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Archive for the ‘Country Challenges’ Category

Elsa-the-Dog and I have started taking early morning strolls. Because we tend to overfeed her she is slightly round and I think she needs to run. So, every morning Elsa eagerly looks for a stray squirrel or a deer to chase and I let her go! She doesn’t run into the woods to follow the wild critters out of my sight, but she runs like a wild thing down the road and to the edge of our Forest Primeval. Great exercise!

And it should be noted that I always let her out quietly so the critters will be in sight and not scared off first thing in the morning. Elsa gives chase, gets her morning run, and the wild critters seem to enjoy the whole thing too.

But yesterday morning there was an unexpected visitor.

Elsa came face to face with a great big SKUNK!

There was no barking but there was a confrontation. The skunk turned its back and raised its tail and Elsa backed away. Then the skunk tried to waddle off and Elsa followed. It was like she wanted to keep Mr. Skunk for a friend! Maybe the critter thought Elsa was another (albino?) skunk. They were about the same size but Elsa is a mix of browns, blacks, whites and golds.

No amount of screaming, “Elsa – COME!” from my long distance away had any effect on either of them. Elsa moved in, the skunk tried to run, Elsa moved in again, etc.

Crestfallen about what I was facing to remove the skunk scent, I gave up calling and turned back. But here came Elsa. She finally bade farewell to Mr. Skunk and returned to my side – no doubt expecting compliments, cookies and adulation for coming when she was called.

I was terrified of her approach, expecting the onslaught of painful smells. Having dealt with that scent in the past with other dogs, I knew what to expect.

In fact I once did a blog post about clearing the aisles in a Dollar Store when I carried the skunk scent and didn’t realize it.

But there was Elsa at my feet looking guilty – – – WITH NO SCENT!

I knelt down to give her a sniff but smelled nothing but the great outdoors.

A fleeting thought…was this a symptom of Covid? Losing the sense of smell?

Who ever heard of anyone coming face-to-butt with a skunk and not getting sprayed?

Was Mr. Skunk handicapped (missing his scent glands)?

Did Mr. Skunk use up his spray on something else?

You know what I think?

I think Elsa was non-threatening and communicated a message that she only wanted a friend. Or maybe they were both falling in love. After all, we are just coming to Valentine’s Day. She never even barked one bark or growled one growl. And I think Mr. Skunk recognized and honored her overwhelming wish for love. So much for logical explanations and good country stories.

Nevertheless, in future I do plan to send out morning warnings like rattling doorknobs, banging on things and uttering loud cries as we emerge from the house for morning strolls.

Meanwhile I have learned that Skunk mating season does peak around Valentine’s Day.

Male skunks begin stirring and wooing female skunks around the second week of February. Females refusing this courtship will spray in defense. Thankfully, skunk mating season only lasts from mid-February through mid-April!”

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY and A MESSAGE OF LOVE FROM ELSA AND MR. SKUNK!

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I live in rural Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and on the other side too, in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. In other words: Where exactly do I live?

To make matters even more confusing, I live just off a State Road on a private road, but my mail box is located on the State Road about a mile down the private road. The residents of my community pay yearly fees to take care of the private road. But I am told the State Road is maintained by the County, especially when it snows.


Are you confused yet?

We had a fairly big seven inch snow a few weeks ago. The private road was plowed by my community and the State road portion was plowed by the County.

We were all hugely grateful for the combined effort to allow us all to get out in an emergency.

However……….

The County managed to leave huge mounds of compacted snow in front of our mailboxes which are on the State Road – not the private road. At any rate, a bank of four mailboxes was plowed in.

I was with Bill when he tried to pick up our mail by balancing atop the mound, holding onto the car with one arm and the mailbox with the other in a shaky attempt to retrieve the mail. Not good for us over-the-hillers for sure. How the mail lady managed to deliver was a mystery too.

As we were rejoicing about how well things were managed here in times of crisis there appeared a notice in our mailbox entitled United States Postal Service – Approaches to Curbside Mailboxes. And it read:

“Dear Customer, The Postal Service depends on you to meet postal requirements regarding delivery and collection of mail to curbside boxes. Please keep the full approach and exits to your mailbox clear as illustrated in the examples below. Removing trashcans, snow, vehicles, and any other objects from the area allows the carrier to deliver your mail safely and efficiently without exiting the vehicle.”

  • The State owns the road connecting to our private road.
  • There is a bank of mailboxes on the State Road.
  • The County plowed the State Road after a snowstorm.
  • The County blocked access to the mailboxes for Postal Service personnel and its customers.

And the USPS says,

“Dear Customer,

You are responsible.

Clean up this mess.”

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Being Florida born and bred I have never quite adjusted to snow events. A world transformed by white was out of the realm of my imagination and the first snow I ever saw I was 21 years old in Big Bear City, California. That snow was called Tapioca for its tapioca-like pellets, and I have never seen the likes of it since.

And then we had a whopper of an event a day or so ago here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. That storm named Izzy dumped seven inches that froze in place and dredged up lots of memories of other winters right here in rural Virginia.

In the early days years ago such a snow created magnificent excitement for those of us young enough to enjoy prepping and shoveling or just going outside to experience raw nature.

That was when my mother was living with us and I would call the power company and whine about having an elderly woman here who could not take the cold. Mom has been gone a long time and guess who is elderly here now!

In the old days we had to keep stocked up on wood for the woodstove, and I saved water in bathtubs, washing machines, and in any containers I could find, candles too, and lots and lots of comforters and blankets to cozy up in. I made stew that could be reheated on the wood stove. Never mind that it might take six hours to be heated to a palatable stage. And we got out the shovels too.

This latest storm has been a vastly different story.

The power stayed on but even if it went out the difference is we installed a whole house generator!

And because we have this remarkable new technology I should be happy to exclaim, “Let it snow.”

Because now:

There will be running water no matter what.

The microwave will work.

The toaster too.

The heat never goes off.

The freezer keeps on running.

Lights only go out for 10 seconds before the generator kicks in.

No candles necessary.

Progress! A better life. A safer future.

Then why do I feel sad? Maybe it is like people felt when the automobile replaced the horse and carriage. This first real winter storm since we got the generator has left me with a sort of wrung out memory. It was a ghost snowstorm that brought up all my old memories of bustling around preparing for a worst scenario.

I still keep a few jarred candles in a secret cupboard just in case. They are lonely reminders of more eventful days when I placed candles in every room and flashlights too.

I still filled two pitchers with water just in case. They are reminders that the need for water was paramount. Filling tanks and tubs and containers was a busy job indeed.

The wood stove has not been lit with a real fire in a long time. It once kept us so warm at times I had to open windows. There is still plenty in the woodpile but waiting for a forgotten necessity.

Yes, I did go through the motions of all the preparations I used to do, but eventually realized I could just sit back and watch the snow. There was that little glimmer of excitement as I watched the first flakes come floating down, but I actually longed to be in survival mode with all the old frantic preparations. I missed working to make my home ready to combat nature and then to bundle up in Aunt Millie’s crocheted afghan, enjoying reheated stew warmed for six hours on the woodstove.

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My mind is wandering. The chaos of the holidays is especially confusing this year and of course I can blame it all on the pandemic.

Is the Covid-19 pandemic evolving or devolving? Is it now called endemic because the cases are going down? Or is it because the numbers of hospital stays are decreasing? Or is it the number of deaths? Or maybe things are not improving at all.

They say there is a new “variant” emerging that could be faster at spreading than ever and maybe more lethal. Or is it? Boosters might help or might not. Hunkering down again might help or might not. Should I wear a mask all the time or just in public or just among the unvaccinated? Should it be made of cloth or what?

Really I have more important things to think about. Almost my whole family are coming for Thanksgiving. Who will bring what or cook what and how will we all be seated? My mind is wandering.

It is not even Halloween yet but I already have plans for Thanksgiving. Planning is the secret.

  • I will make a big beautiful chocolate bundt cake the day before. That is in case there is a pumpkin shortage. They are predicting shortages you know and pumpkin is one (due to some sort of fungus on the crops… or is it a dearth of trucks for transport?). I do love pumpkin pie but chocolate will take the yearning away if need be. I have all the cake ingredients now so Ready-Get Set-Go!
  • I will also make my own favorite cranberry salad two days ahead to give it time to set and merge. There is a joke in the family about the grand who added 3 cups of sugar to the salad making it inedible. Not this time although she has graciously offered to make it again!
  • But just in case there is a problem or a shortage of cranberries we have two cans of the jellied version – the old fashioned kind we used to get when I was a child.
  • I will also make my own favorite veggies with carrots and turnips the day before.
  • We are stocked up with Stovetop Stuffing.
  • There is nothing like instant mashed potatoes nowadays but I will have a bag of real potatoes on hand just in case.
  • My friend reminded me of the merits in making a marinated salad so forget the green bean casserole.
  • That only leaves the turkey and gravy!

And there you have it. This is what happens when my mind wanders.

Now onto Christmas!

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Peace and quiet are what I yearn for,

even more so in the golden years.

Instead the phone is ringing “off the hook”

with fake people scams and phishing,

so who has time to read a book?

Yesterday FedX and UPS came twice,

and sent the dog into a fit of barking

calculated to excite.

And others came to dig a trench and add a cable

for high speed internet to bring us up-to-date

that sent the dog a-running and a-barking

and the phone kept a-ringing

so peace and quiet have to wait.

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I love Spring in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. ‘Tis really the season for beautiful color and the clean clear beauty of nature’s reawakening. Even the deer begin boasting their new babies. And I feel happy and productive and eager to think about planting more flowers. But thinking is not doing and since I am still a slow motion walker waiting for a hip replacement I have not injected myself into the wild.

Photo taken by Daughter-in-Law, Emmy – Virginia Redbud

Spring is is also a time of imminent threat from the wild. Whether you go outside to feel your toes in the grass or not.

Three days ago I felt an itchy place on my back just below the left shoulder. A hot shower helped and I thought nothing of it.

Two days ago, the itch was back so I took a look with the help of a hand mirror and saw a red place with a slightly dark center. I asked Bill to take a look with a magnifying glass and he did. He said, there was nothing there…. maybe a little raised mole. So I put some anti-itch gel on it and went to a peaceful slumber.

Yesterday the itch was back in full force and when I looked at it with the hand mirror there was a pronounced dark center, much larger. Bill took a look too and said “it” (the dark center) was kind of hanging loose so he removed it. In my opinion it was a well fed deer tick! And I was immediately off to the doctor.

Results:

  1. It was probably a tick. An adult deer tick is the size of a poppy seed. There are no charts or photos I know of that show a well fed deer tick as opposed to a hungry one.
  2. The doctor said if you check yourself all over each day and you happen to take off a tick, no medication is necessary.
  3. Because I came in early, I only had to have two antibiotics immediately… no more.
  4. Evidently, if you have a tick bite and remove it within 34 hours, you will not need meds.

I am still confused over all of this.

Seems to me, you should report a tick bite no matter what. My niece contracted Lyme and suffered with it for many years.

Anyway, in addition to gimpy walking I now have the remains of a bite on my back. The culprit escaped a plastic bag I swear I sealed. He was a major escape artist.

The doctor’s answer for this latter issue was to put a cotton ball soaked in nail polish remover in the bag with the tick. He will then suffocate and die but his body will stay in tact for identification! More than I want to know.

I dislike ticks and other bugs, but do I hate them enough to become a wanton murderer?

‘Tis the season all right.

Spring has sprung in all its glory.

But there is a downside to living in paradise.

Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia

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My father was a painting contractor in that long-ago time when houses were done with oil paint. I understand oil is still available but mostly folks use Latex now. Dad taught me to use a brush up and down with quality oil paint and then side to side to avoid visible brush marks! He had his own business, carried his ladders on a truck, and was much like the painters today in our little rural community in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

I thought I knew it all about how to choose a house painter because talking to them would be like talking to Dad again. I would join the world of estimates, numbers of men on the crew, gallons of paint needed, scheduling, etc. I knew it all.

I wonder though, what Dad would say to this story of trial and error in the selection process.

We would like to get the outside of our house painted/stained ASAP so the question was, “How do we find someone to do a good job and show up when expected?” In other words, we were looking for a professional, trustworthy painter like my Dad.

First we learned over time to go to friends for shared names and experiences. I did that and got two prospect numbers from a trusted friend who had work done a few years ago.

Neither telephone number worked.

Next I went online and got a name and an immediate response! Wow! Impressive. And Wow! We had an appointment with “Ambrose” (fictitious name) to come to our house the next day.

Meanwhile I remembered a company who did some minor painting for us years ago and although the crew were the biggest scariest looking men I have ever met, they had done a stellar job. So I called that number too. Again, a quick response and an appointment for them to come out the next day.

Finally, my son did a little digging and came up with another name we shall call “John”, who was just as responsive as the first two! And we had another appointment for the day after the first day of appointments.

None of this is very scientific but what the hay, this is country living right? They say three is a crowd but in the case of obtaining bids, I figured three was a reasonable number.

APPOINTMENT DAY

Ambrose showed up and was great to talk to and not only said he did painting but he also does handyman work! We were excited. He went around the house, took pictures and measurements and then said he would get an estimate back to us in a week. That was Monday. Bill liked Ambrose. We were both leaning toward Ambrose but needed to see the other two.

John (another fictitious name) was supposed to come Tuesday but arrived on Monday so he was eager. He is a friendly extroverted talker who quickly convinced us he knows what he is doing, but we were still leaning toward Ambrose. Nevertheless, John produced a detailed estimate by email on the same day. We are definitely not used to this level of professionalism in this heavenly place my Mom called “No Man’s Land.”

Finally, the big big guys who had once done some work for us came out and remembered us and our place. We were hopeful and were leaning toward them since we already had a record of their great work in our house. These fine fellows are what people around here call “locals” and of course they, in private, call the rest of us “foreigners” since we were not born here. True locals have a Virginia dialect that is sometimes difficult for us foreigners to understand but we all managed to communicate and they promised to produce an estimate next day.

This they did.

But their quote was twice as high as John’s. Their quote was very very high.

Nix the Big Guys because they were just too expensive.

Ambrose waited a whole week to contact us again. He did call in precisely seven days to let us know he had not done an estimate and to announce that he was too booked up to take on this project. Huh?

Nix Ambrose because he said he was not available.

And so we are now committed/contracted to have our house painted in late May by John.

We trust John,

we think.

I will keep you posted on this yet-to-be-begun project but at least you know some dubious steps to find a house painter :

  • Call friends.
  • Look online.
  • Remember good workers from the past.
  • Enlist family members to help.
  • Or you may have figured out that if you live in No Man’s Land, it will be just plain luck if you find a painter as good as my Dad. On the other hand, you may not want to paint your house with oil paint either.

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Bill and I live on top of a hill with a grand view of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a steep 15 acre slope down which I call The South 40. The South 40 requires “bush hogging.” And when I began to see the forest primeval slowly encroaching I realized we were facing an upkeep challenge.

In the beginning we had two horses (Lucy and Martini). There was also Martini’s friend, Rossi, but he was too wild for us equestrian novices. We were told grazing horses would take care of keeping the grass/weeds down but that was “fake news.”

The horses did love grazing but the grass grew faster than they could chew and soon everything became weeds and trees in an overgrown pasture.

We decided to hire a bush hogger person to keep things trim. That was only successful off and on since not too many people have their own equipment who are willing to risk life and limb to clear our formidable hillside.

Finally Bill bought a John Deere – a big but not the biggest John Deere – so he could mow the slope himself. He had to go straight down to the bottom and then straight back up (no sideways trimming due to the danger of tipping over).

I had visions of Bill lying on the slope with the bush hogger machine on top! Twice a year Bill would do the slope and it would take him four or five days each time to complete the job and that long for me to worriedly chew my nails down too.

Note of interest: Bill was halfway up/down the slope when I ran out to tell him about the 9-11 Disaster. This should give you an idea of how long he has been dedicated to bushhogging our slope.

As Bill grew older – and older, and less interested in risking his own life and limb, a Miracle Man arrived. Dennis came from Texas and said he noticed many folks around here have steep slopes that need trimming. He then bought a special mower that allows him to mow across slopes instead of up and down.

Dennis named his new company Slope Goat!

Dennis the Slope Goat finishes mowing our South 40 in three to four hours instead of days. Now we are duly impressed and looking forward to retiring the big John Deere.

Lest I sound too cynical about our steep incline/decline, the slope has some desirable attributes:

  • There is an old forest and a gurgling stream at the bottom. This is great for horses since they must go down to the bottom to drink and come back up for food (lots of great exercise). The problem is, we outlived our horses who were 28 and 32 and had become longtime lawn ornaments grazing on our parklike slope. Our urge to ride slowly receded when it was too hot, too cold, too buggy or we didn’t feel quite like it.
  • The horses did look beautiful grazing though and our three grandgirls loved pony rides.
  • I used to take walks down to the bottom of the slope (but not for long since it’s a killer huffing and puffing back up).
  • When Elsa-the-dog was new and we turned her loose for the first time, she ran down to the bottom, back up, and down and up again. That was the first and last time she ever tried to make a break for it.

And here we sit, atop our hill. It is 30+ years later as we admire the ever-changing mountain view. But if we look down for a moment at the land, we can see all the way to where we know the stream is. And though we may be a bit too rickety to make our way down there nowadays, the memory is fond.

We smile because we are so happy to have found Slope Goat and hope that Dennis keeps at it through 2021.

Blue Ridge Beautiful

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July 4, 2020 – Elsa-the-Dog reduced to shaking and shivering due to distant fireworks.

July 5, 2020 – More shaking and shivering due to close-up thunder storms

July 7, 2020 – Hysterical barking at 2:30AM.

Yes, I was awakened at 2:30AM by Elsa-the-Dog’s loud screaming/barking.  She NEVER does that.  She is a sound and happy sleeper and only sends the alarm bark during daytime hours when the UPS man emerges.

Since it was a hysterical bark

there had to be something amiss.

Elsa and I began a flashlight search of the house.  It was a full moon and we could see silver images through the windows so we were checking the outside too.  Bill was blissfully sound asleep.

Was it the bear visiting again and

rustling around somewhere near?

I thought maybe it could even be human

and what would I do then?

Was someone trying to get in?

After a room by room search Elsa and I went back to bed.  We just got comfortably tucked in when she began the hysterical barking again.  This was definitely her alarm bark to signal intruders!

Another search ensued to no avail and we finally gave up at 4:30 AM.  But I kept thinking and thinking while Elsa and Bill were then fast asleep.

A sunny day today and this morning I peeked into our attached garage from the relative safety of the mudroom/laundry.  The garage was the one place we missed in our moonlight search.

Whoa!  There was the answer to Elsa’s warnings.  There were torn pieces of something white and a hunk of the drywall ripped out.  Some critter was trying hard to create an exit.

Still no idea what it was but it must have got in when the automatic door stayed open as Bill went to get the mail yesterday.  That gave the Crazie Critter time and  opportunity to explore.

“Hey – this looks like a grand place to raise a family!”

“On the other hand, maybe not.”

“Now how did I get in here in the first place?”

“Wasn’t that big door open a minute ago?”

“I’ll just sit here quietly until dark

and then find my way out.”

“Lemme Out!  Lemme Out! Lemme Out!”

Elsa heard it all and warned her human pack that something was amiss.  She just wasn’t sure where.

I will never doubt her warning barks again.  She knows what she’s talking about and she is now my Super Hero.

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assemble challenge combine creativity

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You can only watch so much television when sheltering in place, right?  And how many jigsaw puzzles can you do without getting a headache?  I even find myself reading two books at a time!

But, even though our world started to open up again to allow for haircuts and dining in restaurants, the Corona Virus is angrily re-emerging and forcing us aging vulnerables into continued self isolation.

When I started blogging I had no idea the end result would be the addition of people I not only enjoy learning about, but that many have actually become  friends.

And through all the challenges of self isolation, and through the long months of solitude, as if to prove the value of our relationships, my blogger friends continued to create incredible connections.  You offer your experiences, your humor, your photographs, your ways of coping, your thoughts, and mostly your love.

But for quite a while I was reading your experiences and not sharing mine.  I was absent from the blogging world in a writing dry spell I thought would never end, when suddenly I realized that reading your posts was helping me get through the Covid-19 Pandemic lock-down.

The inspiration was there “in plain sight.”  Writing and sharing were the blessed remedies for coping with odd downturns like lockdowns and forced isolation.

Many of your posts made me think of what I would do in similar circumstances.  And my own responses could certainly have been crafted into blog posts.  But, instead of following the urge to write, I sent comments instead.  It was writing in a way, but mostly done to thank you, my blogging friends, for your words, your time  and your continued contributions.  You kept me sane in the insane world of Covid-19!

I am posting things again but the dry spell threatens to return.

I recognize it looming overhead.

Then, as if it was meant to be, a Virginia Black Bear wandered into our yard today and has inspired me to create another post.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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