Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why We Live Here and Not There

Lee and I have lived in many beautiful places in the course of our lives. I grew up in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest and in the deserts of San Bernardino. I lived for a time on a sailboat in Marina Del Rey. I lived in the Kingdom of Tonga. We both lived on the coast of California and then for four years in Hawaii. We lived for 10 years in Northern California in a beautiful city called Granite Bay, walking distance from Folsom Lake. We would be there to this day if Lee's job hadn't moved him to Orange County, CA. We spent 10 years there, fifteen minutes from the beach and with perfect weather, not counting mudslides and the odd earthquake. And yet, when Lee retired we moved to the tiny town of Buchanan, VA.

Every vacation where we did not go to visit relatives, we spent exploring the US. We wanted to find the best place to live. We eliminated the northern part of the country. Lee had lived in Escanaba, MI as a child and didn't want 6 months of winter. We also eliminated all the southern states. Lee had lived in Houston and hated the humidity. Hawaii was OK, as we had ocean breezes, but he really preferred to live somewhere other than the tropics!

Lee's much beloved Grandmother, Pearl lived in Sun City, AZ. It was too hot and brown for us. We kept going east, looking for the perfect spot.

My mother is from Ashland,KY. I have relatives there and Virginia and North Carolina. We visited there and we loved it. We like that you can't throw a rock and not hit an historic site..Civil War ( oops, I mean the war of Northern Aggression) or Revolutionary War. My Montague relatives came here through Williamsburg and Lee loves to visit there. The state is jam packed full of Universities which makes for a diverse and interesting population. And the views. Even the freeways are pretty! No concrete tunnels full of graffiti on jam packed freeways 24/7. Have you seen the Blue Ridge Parkway? Awesome views from every lookout.

So we chose Virginia and our daughter Tara chose Virginia Tech and here we are. Now we have four seasons. Just when you get sick of the heat and humidity of summer, a summer shower will come along and cool you off. Sprinklers for the lawn? Why? It rains every few days and keeps everything green. Then comes the beautiful autumn colors. Winter has its' own stark beauty. It reminds me of a Beverly Doolittle painting! Spring is glorious. I love it when the dogwoods and lilacs are in bloom.

This winter has been a challenge for us and others. If you have read my earlier writngs you will know that snow is not as fun as it looks. But then we got up this morning. The sun is shining and the snow is sparkling. If you discount going to the barn and finding it a VERY cold 20 degrees, and for this narrative I WILL discount that, it is a morning worth all the trouble.

The view of our house from Lithia is commanding.

There is an even better view from our porch across the valley.

The woods behind our house are home to many deer, turkeys, fox and a host of birds. There are bears, cougars, coyotes and bobcats on the list of things we know are there, but hope they stay far away. I like knowing they live here, but I'd just as soon not see them. We won't count the groundhogs, because I wish they would find another place to dig their dens, but not enough to shoot the cute little critters. If a horse breaks a leg in a groundhog hole, I will wish I had done something. We also have a lot of buzzards, but from a distance they look a bit like hawks, so that is what I prefer to think I see gliding above us.

Our stream in no longer a scary, rushing danger, but a thing of beauty.

Just driving up our driveway is glorious. I choose not to think of the muddy mess it will be when the snow melts. (A paved drive is on "the list", but it is 1/3 of a mile and thus, quite expensive.)

We particularly like the deer tracks going up our trail into the woods. I love when we co-exist and worry about them during hunting season. On the other hand, I guess I don't need 300 deer eating our pastures and woods to the ground. We can support quite a few on our 57 acres though, so they are welcome.

This is what it is like for a California native to learn to live in the Commonwealth of Virginia. So far, so good.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dutch Baby

My friend Marcy asked for the Dutch Baby recipe...again. I decided to put it on the blog so she can always find it. So here it is, Marcy.

6 Tbl flour
1 Tbl sugar
6 Tbl milk
3 eggs

So basically it is a ratio of 2 to 1 for eggs and the flour and milk. You can make it bigger or smaller by following the ratio. Also 3 Tbl is about 1/4 cup if making a lot. A little over or under will not matter in this recipe.

I use a large cast iron pan Aunt Suzy gave me. It was the first of many and now I have a bunch of sizes for different things. A small one is good for an individual size Dutch Baby, but this recipe is just for one big one. It will serve six wedges.

Put 3 Tbl butter in the pan and place it in an oven at 425 degrees. While it is melting put the flour, sugar, milk and eggs in a blender and mix it up. Remove the pan from the oven and swirl the butter around so it coats the bottom and up the sides of the pan. This is important or it will stick. Then pour in the egg mixture and return the pan to the oven.

Set the timer for 10 minutes, but check it now and then to see if it is starting to brown and set in the middle. It may be a little longer or shorter depending on your oven. While it is cooking, slice up the fruit of your choice. My preference is strawberries. High in vitamin C and tasty year-round. Peaches are another favorite, but only in season locally. I hate mushy or rock hard peaches.

The Dutch Baby will puff up around the edges and make a sort of bowl when it is done ( see the picture at the top). When the edges are getting rather brown, remove the pan. This is a dish that you can serve in wedges if you are having other things for breakfast, or eat the whole thing if you are hungry and this is all you're having.

Lee and I usually cut it in half and share it.

It is nice if you have a lemon to squeeze a bit over the top. Lemons get gross before I get around to using them in the winter, so I usually sprinkle some lemon juice in the little lemon shaped containers on it! The lemon juice does tend to flatten the Dutch Baby so you have to decide if presentation or taste is your priority. Add the fruit and sprinkle with powdered sugar. I also like to use a bit of syrup on the side, but it is certainly not necessary.

There you go, Marcy. Did I forget anything???

More Snow!

It's snowing again and we are MOSTLY snowed in. We could get out if we HAD to, but we don't, so we won't. The snow is about 6 inches deep, but it is still snowing so we'll see. It isn't a heavy snow but it is constant.

Lee and I went down to the barn in the 4 wheel drive farm truck...much warmer than the mule. It is no where near as bad as it was in December when the snow came up to the undercarriage! I had put the blankets on the "girls" Friday morning, so they were warm enough. So, we poisoned the horses and let them out and walk around.

OK. To be technical I put each horse in the cross ties and gave them each a tube of glop that is supposed to kill intestinal parasites and leave the horses intact. Libby takes it like a champ and Claire worries it and drools some of it on the ground. She walked out and started eating snow. It was too cold and snowy to leave them in the pasture.

We cleaned the stalls, gave them fresh food and water. They kept wandering in and out of the barn, so they weren't too upset to go back in their stalls. I gave them some special treats becasue they prefer to be out during the day. At least they got a little fresh air and were able to stretch their legs.

I took a few pictures, but it is hard to see any distance so I will put a few up and see how they turn out. Snow is blowing sideways onto the screen porch and it is on the table and the hammock. The cats wanted out, but came right back in. City cats!

Monday, January 25, 2010

We had over 50 inches of rain last year. The snow came hard and long just before Christmas and there are still patches of it. When I go to the barn the ground is soft and the horses hooves leave an impression wherever they walk. It is slippery and wet.

Yesterday it drizzled all day. Then last night the rain got heavy. It has not been over 50 and is usually in the thirties. The ground is saturated.

This morning when I went to work I could see that the stream that runs through our property was running high and fast. There were log and debris against the seven huge pipes that run under our bridge. The pipes on the right side of the bridge were so blocked with logs and branches that the water was splashing over the bridge. A log about 8 feet long and about a foot across had washed up over the bridge. The water was running pretty high on the left of the bridge but was at least a foot below the stream on the other side.

When we moved here there were many days when parts of the stream bed were completely dry. This was a first for us. It makes me wish I was a kid and could race boats from this concrete bridge to the wooden bridge at the other end of the property. Of course, if I was that child's mother I wouldn't let her do such a stupid thing! A person could drown! But it's still cool.

Now if the stream were over the bridge and we were stranded and I couldn't get to work then I might be annoyed. Right now it is just cool and not scary. Plus we are on a well and we can use the water! I wish we had started a pond. We have the perfect place for one and for the first time, we have plenty of water. I'll put that on my things to do list. It's way down, but definitely on there!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The North Star

Just about every Saturday we go out for breakfast on our way to do errands, grocery shopping, ours and the horses, mostly. We generally stop at the North Star. We will have slept in and done the horses and the cats, so it is usually around 9 or 10.

The North Star will never get on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The food is good and plentiful and cheap but it doesn't have the things that attract that kind of audience. You will, however find farmers, State Police, truckers and just about anyone that lives in Buchanan.

For $2.95 you can get two pancakes the size of a dinner plate. I have never finished both, so I usually order one, even though it is not on the menu. I can get eggs and toast and hash browns for around $3. It is usually crowded and there is only one waitress for the whole place, so if you want coffee when you first get there, you can get it yourself.

Frequently your coffee will be refilled by another customer wandering past with a pot. You may not know them when you get there, but people talk between tables and you might have a friend before you leave.

Do not expect fresh fruit for breakfast or low fat for just about any meal, but it is a friendly place with cheap food and that is what we are looking for when we go to the North Star

Heart Healthy and Delicious

Now I am going to attempt a recipe ala SmittenKitchen, Tara and Trista's favorite recipe blog. I have to skip the cute baby pictures for pressure.

Strawberry Oatmeal.

I know. A lot of people hate oatmeal, but this isn't your mother's oatmeal..or at least it isn't MY mother's oatmeal. The main difference is that I use milk instead of water. It adds an amazing richness and I use non-fat milk to keep it heart healthy.

1/2 cup oatmeal (the old fashioned kind, you must have some you use for oatmeal cookies, if not you will now.)
1 cup nonfat milk
pinch of salt, just a pinch, but you can leave it out if you have to limit salt intake.

This is for one serving. And to be honest if I am just making it for one I use the microwave, but it is easy to boil over and make a huge mess, so I like to do it in a pan on the stove. So just double it to:
1 cup oatmeal
2 cups nonfat milk
pinch of salt

While that is cooking over medium heat, slice up a small handful of strawberries and sprinkle your choice of sweetener over them. I use Splenda. I used to use powdered sugar.

When the pot just starts to bubble and the oatmeal starts to thicken, remove from heat and pour into a bowl (or two). I stir in a teaspoon or so of Splenda in each bowl. Here comes the fun part. Put a dollop of Cool Whip on top and then top that with strawberries. Not breakfast any more, now it's dessert.

When I don't have strawberries I add brown sugar Splenda (Do you think I can get money from them for mentioning them so much? Maybe a year's supply or something?) and cinnamon. Then I add it to my coffee..yum. If Tara isn't around I will add peeled and chopped apples when I start to cook. (Granny Smith) Apples and Cinnamon Oatmeal. Another personal favorite. It only takes minutes and lasts me until my late lunch. Unless someone brings doughnuts, then all bets are off. Does the oatmeal cancel out the fat from the doughnuts? Someone needs to do a study..I'll volunteer.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fincastle Library

Why I like working at the Fincastle Library.

1. It's easy to get to and it pays the bills.
2. It's a beautiful drive through farming country with beautiful churches and well tended cemetaries.
3. I see deer sometimes and a bear once.
4. The town is so cute.
5. The people I work with.
a. Paige. She's a good boss even though she isn't there most of the time. She is also on the bookmobile..more on that later.
b. Rena. We are at the front desk together most of the time. She is funny and caring and laughs at her own jokes and repeats them so I can hear them again, in case I missed it the first time. She knows about genealogy and computers and is happy to share with all who ask.
c. Cathy. She trained me and had a lot of patience and never got frustrated (well, I'm sure she did, but was nice enough to pretend she wasn't). She seems all sweetness and light, but has a core of steel and won't let people walk on her..except family, but we ALL do that!
d. Doris. She is in the back most of the time, but is always willing to cover the front if I have to go on the floor. She takes my suggestions for new books. She allows me two corrections a day on books I find on the shelves that are wrong in some way. She is patient when she explains that it is right and I am wrong! She loves her grandbabies.
e. Jackie. I left her for the last because she is always the last to be noticed! She is the children's librarian and she quietly goes about getting everything ready for the kids with a rather stern look on her face, but lights up when she does the stories and the songs. The kids love Miss Jackie! She lets me fill in when she can't do it, but they prefer Miss Jackie. I'm OK with the stories and the crafts, but not so good with the songs!
f. Marilyn and Talie are there part time and nice, but I don't spend as much time with them.
g. Roy. He is the courier that brings the books from the other libraries for our patrons and delivers ours to others. He always has a funny story. If he tells you a terrible story, you can bet he is making it up.
6. The Bookmobile. Paige is training me to drive it when she or Marilyn can't. It's fun. You get to go all over the county to bring books to people that ordinarily couldn't get to the library on a regular basis. One day I'll write about the old men at Cave Creek and their unreliable pants and being mooned, but let's just say it isn't always boring!
7 . I love the people that come into the library. I love that if someone has had an illness and couldn't get their library books back on time we can take care of their fines. We have a patron who has a terminal illness and her TV no longer picks up channels, so she gets a lot of movies from us. We changed it so she can get as many as she wants and we will not let fines accumulate if she has been in the hospital. I most like learning about my patron's likes and dislikes and suggesting new authors that they might try. I LOVE it when they come back and want everything that author ever wrote. I keep lists for some of them and they ask for the next one and I order that one if we don't have it. I am slowly learning their names and I feel good when I can help them without asking who they are!

So, while I would rather be rich and not need to work, this is a good compromise. I would also like to make a lot more money if I have to get up at the crack of dawn and head out into the world, but I will accept a lower salary to have such a great working environment. Maybe they will be able to have a raise for us county employees NEXT year.

Winter in Botetourt

Reasons to Love Winter in Botetourt

1. I was starting to hate summer and sweating all the time.
2. The air is crisp and clear.
3. The horses are fuzzy and happy to go in the barn.
4. SNOW! It really is long as it goes away in a few days.
5. The horses run around and Claire likes to nibble at it and come up with a milk moustache and then roll in it.
6. The horses look cute in their blankets with the little tummy warmer.
7. No bugs, flys, stickweed.
8. I don't feel bad if I don't ride...too cold or too slippery.
9. Trying to figure out what the tracks through the snow are. The deer are easy, after that....
10. When the snow starts to melt you can see the animal tracks on the hillsides.
11. Everything looks clean and pretty. It's a great view.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Morning At The Barn....Winter version

Get up at 5:50. Get dressed in grubby clothes held in front of the space heater so I don't freeze. Feed and scoop cats. Dress in lined Carharts (actually the cheaper Walmart version) put on the knit gloves and the neoprene gloves and the funny looking knit hat with face shield. Pull on icy cold rubber boots in the garage, knowing full well that the minute I open the garage door the temperature will drop 10degrees.

I have to use the lights because it is still dark out, but as I drive around the back of the house I see the hint of dawn..a lightening over the Blue Ridge Parkway. I can't look too long, because if I don't pay close attention I could go over the edge. And it is very steep, although I could hit a tree and slow my descent. The house is pretty close to the edge at the corner!

After I pass the house the wind sucks the breath out of me. I have to put my hand over my mouth and breathe through the cloth to take a breath. It is so cold and the wind whips up the hill. The road is a little strange here at the top. When Lee plowed the road, he had no landmarks and it doesn't always follow the roadbed, but that is where I have to dive. The snow is still here from before Christmas, but is no longer the soft fluffy stuff. It is icy and hard and slick. Not fun to drive on and worse to walk on. You need the 4 wheel drive sometimes up the hill. Or you have to back up and run for it. You may get lucky.

First thing I do is open the barn doors. Libby pees first thing. I wish she would wait to go out, but no. As the doors open you can hear the splashing. I turn on the lights and the radio and backup to the hay. Aubrey Crouch made small round bales for us the first cutting and square bales for us the second cutting. We are using up the round ones first. They last about a week in the winter when we feed hay twice a day. In late spring and summer and fall they can eat from the pastures. We rotate them to keep plenty of feed available. I use the pitchfork to fill the back of the mule with a nice, tall mound of hay. If you scratch the bale just right, the hay falls off in nice compact blankets that you can fork into the mule. If not, you have to scratch and pull at the hay to get it in the mule. Then you have to really mound it up to compensate for the lack of density.

I drive to the pasture and open the gate. I put the hay in two piles to limit arguments over whose is whose. If I am lucky, someone, either me or Lee or Tara has dumped the stock tank out last night when they put the horses in the barn. If not I have to break the ice..not easy when it can get several inches thick. Or I have to try to dump it. Not easy when it gets frozen to the ground. I connect the hose to the hose bib ( we disconnect it every night so the pipes don't freeze) and leave it running while I go get Libby. If it was colder than 30 last night, I will have left the blankets on. It is a chore to put them on in the morning when they want to get out, so they have been on a lot this winter. Libby gets put out and then I turn off the water and disconnect and drain the hose so I don't have a frozen plug in it tomorrow morning.

Now for Claire. She's a pistol and lips at me a lot. Sometimes she takes off my hat or worries some piece of clothing. I try not to let her because she could really bite me sometime. I don't want to hit her every morning and I know most times it is done in fun. So I try to keep an eye on her and not give her an opportunity. She and Libby call to each other if I am not fast enough. "Where are you?" "I'm coming. It's the human that's slow!" There are ruts and lots of icy patches so I can't go fast and lots of times it is my grip on the lead rope that keeps me from going down. They usually give me a dirty look when this happens.

After I put Claire in the pasture, I have to put my hands in my armpits as I walk back to the barn. By this time they are aching. My feet have thick socks under my rubber boots, so they are just cold, but my hands ache. I have 2 muck buckets, and put one by each stall and start scooping. Sometimes it is not much different from scooping the kitty litter. Just on a larger scale. I try to save as much of the shavings as I can...close to $5.00 a bag! Libby is a pig and steps in and paces in her stall so there is a much bigger mess in hers. Claire is clean and will go to the far back of the turnout when she can. It is too cold to have the doors to the turnouts open, so she backs up as far as she can go to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately this makes for a messy tail, but an easy clean up. Now the mule is loaded for hauling buckets to the compost pile. First I wash the water and feed buckets. Thee is usually some ice in the bottom of the water buckets , but the water from the well is warmer and helps to melt it. A quick sweep and I am mostly done.

I drive to the compost pile. There are two now. One from last year and a new one for this year. We are letting the old one "cook" for the winter. I plan on buying some more fruit trees and we'll use some then. The rest I hope to spread out in the hay fields for the next year's crop. We are looking for a cheap manure spreader. We may just broadcast it from the truck. Who knows. A quick dump and leave the empty buckets in the barn and we are done for the morning. I close the barn to keep it a bit warmer. I usually hose out the buckets in the summer, but too cold now, and besides, frozen poo doesn't stink! Or maybe it is that frozen noses don't smell anything. Either way I am done. It's off to the house and out of the clothes and time for coffee and breakfast before I have to dress for work and hit the road.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Snowed In!

It started snowing on Friday so the county closed all the offices and I went home at 3:00. We decided to dash out for a quick meal and by 5 we were stuck on our very long and snowy driveway. Lee went and got the 4 wheel drive mule and up we went. We decided to wait until the morning to pull the 2 wheel drive blue truck up to the house. By morning there was 18 to 30 inches on the drive and the ditch beside it. Lee had to get the tractor out to plow to the barn so that I could get the mule to the barn. The horses stayed in, much to their dismay.

The mule got stuck at the steepest part of the hill and so I backed down to go out the bottom drive and it slid off the road and got stuck. I hoofed it to the house...uphill in the snow. Trista was coming so Lee did a quick plow out the bottom and took the 4X4 orange truck that way to see about pulling out the other truck. It slid off the drive into the ditch, partly blocking the drive.

The Chapman's had a snow plow on their ATV and came over to try to clear the drive a bit. Their ATV slid off the road and the heavy plow dug into the slow and it wouldn't get out. Lee got the tractor and pulled the mule out and we went around the bottom drive to see about the ATV. We were finally able to dig it out and use the tractor to pull it free. On the way down the drive in reverse ( no room to turn around), the plow grabbed at some snow and slid the ATV into the ditch, AGAIN. By this time Lee had gone to get some tools from the house and Bob Chapman and I used our nylon tie-downs to pull out his ATV. It was very heavy, but he was using his brand new and very beautiful 4X4 truck, Rose driving. One of the hooks unbent and sent the other hook flying, to put a very small ding in his bumper..Good thing it didn't hit me, but then I would heal and his bumper now has a small but significant ding....sorry Bob! We finally got his ATV fixed and sent the Chapman's home. We didn't want to wreck any more of their stuff!

We spent the rest of the day digging snow. It looks light but isn't. We got the tractor to try to get the orange truck out of the could get us to the airport. It is a farm use truck and looks like it, complete with rust and hay in the cab, but it drives on snow! And they still hadn't even plowed the road...assuming we could get to the road! We couldn't get any traction for the tractor to pull the truck out. We were still a foot from solid ground. In desperation, Lee drove the tractor around the truck and came in with the front loader facing the truck. He wanted to lift the front of the truck up enough for the rear wheels to be able to back out of the ditch. He lifted the front of the truck with the front loader...yes, I know it did nice things to the orange truck, but we were desperate by this time. No use calling AAA they were still getting cars with people in them off the interstate! He had to put the tractor in the ditch to get the right angle and no go. Lots of spinning tires, no movement. We decided to go to the house and get cleaned up and have the Chapman's pick us up at the base of the drive and take us to the airport. We could take the mule and then use it to drive up with Trista. When we tried to squeek by the blue truck still in the middle of the drive, the mule got stuck. We dug it out twice and twice it got stuck again. We decided to abandon the mule and walk up. We were too beat to do any more digging. We now had 4 vehicles stuck in various spots on our drive...sort of like the 81.

The Chapman's had offered to take us to get Trista, but it was now dark and we didn't have enough time to get dry clothes on and get to the bottom of our drive and still get her on time, so once again they came thru' and went to get her. They dropped her at the base of the drive and Lee and Tara walked down with a sled to carry her things up. Poor Trista had to walk up the hill after flying from London!

The next morning Lee got up early and got the mule out. That was great because I did not look forward to driving down the hill to the barn and feeding the horses and then trudging back up the hill. I had scooped the stalls the day before, but hadn't dumped the muck buckets because I couldn't get to the compost pile...too deep for the mule. As long as I had clearance under the center of the mule it was OK, but got bogged down if it was deeper than that. We decided to dump the old and new droppings and shavings and hay into the bed of the mule and use it for traction under the tires of the three remaining vehicles. We got boards and the shovels and went back down the drive. The tractor was the first priority as it was the only thing we could use to pull the others out. We cleared under and behind, layed down boards and poop and Lee was able to get it out!

With the tractor free we dug and boarded and pooped behind the truck ( not a pretty picture and you know what I mean!) and Lee hooked up to the rear bumper and I drove the truck out and down to the bridge at the base of the drive that Lee had cleared while I was digging and KNOW what I mean! We were now no longer snowed in!!! Next we went to get the blue truck, but even with me driving and the tractor pulling, it got caught in the ruts of where we had been working and slid off the road and got stuck. We were too tired to do any more digging and the truck was far enough in the ditch so that we could get by. We figured when Travis got here, he couldn't drive up the driveway anyway and so we had him park at the base with the truck and we used the truck and the mule to haul Travis and Vanessa and Orlop up to the house. They were good sports about the whole thing, even the cat!

Lee spent the next day scraping the drive. It takes many passes with a scraper. It doesn't have the weight of a snow plow and it is pulled behind the tractor, so you have to take a bit at a time , over and over to get to the road bed. Which is dirt and gets all chewed up and when the snow melts, it is a muddy mess. It is also narrow so that it made a small narrow drive sunk into the hard snow. Needless to say, I had Lee drive me to work in the orange truck for the week! I didn't want to chew up my car and I certainly didn't want to get stuck at the bottom and not be able to get up the hill as had happened the last winter.

So that is our snowed in story. It might help some to get the road paved, but I think the best thing to do is get another 4X4 vehicle next time. And put the scraper on early when a snow is coming. And don't get the truck stuck on the road to get a quick bite. That was the biggest obstacle, I think. And next time we have a big snow, we shouldn't have guests coming. That way we can stay in and enjoy it!

The best thing to do is not to pray for snow so that the visiting kids could go sledding down the hill in a nostalgic longing to revisit our trips to Lake Tahoe in winters past. Be careful what you pray just may get it!