Bird by Bird

In one of Annie Lamont’s books she wrote about her young brother being overwhelmed by a research project about birds. He fussed and stewed and just couldn’t see how he would ever begin say nothing about end it. Their Dad told him “You attack this project “Bird by Bird” just as you should solve any problem. Don’t look at the whole project just take it piece by piece, doing the best you can and soon the entire project will be finished. that has become one of my daughter’s and my secret message. When life gets too crazy take it ‘bird by bird’.
With that said I want to ask you how you attack spring house cleaning? One friend said she begins the first day of Lent and cleans out 1 thing daily and when Easter comes she is done for the year, no matter how many more things need doing. A beginning and an ending date – sounds good. Each day you feel good about one thing accomplished.
How do you reason out the things you really hate doing? There are a lot of silly “Take this survey to find out what your ………..Is.” I want one about spring house cleaning and what category I would fall under. Bet that would be scary!

Positive Thinking

I wake up grumpy when I look out the window and see another dusting of snow. OK I think – I can’t deal with this winter any longer. The kid in me sings “Winter, Winter go away – come again another day” then thumb my nose “na na – na na na” I need a an action plan!

I can’t spring clean because the never ending sanding of oak beams is still in progress. I have kept the sewing machine so busy it is on strike. The freezers are full of cookies. Too much snow on the ground to prune berries.

Edgy, edgy, I am just edgy. All my seeds have arrived so I decide to create a new filing system. At least that is a step forward!!! I’ll list in order of planting dates and put a FIRM “To Plant” Date on each header. I was gifted the perfect wire basket with a burlap liner at Christmas time, the gift that will keep on giving. I will have so many tomato plants (once this nightmare of a winter is over) I can pass them on to every person I know.

Yeah, that’s a plan Pat! Now quit talking about it and do it -Just Do It! (where have I heard that saying before)?

Family Traits

God Bless the internet, e-mail and Skype! Here is a run down of my family so you can see how important these resources are in my life.

1. I am the oldest of 7 “McGee” kids. We grew up in a small country hamlet and we all have a strange sense of humor.
2. My husband and I have 6 children that are spread near and far – mostly far. Currently the furthest is Austria – but that could change on a moments notice.
3. We have many grand kids, great grand kids, cousins and farm friends who feel like they are family that are also spread across the globe. The miracle is that we keep in touch.
4. We have college age, retirees, babies, artists, musicians, writers, farmers, blue collar workers; no words can explain this bunch. One of my son-in-laws came the closest when he said “They are all normal – only half a kink off.”
5. We all suffer from the same thing: cabin fever, which has a multiplier effect this time of year. When our lives are running rapidly in opposite directions we all get weirder and frantic, the need to connect is almost over powering.

A couple of years ago one of my sibs began an e-mail conversation that we were all copied on. It began as ‘do you remember when?’ and everyone chimed in with a variety of idiotic comments. It soon developed into craziness that on one other than our family would begin to understand; family pets, long dead even had voices. First of all, the lack of logic to the comments is hilarious to us all and additional remembered nonsense makes Dr. Seuss look like a beginner. We are sarcastic to the point of being rude but well meaning in our own strange world and no offense is taken. The end result is we get to enjoy each other plus have a few belly laughs and get through the remaining weeks of winter. It keeps family and friends connected and gives us the platform to talk on and on about nothing. That is what we all do best!

Ellie isms

“Mom I love your sensibilities” this from my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter Ellie. She is by far the most fascinating thing in my life in quite awhile. Where she comes up with these Ellie isms, as we have begun calling them, we have no idea. She is read to a lot, by all of us, she seldom sees TV but someplace she is picking up the greatest vocabulary. A bit ago while eating dinner with her folks she exclaimed, “Aside from the dog rubbing my legs while I have been eating, this has been a wonderful dinner.”

Thursday is my usual Ellie morning: she rushes in the back door “Gramma, what will we do today?” Sometimes we bake, some days we play games; she is very good at UNO cards and UNO Dominoes. Getting ready to play dominoes she sorts through them talking to herself, “We will take turns, here is a number domino I will put that here, this is a talking domino I can’t read that, finally Gramma can you help me turn them over and you can start.”

We have ripped up a few less than favorite seed catalogs, using them to make scenes along paper roads for cars, tractors and horses. Did I mention that glue sticks are also on her favorite list? Both of us are having a hard time been cooped up inside, we are both outdoor girls. But this weather has not been good for a cute faced little 2 year old. Just before Christmas she was on her way over with her Dad, he told her she would be helping Gramma plant bulbs in the dirt. (I decided she was old enough to make something to give to others, and I had purposely saved bulbs for the task). She came roaring through the back door with hands on hips; “Gramma can you tell me a reason why we would plant light bulbs in the dirt?” The end result was that we both got our hands in the soil, were happy, plus we made gifts that she was proud to give all. She loves to say “I am a worker lady just like you, Gramma.”

It won’t be long and we will be back on her beloved Kubota, with the dog trotting along. We will cruise around looking for signs of spring, deer damage in the blueberry field, plotting gardens or just plain enjoying the outside again. The one thing that will remain, as we stroll along enjoying the sun on our faces with my blind dog sniffing Ellie’s ‘buns’ so he can keep track of her – will be a; “Barley, you are a pain in the neck!”

Today is the 19th of January and I have been putting off a job long enough, too long actually. I have procrastinated and of course pick the worse day of the week to do the deed. Finally I can say the strawberries and garlic are mulched. I feel guilty and apologized heartily to the plants and I tucked them in. Hopefully with this frigid weather they are feeling a bit warmer.

The rule of thumb is to wait until Thanksgiving time (in our area of WNY) to mulch, that gives the ground a chance to freeze and toughen up the plants. The mulch protects the roots from heaving and working out of the soil as the ground freezes and thaws repeatedly. The other rule of thumb is to wait until the Forsythia blooms to remove the mulch.

This is a bit of a problem this year **HINT: if you read this blog often enough you will get the idea that I have quirky ideas of what problems are. If you remember the end of October we had a warm spell. I was out and about and happened to notice my Forsythia was in almost full bloom. HMMMM? If I follow the rule of thumb; I have to remove the mulch I haven’t put on yet – how is this supposed to work? And come to think of it how does Mother Nature work?

The good news and the bad: the berries are mulched and the bad news is that it may be too little too late. Time will tell and until that time comes we will enjoy the strawberries that are still in the freezer. Strawberry shortcake anyone?

Life from my kitchen window

I thank my kitchen window daily. It faces east so whatever the morning weather is to bring us, I see a preview from that window over the sink. The usual dull, gloomy sunless days of January are over- shadowed by the occasional and inspirational sunrise that is planted in my brain until the next one comes along. In February I can follow the sunrise traveling over the woods toward our barn. The closer it gets to the barn, the closer spring is; rather like a pay it forward time lapse for my winter weary brain.

Over the years this window has provided entertainment from kid antics in our side yard. When our kids were young they and the neighbor kids played there with a strange variety of items: large tarps that they held by the corners waiting for the wind to fill and drag them to the farm field below, an old discarded water bed mattress used as a trampoline, finally a real trampoline, ball games, and the best of all fishing for cats. This craziness is a kid on the end of a fishing pole with a weight on the end – kid casts and the kittens come running to chase the interesting thing zig zagging through the grass. Last summer this game was constant by grands and great grands who were visiting.

While I am preparing a meal, doing dishes, hulling strawberries, whatever the task; I am always mesmerized by the view from this window. Right now I see apple and pear trees that need pruning (funny when I get down to them the ‘where to prune appropriately’ picture in my head has vanished)

Soon I can look forward to plowed ground, small green shoots coming from the bulbs planted by my granddaughter and myself.  Below that are vegetable gardens followed by fields that extend to the road that borders our property. But now I am content to watch a large variety of birds in the suet and seed feeders. Even the occasional squirrel who hangs upside down on the corn holder is a welcome sight to behold out that window.  When I see the sun headed toward the barn I do a happy dance, knowing we are headed toward February and sunnier days.  It is the promised dessert at the end of a winter meal.

The Kitchen Table

It seems our kitchen table is the ‘Queen Bee’ of our home. Anyone coming to our place enters through the backdoor. (front doors are for salesmen and UPS deliveries – well not even, now the UPS guy comes to the backdoor too). The first thing you bump into is the kitchen table and that is as far as anyone gets. It is piled high, at the moment, with the job of gathering & listing for the IRS tally. In the past few weeks it was seed catalogs and auction notices.

If the table could talk, it would tell you of past burdens and responsibilities of holding up the stacks accumulated from our 6 children’s 4-H, craft, school ‘special award’ projects, saying nothing of homework and three meals a day plus snack time. I’m sure its legs tired of the never ending job of being the center of every family activity. But those legs were also soothed by the cats and dogs that wrapped their bodies around said legs while waiting patiently for projects to cease so fun outdoor life could begin.

We now have new kitchen cupboards, a new floor and a new table. I imagine the conversation between the old and new kitchen tables would have been priceless if we could understand table talk. The new table’s job will be the same only different. The new table has graced meals for the kids returning over the holidays with grand and great grandchildren. Lately it seems a new card game with various friends and neighbors has whiled away the winter hours on weekends.

The Queen Bee of our home could tell tales of farming decisions, family secrets big and not so big plus dilemmas that face every family which met final approval around the kitchen table.. Family traditions all seem to feature food, practical jokes, tons of stories and laughter, sometimes heartbreak too and all are centered around the kitchen table. This new table is strong and ready for its job, daunting though it may be.

Barley the Dog

Introducing Barley the Blueberry Dog:  Barley loves, loves, loves the blueberry patch.  He understands and reacts to the word (blueberry), he reads my mind when I am deciding whether to go out back or in a different direction such as one of the gardens.  Barley is very loyal.  Maybe it is because of his horrible beginnings, maybe it is his funny mixed-up mutt breed (Jack Russell, Lab, Greyhound), maybe it is just because he loves us, we will never know.  It is evident that the blueberry patch is his favorite place on the entire farm, his second choice is the black Ranger pick up in our driveway.

Now the thing that you need to know about Barley is his first six months were terrible.  Our son found him huddled in his barn after an early snow fall 3 years ago, this past fall.  He was most dead from starvation and the cold.  He was so little we thought he was a very young pup that strayed from a hunting dog mom.  After a week of searching, we discovered his story was a bit different.  We traced him to a shelter where he had been ‘given to a good home’.  Not really; it was a frightening experience for him and he bolted from the people and wandered lost for 6 days during an early November snow storm.  After a few days of love, food and warmth we began to appreciate his intelligence and spirit – he appreciated someone who would care.  It was very evident he had been abused, he cringed when a door opened or closed, he ran and hid when my husband sat to put work shoes on, and anything with a long handle such as broom, mop, or shovel terrified him.  Soon he figured he had it pretty good and he could relax and do his job.  By February I was out pruning blueberries and he was my constant companion.   Soon he knew the signs: boots, jacket, pruners – we’re going to the blueberries!  That excitement has never waned.

We estimate he is about 4 years old and it became apparent this past summer that he could not see well.  After a vet check and a follow up appointment with a vision specialist we knew he had no vision close up and a bit of color and shape discrimination for distances. This is a genetic condition and nothing will reverse the progress, he knows no different and is very accepting.  It is us that feels bad for him, so we go the extra effort for at least one trip to his ‘go to place’.  His beloved two acres are mapped in his brain, he senses the rows of berries on each side so he is confident: the Greyhound in him runs like his tail is on fire, the Jack Russell in him must hunt, the Lab part wants company on his travels.  Lucy, the long haired calico cat is NOT his first choice as traveling companion.

Today was perfect; sunny with a bit of new snow.  I watched him track a rabbit with his nose to the ground, running full tilt, turning sharply when he sensed a bush in his path.  Mice tracks that intersect with the rabbit tracks under some dense bushes stop him for a moment, then he is off again.  I laugh as I see him trot up to me with a smile on his puss “I’m feelin’ like a man – got myself a man job, protecting my mom!”  He trusts I will call him back if he goes too far astray so he runs full on to sunset.  And by the way; the sunset was beautiful just as our Barley’s spirit is beautiful.  Glad we are his ‘good home’.