Saturday, November 26, 2016

Bluebirds of Happiness

Among my earliest memories is of counting babies and bluebirds. This print hung in my bedroom when I was a child (and my mother's before mine!), and I studied it for hours – so much going on. Just looking at it made me happy, still does.

When Maggie was born, I had it reframed and hung it in her bedroom, then Jack's, then Mary's. Today, it hangs in the upstairs guest bedroom. I thought of these eight babies and eight bluebirds today as I watched Ed clean out one of the eight bluebird boxes that are scattered up and down our drive and around the house and garden.

Just as the bluebirds bring us much happiness when we see breeding pairs begin to build their nests, we want to make sure that they will be equally happy raising their fledglings at Farm Dover. It all starts with a clean and safe place to nest. So every winter, Ed goes around and cleans out each box, leaving it move-in-ready for the next brood.

Even though we had a number of pairs of bluebirds last spring, we also had some tree swallows that liked to take up residence in our bluebird boxes. Not sure if this used nest is a bluebird one or a swallow's. We are happy to welcome both species -- which is why we have eight boxes. Room for all at Farm Dover. 

Note: print by Charles Twelvetree, "Out on a Limb," circa 1920.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Monday Fun Day

“As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses,
for you only get to play one round.” 
- Ben Hogan

For the past six weeks, Ed and I have played a Monday round of golf. This may not seem remarkable – especially to regular golfers – but for us, it is a bit of a big deal. You see, we haven't played golf but a handful of times since moving out to Farm Dover.

We have designated Mondays as our fun days. We either walk nine holes at Clear Creek Golf Course in Shelbyville or we ride 18-holes at Eagle Creek down the road in LaGrange.

Pine Mountain State Park

We don't take ourselves too seriously. I'm always asking for a mulligan, or pitching my ball out from under a bush, or asking for a putt give. I pretty sure I could never play in an organized event as I don't remember the official rules.

I grew up in a golfing family. My dad was a scratch golfer and sister Sherry played college golf. At age 86, Dad continues to hit golf balls most every day, and Sherry continues, seemingly without much practice, to win tournaments around town. Back in the 1970's, the three older Carpenter girls made up 3/4 of the Eastern High Girls' Golf Team. But even then, I was the weak link: I'm just not competitive.

Even on our recent outings, I spend most of my time looking at the trees, trying to identify them by their bark or by the few clinging leaves. I wear my hiking shoes instead of golf shoes. My golf bag flaunts a few holes chewed by mice. My golf balls are so old they don't seem to fly right. But none of that matters.

On a good day, we each have a few nice shots; the ones in between leave plenty of room for improvement. How well or how poorly we play isn't really important. What matters is that we are out there trying; getting a bit of exercise and fresh air; laughing as we chase a white ball around. Having a fun day.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

My favorite veteran

Had lunch today with my favorite veteran: Army Private First Class John R. Carpenter, Jr. (aka Honey). He served his country from August 1952 – August 1954, stationed at Fort Knox, KY.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Seeking perspective

Four years ago this month I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It knocked me for a loop – in a single moment my world was turned upside down. Unless you are in my closest circle of trust, you probably didn't know this about me. I couldn't talk about it. Every time I tried, I cried. My tears went on for weeks, and then one morning I woke up and decided that I could face this blip. It was hard, and it was painful, but I survived. From it, I gained a new perspective – a new appreciation for life.

This morning, I woke up with the same sucker-punched feeling. My perception of the world was again knocked for a loop, upended.

Just yesterday I was so confident; so happy to be heading off to cast my vote for the first woman to be president of the United State. I put on my pantsuit and had Ed take a photo to text to my girls. I wanted them to know what a milestone this was for me, for them, for all the women in this country.

It concerns me greatly that I was so mistaken about the will of the people. I know that we live a semi-secluded life here on Farm Dover, but I consider myself fairly well informed about current affairs. I listen to NPR and watch the nightly news. I read from fairly diverse news sources. I had no idea that this would actually happen. Even though I now consider myself "a rural person," I was caught unaware of how profoundly disconnected people were feeling. I feel bad about that.

This morning I was in shock (still am). All I could do was shake my head in disbelief and wipe away my tears.

I then put on my overalls and headed out with Ed to unload a truck-bed full of compost, plant two smoke trees, clean up the ceramic planters out by the cottage and check on the hearts-a-bustin' trees down in the deep woods. As Anne Lamott reminded me: "if birdsong were the only proof that there is another, deeper, wider reality, it would be proof enough for me."

We came in for lunch and I checked my email and found a note from Hillary. It read it part:

Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.


Our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek. And I know you will. 

I am so grateful to stand with all of you.


To all the young people in particular, I want you to hear this. I’ve spent my entire adult life fighting for what I believe in. I’ve had successes and I’ve had setbacks -– sometimes really painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your careers. You will have successes and setbacks, too. 

This loss hurts. But please, please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It’s always worth it. And we need you keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives. 

To all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion. 

I know that we still have not shattered that highest glass ceiling. But some day someone will -– hopefully sooner than we might think right now.

And to all the little girls watching right now, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world....

As my young friend Sydney observed: Today is painful and scary and disorienting. I'm sad today, but tomorrow I will pledge my allegiance to this nation, rise up and fight for what I believe in. Hillary wasn't going to fix all our problems. We are going to fix them. We are going to make the change. Today I am sad, but tomorrow I will do more, I will work harder, I will fight for us. 

I sense that it will take me some time to come to terms with this outcome. I will need to keep an open mind,  listen carefully, be thoughtful, and continue to seek perspective. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

I stand with her

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
– Margaret Mead

Yes, of course, I stand with her, and you will find me on Tuesday morning proudly casting my vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But what I want to tell you about is how I stand with another her, who in this case, refers to Pat, a new friend that I met through the Shelby County extension service. Pat has a huge passion for native plants, especially those that are butterfly (and caterpillar) friendly. She says that during the summer she wakes and rushes out to her garden to see if there are any swallowtail caterpillars on her spice bush. It's what gets her out of bed and going. I understand.

Pat is a master gardener and is certified by the Kentucky Native Plant Society. Her yard is a showcase of incredible gardens, mostly comprised of native plants.

Milkweed seeds, critical to the survival of Monarchs.

Pat is known throughout the Shelby County community for her work in the schools educating children on the need to establish way station gardens for Monarch butterflies. She often dons adult-sized Monarch wings as she goes about educating and recruiting enthusiasts. She can be found visiting schools, bringing along with her mesh cages containing caterpillars, chrysalises and hatched butterflies.  She is known for her enthusiasm to work with teachers and students to plant native gardens and she has helped get native gardens established at many Shelby Counties parks.

A single common milkweed seed. It floats on wind and water. 

My favorite story is one she tells of collecting milkweed seeds and then releasing them out the car window as her husband drove down I-64. She says it looked like smoke coming out of her car and she is sure that other drivers thought her car was on fire. But no, it was only Pat, on fire with her desire to spread the one plant that Monarchs need to survive. (They lay their eggs exclusively on the milkweed plant and their caterpillars only eat milkweed leaves.)

I've been collecting milkweed seeds. I have a plan...

So in Pat's honor, and as a way of saying that I stand with her, I too have been collecting milkweed seeds and plan on driving down Dover Road to release them to the wind. There are plenty of milkweed plants on Farm Dover, but I am hoping that my release of milkweed seeds will help establish a corridor of Monarch-friendly habitat.

So Pat, I appreciate all you do to change the world – and I stand with you.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The plant that keeps on giving

My raised beds runneth over. While the calendar says November, my nasturtiums are rioting like it is mid-summer.  I've come to a whole new appreciation for this feisty flower.

For the past several years, I've ordered seeds from Johnny's Select Seeds and planted them in the front of both my raised beds. Without much coaxing, they grow, and grow, and by July are spilling out of the cedar boxes.

This year, I watched them especially closely as I wanted to the raised beds to look nice for Maggie and Nate's wedding. Mid-summer, they were looking a bit spent, but then perked up as August and September came along. They were glorious on the wedding day.

They are fun to have in my garden and young children's eyes get huge when I show them they can pick and eat the blossoms. They usually go home and tell their parents that they "ate flowers" at Farm Dover.

Yes, the flowers (and leaves) are edible and I tend to put them in most every salad I make in the summer time. They look beautiful and add a bit of peppery flavor.

But it is only this season that I've come to fully appreciate their many uses.

From tiny arrangements
to peppery pesto
to pickled seeds (a.k.a. poor man's capers)

to compound butters. they would be beautiful mixed in a soft goat cheese.
And I've just come to understand that the seeds can easily be harvested, dried and planted next spring.

It's the plant that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Fuzzy Wuzzy

Before I ever lived on a farm -- make that, before I even dreamed of living on a farm -- I enjoyed reading about the natural world. Thirty years ago I read Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which won her the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. (Note: She was only 29.)

In the book, Annie Dillard sets out to see what she can see over the course of a year as she explores the meadows and creek near her home outside Roanoke in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. What she sees are astonishing incidents of mystery, death, beauty and violence, described in exquisite detail. The narrator (whom I always assumed was Annie herself), records her thoughts on solitude, writing, religion, as well as her scientific observations on the flora and fauna she comes across.

It was one of those books that stuck with me and I think of it often as I'm out exploring the flora and fauna of Farm Dover. A couple of weeks ago, I pulled my tattered hardback copy down from the bookshelf and began a rereading. It was as good as I remembered.

Last night, I began the chapter on her observations in September and was delighted when I came across a passage about woolly bear caterpillars – for on Monday, I observed, and photographed one as it made its way across our stone path out to the cottage.

Here's what Ms. Dillard has to say about them:

"The woods were a rustle of affairs. Woolly bears, those orange-and-black-banded furry caterpillars of the Isabella moth, were on the move. They crossed my path in every direction; they would climb over my foot, my finger, urgently seeing shelter. If a skunk finds one, he rolls it over and over on the ground, very delicately, brushing off the long hairs before he eats it." 

I love the thought of a skunk playing with its food before gobbling it down. And I was delighted to find out the kind of moth a woolly bear becomes once it emerges from its cocoon.

Pyrrharctia isabella, the Isabella tiger moth

Whenever I encounter a woolly bear, I peer closely to see if it is mostly black, or mostly brown. For, as legend tells it, the wider the rusty brown sections, the milder the coming winter will be. The more black there is, the more severe the winter.

So far, most I've seen have been mostly rusty brown, which may explain why it is in the record-breaking 80s in November!