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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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Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

Yesterday I actually drove to downtown Lexington, Virginia all by myself. I parked in a nicely arranged parking lot with stairs at the end, and went for a walk. And then I climbed up one stair and back down and then two stairs and down and then THREE steps up and down.

Talk about self congratulatory pride! I felt like Rocky!

And then I walked on level ground for about 20 more minutes.

HURRAH!

Big Foot complained a bit but we managed to ignore all that. “I am woman. I am strong. I am invincible!”

Of course walking in a parking lot is not too exciting. There are certainly not many photo ops, but the sun was shining yesterday with a cool little nip in the air, and the traffic was nil, and I took my trusty cane for balance. That little parking lot is now my personal training track!

In the good old days around 1998 the goal was to walk 10,000 steps. But my pedometers don’t work anymore. I suspect it is because the goal is now low low low! What pedometer would be caught displaying 150 steps anyway?

So out with the pedometers.

Now the goal is just some time moving….. any time moving….. just moving.

Today I feel pressure to enter a blog post.

What about all that beneficial walking?

To do or not to do? That is the question.

Walking is more important really.

But blogging is a good excuse not to do what I set out to do yesterday.

I promise I will start walking again tomorrow.

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Photo by Jahoo Clouseau on Pexels.com

I was standing at the kitchen window on a quiet afternoon in Camelot (rural Virginia) when my daily impulse was to do a deliberate scan of the mountain view. Fading light enhanced the Blue Ridge Mountains and then my eyes automatically came around to a serene sight down by the old horse shed in our “back yard”.

I noticed some grazing deer and just beyond them loomed a strange black imposing image.

The image was also grazing but looked out of place since it was a HUGE MONSTROUS BLACK THING! And it was slowly moving in my direction.

I quickly determined it was a big black bull!

Now, if you were to ask me how I knew this was a bull there would be no answer since I have never come face to face with such a creature. It was certainly not your run-o-the-mill cow. And Bill also agreed it had to be a bull.

But what to do about a bull in your back yard!? Fortunately, we know the name of the owner of the pastoral scene across from our hill to her hill. Usually the view is of her smaller sized non-threatening cows. The owner is a very nice young LADY and she answered my call right away. She said she would send out “the boys” to determine how her bull might have escaped.

And sure enough, as the sun began to set and darkness arrived, there came two ATVs carrying the boys. I hollered “Hi!” and they hollered back and I told them where I had last seen the monster. Such excitement for one evening huh?

The next day there was a text from a neighbor who said she had learned there were TWO escaped bulls. One had been found and the other still missing.

Thankfully I have Elsa-the-dog for protection.

Such is the excitement of country life in rural Virginia, especially gazing out your kitchen window.

Well, nothing else really happened after the ATV’s hummed around and all we could see were their headlights. And now we are assuming both bulls are back on their own turf and perhaps dozing from their night out.

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Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

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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Born and bred in the Sunshine State of Florida I adored rainy days and loved the sound of raindrops pitter-pattering on the windows. There was joy too in the excitement generated with the onset of a tropical winter’s whistling winds and cooler temps.

I live now, in Virginia where there are actually four seasons. And sometimes winter seems extraordinarily long. This has been one of those howling unexpected seasons when Spring is a distant memory and the elderly who have been in self imposed Covid-19 isolation begin to yearn for the sun.

Is a visiting Robin really a harbinger of Spring?

Today I thought I saw a Robin flitting through the barren branches of a Virginia Winter, a winter which boasted its gloomy days and featured overcast skies, ominous clouds, snow, sleet, freezing rain, and a disappearing sun.

Was my visiting Robin a mirage or the result of wishful thinking?

Oh, I am so ready to toss the fuzzy slippers and the warm-as-toast sweaters and awkward scarves and gloves and proclaim the winter “Said and Done!”

Then again, snowfalls and spring flowers are landscape reminders of times past and times to come. Tired of one season? Wait a minute. The weather will soon change.

And whether or not my rockin’ robin visitor was real or a conjured image of the imagination, he cocked his head and said, “Get ready again my friend because sunshine’s coming your way!”

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This is Me, Elsa

They call me a Rescue Dog but I am really just a dog, a descendent of the mighty wolves of long ago. I actually remember bits and pieces of that ancient time when we depended upon our wolf families to survive. This leftover is a dog who still thinks the family/pack is everything.

I remember my ancient mother licking my face to tell me I was safe and cared for. And I remember roughhouse playing with my siblings as practice for real hunting and fighting. But mostly I remember the “now times” and my first, second and third human families.

My name is Elsa.

I am a little rescue dog with big wolf ideas.

In this life I have some bad memories.

My first human family did not really want puppies so they gave me to a kennel where I lived in a cage. Then a mean couple finally adopted me. I had a home but it was not a happy place because the man hit the lady and made her cry. I would growl at him and bark but he hit her anyway and he hit me too. I think he broke one of my ribs because it still sticks out and I don’t like anyone touching there. I also cringe and flinch if you try to pat me on my head.

The mean couple trained me to never to “go” on the grass. They thought the neighbors would complain. To avoid getting hit or kicked I learned to always go on the edges, on the concrete or gravel even though that was uncomfortable and sometimes hot on my feet.

I never learned to play either because there were no toys in that house. As hard as I tried I suppose I never did anything right because the mean couple ended up leaving me at a kennel. Their reason given was they simply did not want me. I was back living in a cage.

The next people who adopted me gave me back too and said it was because of hospitalization. I never bit anyone but maybe they thought I did. I am not sure why they were hospitalized. Then I was put in a foster program instead of in a kennel. The foster people tried to be nice but they had too many dogs to care for. Every Saturday they took us to a pet store in Virginia where people came to meet us and maybe take us away.

How I hated Saturdays! The noise was unbearable because all the foster dogs barked and cried at once. We were all so afraid of all the strangers and there was this awful smell of fear.

But there was a lady who walked with a stick who came in that Saturday.

They brought her a chair and they took me to a cage that was right next to her. I fought with the two attendants who were trying to put me in there when the lady said, “Please don’t put her in that cage. I will hold her.” And so I sat on-leash, next to the lady with my head on her foot, shivering and looking into her eyes to thank her in the only way I could.

That nice lady was named Dor and she was with another nice one named Emmy. They did not know me and I could not tell them how afraid I am of cars. Cars always take me to another horrible place. But Emmy and an attendant put me in the back seat of a car where I did some serious shaking and shivering. Emmy drove and Dor sat next to me. She wrapped me in her coat, held me close, and talked to me in a soft voice. She said, “It’s o.k. You are going home to a nice place where people will love you.” And she kept stroking my face and my ears like my real dog mother used to do and all the wolf mothers before her.

And I thought, “I will never forget this human. I will never forget.”

We drove for a long time to a house with other people and even a dog named Kota, who was much bigger than me and very very nervous. In fact, Kota turned out to be so nervous, she could not be still.

We went inside but I was sure they would soon take me to another kennel and another cage. I really wanted to explore but there were so many people talking at once and Kota kept running around nonstop. Finally I growled as if I were Mighty Wolf and scared Kota onto a chair with her mistress.

It was a relief to sleep that night in a dark room with Dor and Bill. I slept on a blanket at the foot of their bed and it was heavenly quiet. Everybody left in the morning except for Dor and Bill. Now we three would get to know each other and I somehow knew this would be my forever family,

I think I am as smart as any other dog, but it took a day and a night and some more experiences to believe I had a new home where the humans actually liked me.

Dor was the one human I decided to take care of.

I followed her everywhere and still do.

I sit behind her chair but if she moves I move.

I have been here two years now and all this time she thought I was the one who needed protecting. Even when I bark at strangers she thinks I am afraid for myself.

The truth is, I am protecting HER – not me. I do love all her soft words of praise and love and the gentle petting too. But I know my real purpose is to protect her and my family.

I knew this from the very first moment I heard her say,

“Please don’t put her in that cage. I will hold her.”

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It has been a very long year – well, almost a year – of high hopes and plans to get the much ballyhooed Covid-19 vaccination. Bill and I have followed all the rules and pretty much hunkered down and separated from family and friends.

And since I am still having trouble walking with a BigFoot that moved to the other foot and then from those two feet to the knees and then to my right hip, Bill is the “outside man” for shopping and errands and I am the “inside woman” with the chores I can handle.

We both decided months ago that we would get the vaccine ASAP! “We will be at the top of the list,” we thought, “because we are over 65!”

That was before a doctor I admire warned that if I was waiting for a vaccine, it would be a long wait. He was sure all the healthy young people would get it first. It made no sense to him but that is what he believed. “And why should I get it before you do when you are at the most risk from dying?” he asked.

Now it looks like we are actually closing in on qualifying for the arm jabs that hopefully will ward off death.

It sounds like vaccination appointments will be coming up over the next two weeks in our Central Shenandoah Health District in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Yes!

Finally there are notices that we are moving into Phase 1b in our specific district!

So why am I plagued with ongoing questions?

  • Is this cause for hope and celebration?

I have a more “believe it when I see it” attitude.

  • Will we really get the first shot?
  • And will we really then get the second one?

Somehow I am not sure of the value of our lives.

  • Will there be enough left for us after the masses of younger Essentials?
  • Will we have bad reactions?
  • How long will the protection last?
  • Will we have to get re-vaccinated every year?
  • Would it be better to wait for the one dose vaccine?

We are on the brink of beating the horrible virus that took over so many lives. At least that is what the experts keep telling us.

When we have passed the finish line and all of us have won the race for immunity, I will try to write another blog post in a real celebration for all the questions answered and all the lives saved.

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