the following Labor Day weekend meant fireworks, barbeque, and the closing of the country club pool with a day of races and relays. The end of summers were always bittersweet and languid and I’ll admit to having always felt a gladness that summer and the worst of its heat was coming to a close, and yet, it made me sad that another summer of my youth/life had come and was gone. It is like the romance of the end of a relationship that was not meant to be, but also the hope that another one would come along.

August is my birth month, the specific date falling on the 11th, a date which I have shared with my mother for all of my life, her plan on that, not mine. This year was the first and only time we have not shared the date, as she died last year almost two weeks after the 11th. So the date this year was finally mine to have as a special day, just mine, and somehow it felt disorienting and weird, like there was a puzzle piece missing. And it’s not like we have had a traditional party together on the date in many years, my plan on that, not hers. We usually exchanged gifts of some sort early and then, in more recent times I went out of town to be away and was able to savor “my” special day without sharing. In truth my leaving did not make “my” day more special, it just made it separate, and underlying it has always been “our” birthday. This year lacked any cake, ice cream, or balloons, which was fine sort of, but it did give me some moments of retroflection to feel the ending of something. My mother and I will never share the date of our births in August again.

We, once again, left the brutal Alabama heat and humidity last week and headed to the mountains to enjoy the cooler temps there and visit with friends. Mark taught his photography workshop, as he has done for many years now, the workshop scheduled by using the time of my birthday as an excuse to escape the dismal end of another summer. We met some old friends who we had met at the lodge years ago and who we feel like we have known our entire lives, and yet in truth we only get to see each other for four or five days annually. Somehow we are able to pick up conversation as though we had only been in another room for a moment, no time lost, we move on. Together we are just on the same page, playing hard, relaxing, or finding some adventure for the afternoon, and especially enjoying the dining and wining experiences that the lodge’s chef renders to us all. This trip was no different in that aspect.   

There on top of the ridge that the lodge sits on, the air is cool and a nice breeze tends to keeps the no-see-um’s away. The air is clear with a few distant puffs of clouds hanging behind the mountains on the horizon. Gold finches chatter and flit around and chip monks fill their cheek pouches with as much sunflower seed that they can stuff in and carry their loot back to where ever their secret hiding place is. A refreshing cold front brought in some especially lovely weather the other day. It was preceded by a rain shower that caught us when we went out for a brisk walk down the incredibly steep driveway and up the mountain highway that surrounds the base of the lodge. As we huffed and puffed our way along the drops felt good and deeply refreshing. Our piety returned and, once dried off, it was wine thirty.

This place we come to, is not for everyone. Those who feel a need to have entertainment shoved at them from every angle with a barrage from which there is not escape, won’t like it here. Their comment will be, “There is nothing to do”, and no, there really isn’t. There are no tv’s and even though there is a connection to the internet if you have to, the perfect entertainment here is sitting and watching the birds, the clouds, the trees swaying in the breeze, listening to the motorcycles rumbling below as their riders take the hairpin turns on the road below. There are walking trails to peaks that face east and one, west to take in the different views. There are tennis courts, gardens to admire, chickens to feed blades of grass to, horse shoes to throw, fire pits to be sat around, books to be read, and did I forget to mention, there are the fabulous meals to be savored.

Nearby there is a creek with a long smooth pool where folks go to stack cairns in the water and in doing so create a place of beauty and ephemeral zen charm, until they are knocked down by some bad little boy, or from an increase in the flow of the stream driven by a rain somewhere up the hill, accumulating until it reaches the bottom where we sit on the “birthday rock” and watch young trout holding in the eddy line in the crystal clear water at our feet.

There is a deep blue lake where we take canoes and paddle boards out to explore the steep coastline and feel the coolness rising off the water. There are hiking trails too numerous to mention and waterfalls to go see. There are places to get away and just sit and think, or write, under trees, in the screened room, on decks built just off the trails, or just sitting in the lodge main room overlooking the far peaks to read or chat. No, there really isn’t much to do, and that suits me just fine.

All places of paradise proportion like this, though, have a flaw somewhere and this hallowed ground has hornets. August is their time of year to be pure evil. We have run into them before and now try very hard to avoid where they might have their nests in the ground. As the night time temps get cooler, these bugs begin to get mad and pissy as they must feel the change of season coming on and that their time in limited and so make the most out being aggressive.

 On our last full day there I went for a morning walk on a path to the east, one that is well traveled and clear, and I was hoping to not get crossed up with any ground dwellers. The sunlight was starting to peek through the tall trees and cast long beams of warming light to the cool ground below. In the beams of light and warmth all kinds of bugs were trying to get some energy, and then I saw two hornets doing a buzzing in circles fight with each other. Up and down the shaft of light they fought each other vying for the heat. I stepped wide to their left to avoid their possible wrath but one shot out of their duel and flew all the way across the path and tagged me on my left hand right between my fingers.

I quickly got to the top of the trail head without any further stings and they had not followed me, but my problem was, I had to go back by them to get to the lodge. I let the two dueling buzzers chill for a bit, then charged my way past where they had been and did not wait to see if they were still there. It is an amazing thing that adrenalin does to make the body move faster and with more agility than it has by itself. I got back with out further incident, found some bendryl, and waited to see if I was going to react and have to take a dose of my epi-pen. My hand swelled to balloon size and itched but I felt no hives coming on and that was a good thing.

We finished out our last day back on birthday rock, drinking some red wine and restacking more rocks. A mean spirited young boy who we had seen the day before is suspect in having knocked down the previously stacked cairns, and some of which had been balanced by a real master or very powerful witch. I just don’t understand destroying something like these graceful piles of rocks, but I have never been a young boy looking for trouble either, and that too is a very good thing.

Anyway, we headed back home from our paradise to a parched scene that today, is finally getting a much needed rain to quench the browned and crispy plants. I have spent the morning scratching the necks of the horses and feeding them the last of the pears that have fallen from the trees, and not much more. Riding them will wait a day or two and they don’t seem to mind at all.

August, is half way done.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

good intentions

I woke today with good intentions of having a productive day on the farm, first to ride the horses, then cut the grass in the yard, bush hog the pastures, spray the tomatoes and put roundup on the weeds, clean the house from last night’s visit from the grandkids, check the pool chemistry, run the dishwasher, wash some clothes, and so the list goes on etc.  In reality, I also woke with a set of arms that screamed in pain from over use as a result of water skiing this past weekend, the second such adventure doing so in twenty years.

thirty years earlier
The first time back on a ski was two weeks ago and I did not stay up long as I got tired pretty darn quickly and, surprisingly was not sore after that time. This time though, felt so good that I stayed up for most of the length and back of the bay of Soldier Creek. I crossed the wake with conviction and turned and leaned and sprayed high banks of water just because it felt so good to be doing something I used to do on a daily basis during the hot summer months at Lake Martin. The muscle memory was back and I smiled as I glided over the water. Today, though, the lactic acid that I built up a few days ago has cramped my forearms into blocks of concrete, heavy and noncompliant.

So I type for now, with these arms of lead hanging off my key board. The grass is calling me to cut it but it will wait for a while and the horses have headed off to the far end of the pasture to the shade. As to the other annoying chores, they too will have to see me another day, unless I make a serious rally.

It really isn’t just about my arms from skiing, there are other new muscles who have joined the ranks of soreness from yesterday having to move the heaviest washer and dryer I could have ever imagined there being. Our daughter was moving to a new place and had this combo that needed to be moved out and so she was donating it to us to use as it wasn’t going to fit in the new place. So out we headed bright and early to my pick up truck to go and get these items moved. I turned my key to the truck, and it turned but would not start. Over and over I tried flipping buttons around to see if I could reset anything electrical. We read the manual’s trouble shooting guide and still it was a no go, nothing, dead, and seeking a tow truck. Punting on this vehicle we headed to the You Haul place to rent something that would start.

Finding a suitable truck, we headed to our daughter’s old house and then, remembered we had left all of our tools to take a washer apart in Mark’s car, back at the You Haul place. More running around to get them and finally it was time to move the washer. We were quite surprised when we pushed to tilt the thing to get the hand truck under it, that the washer had grown roots and would not budge. Another more enthusiastic effort was made and we got the thing on it and bumped it out the door with Mark on the important end of the hand trucks, the part the holds the weight up. It weighed a ton if not more, and my job was to try to not let the rolling mass take off down the very long and very steep drive, with him leaning back to hold it back and me on the down side pushing to slow the descent. Then we all heaved it up the ramp into the truck, with a very close to failure effort. We were shaking and stunned at how close we had come to a total state of sudden exhaustion. But the dryer was still inside and so we repeated the same routine with it. This lovely combo now sits on my front porch next to the dog bowls waiting for a chance to replace my current washer and dryer, and I am anticipating a wait greater than a week for that to happen. It might be easier to hook them up out there under the guise of “you know you are a red neck when” for even contemplating the idea, but moving them did not help out my skiing muscles nor my other ones screaming at me now.

We had been to the beach house for a long weekend hence my getting to ski then, a reunion from last year’s gathering of Mark’s siblings, their children, and ours. It was a very full house with a whole bunch of togetherness but as before, in a good way. It was noisy and boisterous with lots of activity and everyone chipped in to help make things run smoothly. But my being responsible for the opening and closing of the house, making sure there was stuff for the making of the meals, the hoping everybody was having fun, and all of the tiny stresses that hosting a large group entail added up and when it was done, so was I. It was great fun, and then we drove the long drive home, with me whipped, mentally and physically.

My parents used to lease a house at the previously mentioned Lake Martin when we were kids, and we spent the entire summer there every year, until an evil developer of the area took the cabin from us. During those years, especially during our high school years, every weekend my brothers had many friends up to visit and so did I. We ate delicious piles and piles of thick steaks that my dad bought and cooked for us on his Weber. We had everything that a bunch of adolescents could eat and drink and we never gave a real serious thought to the incredible generosity of my parents, especially dad to give us so much. We had full tanks on our boats so that we could ski all day or just ride around the lake, and all that was expected in return was that we behaved ourselves, and we generally did, sometimes.  I think back on my growing up in this water world utopia and think of my self and my brothers, and all of our friends as incredibly lucky to have had such wonder experiences because my parents made these efforts, over and over for years.

Our being able to go now to a lovely beach house, and to share it with others, is directly because of my dad’s insistence on having a place to gather with family and friends, and made it happen. If I could tell him so, I would humbly say, a much bigger thank you to my dad.

It is the first day of July with the fourth coming this weekend. My ill fated truck was hauled in shame to the ford place and I am waiting to hear the damage report. Somehow I already know the news will not be good. Somehow, also, I must get to the store to buy some ribs, or steaks are sounding pretty good too. My plan is to do as little as possible the next few days and let myself rest up so I can attack the farm chores, later.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Farewell to Tony

I just got off the phone with my vet after making arrangements for him to come tomorrow to do a kindness for my tiny pony stallion Tony. Tony is ancient, and as I said “tiny”, Shetland size, but has been a huge driving force in the past several decades of my life. Tomorrow we will let Tony pass away with a kind injection that will put him to sleep and I will bury him and say a fond farewell.

Tony came into my life some twenty some odd years ago when I was beginning a breeding program with a few mares that I had bought and or bred and raised. I was planning to use artificial insemination from shipped semen, so I didn’t have to ship my mares off to far away farms, and also so I didn’t have to deal with any very large, hormonally driven, stallions. My problem was that I needed a way to tell when the mares were ready to breed without the expense of many wasted trips to my farm that my vet would have had to make based on my guess work and observation. A friend who knew my plight suggested that Tony might be the trick.

For several years I borrowed Tony for breeding season from a lady who owned him but whose mares would not tolerate him being around them. Since she couldn’t use or need him, I would go pick him up and for a few months, he would stay in a tiny paddock near the mares, talking to them in high shrill voice and swishing his tail, flirting shamelessly, hoping for a chance to prove his man hood. When the mares began to show him the time of day and act interested, then I would call the vet and he would come and check the mares to see how close they were to the optimum time to breed them. In twenty something years of being the teaser, he was, never ever, wrong. Sadly he was unrequited with his amorous intentions with my mares but he never gave up his enthusiasm and effort.

I finally bought him when I found out that the lady who I borrowed him from yearly, had gotten herself tangled in a messy personal situation. Tony, as well as her other horses, had become trapped in the middle of her predicament and his future whereabouts to live were questionable.  So I called her and arranged to buy him, not for the 500$ she asked for him when I first asked his price, but she happily took my cash amount of 50$ instead. With that deal, Tony had a new life home.

There really isn’t a way to tell exactly how old he is and can only give it a good guess based on when and where he showed up years ago. I think the story goes that he came down a dirt road with several young black boys aboard, bareback and squeezing to all stay on. They didn’t know where he came from but had found him and hopped on the tiny little man. This was many years before I knew of him, so best guess is that he is possibly well over thirty years old, at least. He has, until just recently been in great health with only a few minor hiccups along his long life.

I quit the breeding any of my mares, years ago now, when bad luck caused one of my prized, and much loved mares to die in foaling. Tony was then retired from his official duties but still remained near to his herd of ladies, usually tethered to a long line with a swivel snap so that he was free to move about, with limitations. He became my moveable weed eater, cleaning my fence lines and keeping the grass down. More recently as he began to show his age, I moved him into the big barn, where he was tethered to the gate behind the barn so he had a stall he could get into and eat his meals in, and then when he wanted he could go out, eat grass, drink from the pond, or just lay in the sun resting.
It has been a good life for the boy here on my farm, and I am in his debt for all the help he gave me. In the past few days his health has swiftly declined and, on Saturday, Tony simply refused to eat. I am suspect of teeth being an issue at his age, but the quality of his life will not be improved by any heroic effort my vet might do to postpone the inevitable end. When we spoke this morning we both agreed, it is time.

The good thing about having pets and being responsible for the welfare of the animals we own is, the having an option when the time comes. The fact that we can decide what to do for them when the quality of their life becomes a downward spiral with no chance or hope of rebounding, is a humane and caring thing. I have put too many of my animal friends to sleep. I have held them until the life was gone, and have cried many a tear as I said good bye to them. But with each, as they slipped into death, my consolation was that their suffering was done and gone. I will simply not watch Tony starve and let him suffer. It is time to let go. He is ready.

I already know that I will miss his high pitched whinny every morning as I walk to the barn to feed. He has been a huge part of my farm success, and of all of our lives around here. He has been in our farm yard since my children were babies and he has carried my first granddaughter around like a trooper.  I will dig his grave tomorrow and bury him with no line snapped to tether him any longer. Tony has earned his freedom.  Farewell my little friend.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tomato Soup


I don’t usually cook for myself in the middle of the day, but today it was warranted. The weather sucks, and has sucked for a pretty long period now. It has been day after day of clouds, gloom, and rain, all draped by temperatures that have pulled the warmth all the way from the marrow of my bones. Today, though, is slightly different. It is colder, and wetter. I needed some soup. I needed warmth from the inside, something for the body that was good for the soul. I went to my pantry and opened the doors.

I had recently re-fluffed my pantry. In doing so I had thrown away bottles and cans of this and that bearing dates to be consumed by, that were decades past, but hadn’t been. It was all prompted by our little dog who, recently, made me aware that there were visitors living in the pantry. After learning of their residency, we then soon trapped two Micky and Minnie’s who had found themselves a nice little smorgasbord in the cracker and snack area which I had not seen much of in months. The shelves of the pantry are deep and things have tended to be pushed to the back and not seen, and forgotten. My visitors had found a culinary heaven in the back of this one shelf and left a mess which required, after their removal, taking the entire contents out and assessing just how old the stuff really was, disinfecting, and restocking. So as I stood at my newly stocked pantry, I looked at ingredients and their potential to solve my need for warmth for my core.

Cans of pumpkin enticed me, but it was the box of chopped tomatoes that caught me. Tomato soup was calling me. I chopped a nice long leek up that I had sitting in the fridge, and put it in my soup pot with some EVO, and turned on the heat. I put some celery leaves in there as well for that flavor that only celery can bring, some chopped garlic and stirred as the heat began to make a soothing sizzling noise. After the leeks had wilted, and before they browned, I poured in a box of chopped tomatoes and added some chicken broth. For some heat I added a bit of red pepper and for some smoke I added a couple of shakes of smoked paprika. Then I added some freshly ground black pepper on top and stirred again. I tasted and mulled over what else.

I went to the fridge and grabbed the roasted red peppers I had sitting waiting for use and poured them into the bubbling mix. My indoor areo-garden had finally produced me enough basil that it was time to prune some of the leaves so I clipped a few and tossed them in as well. I tasted again. It was time for the mix to meet the blender. The blender whirled and pureed the mix into a beautiful creamy red goodness. I ladled some of it into my waiting bowl and topped it with shredded parmesan and asiago cheeses and snipped a few more basil leaves onto that. Then I sat to eat and enjoy.

I don’t know where the first bowl went but the warmth spread, my shoulders dropped and my mood brightened as I tasted the promise of summer tomatoes in each delicious mouth full. Like eating pure sunshine, this quick little soup in the middle of the day had nourished me in more ways than one, and just like that, this soup had done its magic. I was warmed, through and through.

The rain outside continues and according to the radar, will continue for a while. The northern part of the state is predicted to get snow, and possibly quite a lot, for here anyway. I do wish that we would see some but this time is not likely. There is a strong jet stream ushering the storm system and it is holding the line just north of our town, as it usually does. On occasion, it has slipped south and has allowed a storm to bring snow to us, instead of the numbing rain, so hope stays alive for a dusting at least.

In recent months I have been spending a lot of time cleaning out closets, drawers, the before mentioned pantry among them, and have been sorting things into that which needs to be thrown far away, those things and clothes that will be given to more needy (or perhaps to those who might fit my clothes which have mysteriously shrunken), from those things which I will keep. It all began with the closing down of my parents’ house after my mother passed, and in preparation for an estate sale of their belongings. For months I sorted through the drawers, closets, and attic deciding what was to be kept and what was to be sold.

The hardest of all the decisions I have had to make are over the photographs, and not the ones on the wall. It is the thousands of snap shots, some in albums, but mostly, loose prints in a paper bag, or a box that are really the time keepers of the lives that have come before me and whose images are now my responsibility. I have looked into the eyes of relatives I have no names for. I have sorted through countless black and white photos of babies in christening gowns, felt the stern gazes of the pioneer relatives, the older ones, the ones just off the boats from Germany and Scotland, and onto the more recent ones of my grandmother in the full bloom of her youth and beauty.  I have culled and culled but there is a corner upstairs, still, with many boxes of photos I have become the default caretaker for. They will all probably go into yet another box, to be put into the attic, to wait on the next caretaker to decide which to keep and which not to perpetuate. It will be their decision, though, not mine.

But the feeling of loosening up, of freeing up my space and my feeling of carrying too much baggage, had carried over to my own house after I finished at mom’s house. I now have a huge pile of plastic bags by the front door which will go to charity and hopefully be used in a second life. There is also a huge red box outside by the big oak tree that has a whole bunch of stuff that was cluttering our house and had no use, and so will be taken to the dump when I have filled it to the brim. I began with my file cabinet yesterday, the khaki one upstairs that I have used to keep up with my horse breeding business for thirty years, and also the one for the kids, and all of their school progress reports etc. Of course there is an enormous pile of photos to be sorted through and decided on whether to keep or not, of horses, of our kids as they have grown up, our farms, and our lives. It is a slow process. It takes time to reload the memories.

Ironically, as we have been keeping our fingers crossed in hope of bit of white fluffy stuff gracing us now, I came across a group of photos taken when it did actually snow here. The shots are glossy prints complete with the dates on the back telling me they were taken in December of 1993. The shots are taken at our old farm. Our kids were young, preteens, and were wearing the coats that they wore when my dad took us all on ski trips. In one shot, our youngest has a huge snow ball made, holding it in her arms and I rather imagine that it got thrown immediately after the shot at her older sister. My German Shepherd walks with our older daughter in one, and looks to be glad that the weather finally turned civilized. Kudzu and Kowaliga, two of my first Dutch horses that I had breed are standing in quiet contemplation with melting snow dripping off their coats.

None of these shots made it to an album, or got put in a frame but its’ nice looking back at them. They evoke sweet memories and take me back to that moment in time where it did actually snow. In that moment, our world stopped, and it was all white, magic, and beautiful.

With a quick glance at the still gray and darkening close of another wet and miserable weather day, I am losing hope that we will see the fluffy stuff, maybe next time. I am thinking a reheat of tomato soup for supper, or maybe the leftover chili, anything as long as it’s warm and comforting to chase the chill away.