Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The pond on our upper pasture. Like most ponds in this part of the county, it is low. The farther east one travels in the south, the worst the drought conditions become.
Fortunately, we have no livestock that depends upon our pond for drinking water. In fact, after twenty plus years of benign neglect, the area above our house can hardly be called a pasture anymore. When we first moved up to the Ozarks, we made a deal with our neighbor: He could use our pasture for his cows in return for keeping it brush hogged. Over the years, his brush hogging sessions have been few and far between, just often enough to make the blackberries, green brier and honey locust up there mad.
Bits and pieces over the past couple of days:
Jo made a trip to town on Monday. We hadn't bought groceries in a couple of weeks and were starting to run a little short on some items. It was actually my "turn" to have to go into town, but Jo didn't have much else to do except wait for her kiln to cool so that she could unload it. She made the run into town so I could stay home and get a few more spoons made.
Our weather is warming, the temperature is supposed to climb into the mid-sixties today. Tuesday was a beautiful, sunny fall day. The sun is also shinning brightly today, but a strong and gusty south wind is blowing.
Monday, November 26, 2007
We spent all day Sunday in the clouds. I don't know if there is a difference between fog and being in a cloud from a meteorologist's point of view, but I can tell you that they are the same when you are surrounded by them. If you stand outside long enough, you'll get wet – or, at least, very damp. I know from past experience that during a drive off our ridge and down into Bear Creek Valley, we would have dropped beneath most of the fog. Down in the valley it would have been much less foggy with a low, overcast sky.
In addition to the constant drip, drip, drip of water off the roof and trees, we also received some rain. According to our trusty rain gauge .8” fell in the morning and we received another .3” in the evening. That's not a great deal of precipitation, but every little bit helps – and it was a slow, gently rain that all soaked into the ground.
Sunday was the kind of day where Rusty and Bucket motivated Jo and I to get a little exercise that we otherwise would have gone without. We would have been content staying warm and dry in the house, shop or studio, but the dogs expected an afternoon walk so we ventured up to the gate. The trip wasn't bad, though we did get a little damp. Jo and the dogs got wetter and had to cut short their morning walk when rain began.
Bits and Pieces from Sunday, 11/25/07:
I cleaned and repaired a rabbit cage so that we could move a couple of our young rabbits. It was an unusual cage-repair session in that I survived without getting wounded. I seldom make it though a rabbit cage repair session without scratching myself on the wire or pinching myself with the pliers at least once.
The squirrels are really cleaning out our birdfeeders this winter. They're always something of a nuisance, but this year I think they are worse. The squirrels have little else to eat. The late freeze we got last spring while most of the trees were just beginning to leaf out and bloom means there there is very little mast this fall. We don't even have any honey locust pods for them to nibble.
Jo got her pots glazed and the kiln loaded. Unfortunately, not everything she wanted to include in this firing would fit into the kiln. She figured and re-figured at least a half dozen times, but there's just no way she can get another glaze firing done before our next show.
Weather: High = 42º. Low = 35º. 1.1" rain.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I have no idea what plant this seedpod belongs to. (Maybe someone else does and will clue me in.) It was a "weed" growing alongside our road out. I failed to take note of the plant while it was blooming, but thought the seedpods with square-shaped tops were interesting. (The leaf belongs to a nearby sunflower.)
Bits and Pieces from Saturday, 11/24/07:
Overcast and damp in the AM. Temperature in the mid-thirties.
Clothes needed to be washed despite the lack of sunshine required to operate our solar clothes dryer. The area around our wood stove is now decorated with "unmentionables". It's a good thing we're not expecting a visit from Martha Stewart.
Jo's having problems recording TV programs again, but this time it isn't her fault. She normally tapes several of the Saturday how-to programs broadcast by PBS. She watches them during her lunch breaks during the week. This morning she discovered that AETN had suspended its regular programming and was fund raising. Who knows what Jo actually recorded with her pre-set recording schedule.
(BTW: The Arkansas Educational Television Network is the one and only television channel we can receive up here in the hills. It has several transmitters scattered around the state. We don't spend a lot of time channel surfing.)
Today I donned long underwear for the first time this winter. I'm sure everyone was eagerly awaiting this seasonal fashion statement from the Ozarks.
Jo unloaded her kiln from the bisque firing and waxed the bottoms of the pots so that she can glaze them tomorrow. The wax prevents glaze from sticking to the bottoms when she dips the pot into a bucket of glaze.
The wax she uses comes from a friend who makes candles. It's the extra wax he trims off his candles after removing them from the molds, making it a random mixture of various colors and scents. He remelts the wax into a large block before sending it on to various needy potters. The color of the wax ends up being a blackish purple -- kind of like a bad, deep bruise. As for the aroma wafting off the old electric skillet that Jo uses to keep the wax molten, think of the worst room air freshener you've ever smelled on steroids. The great thing about the wax is that it only costs a coffee mug or two.
Our temperature climbed to 46º today. Drizzle began during the evening.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
I ventured just a little ways down into the woods this afternoon, mainly just to take a few photos. Jo and I have continued taking our walks along the road leading out to the main county road and have stayed out of the woods due to modern weapons deer hunting season going on. I seems like deer season is running for a long time this year. The modern weapons portion began on November 10 and ran through November 18. It restarted on Thanksgiving day and will run through December 2. (Don't ask me why there was a 3-day hiatus. I don't know.)
When we walk in the woods, Jo and I spend a lot of time off our own 40 acres. All the land surrounding our place is owned by our neighbor, Jerry Joe. Jerry hunts, but due to several bad experiences in the past, rarely allows anyone else to hunt on his land. Walking in the woods would probably be safe, but when it comes to possibly getting shot, not taking any chances seems to be the most prudent course to follow.
They say that back in horse and wagon days, the old road in this photo used to be the main route off Star Mountain and down into Bear Creek Valley. I don't know if that's true or not, but it could be. The road does follow the bench above the creek all the way down to the valley, and there are old rock walls in various places along the route.
The temperature fell to 23º overnight. We had to thaw the rabbits' water bottles by the wood stove this morning.
With sunshine in the forecast, Jo washed a load of clothes this morning. She said her fingers got cold while hanging them out on the clothesline.
Jo finished up a bisque firing I started last night. Actually, the kiln is programed to start the firing itself. All I do is record the electric meter reading and turn on the exhaust fan. This is Jo's last bisque firing before our next show. If it's not thrown and fired by now, it's not going down to Little Rock with us.
Since the temperature was only forecast to remain below freezing for a short time period, we didn't do anything about protecting the studio water pipes from freezing. Jo said the water over there was a bit slow to start flowing this morning, but no real problems.
Jo fixed a pot of black turtle beans for lunch -- actually for several lunches. There just ain't no point in cooking a small pot of beans. I put some of the beans into the fridge and some into the freezer.
The little air compressor over in Jo's studio didn't want to run this morning. Actually, it ran but almost immediately tripped the breaker on the power strip into which she has it plugged. The power strip breaker is probably just barely big enough to run the compressor under the best of circumstances. With cold compressor oil it wouldn't do the job. Directing the air flow from a small electric heater onto the compressor for a while solved that problem.
We took our afternoon walk up to the gate and back without interruption today. The past couple of days we've encountered Jerry Joe either cutting firewood, deer hunting or tending to his cows. Rusty and Bucket always behave badly when we meet anyone on our walks, lots of barking and getting totally hyper. It's the "territory" thing. When we're away from our place they are usually pretty good.
Today's temperature topped out at 53º. Sunny skies, though it was starting to cloud up by sunset.
Friday, November 23, 2007
The ground turkey spaghetti and butternut squash were delicious.
The fact is: Since there's just the two of us, we seldom celebrate holidays in anything remotely resembling the conventional manner. Usually, we just don't celebrate them at all. However, that does not mean that Jo and I do not have a lot to be thankful for.
We have each other. Our health is good. We have two dogs that think we can do anything. We have never had to do without food, shelter or clothing. We are living where we want to live and doing what we want to do. That's plenty to be thankful for in my book.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
A doe came down for a visit early Wednesday afternoon. Deer often cross an open area just up the hill from our house as they pass from one section of woods to another. We can watch them cross – and sometimes stop and graze – from our kitchen table.
She eventually retreated up the hill to join a couple of her less bold companions that had remained standing at the edge of the clearing.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Today began with mostly gray skies, high humidity and a gusty south wind blowing. Although the sun tried to break through a few times, mostly cloudy has prevailed.
During the early afternoon we received a short, but heavy, rain shower that only lasted about five minutes. NOAA's satellite weather map shows tiny isolated showers scattered across northern Arkansas. It looks as if the map has been sprinkled with blue salt. We'll probably receive more scattered showers before the new cold front arrives. So far, the temperature is holding steady around 70º and hasn't started falling yet.
Bucket assumes a relaxed, though not very lady-like, pose.
Can anyone please tell me how the expression "leading a dog's life" ever came to be associated with hardship and drudgery?
Borrowing a cup of 2-cycle oil
Tuesday morning my neighbor, Jerry Joe, drove down to our place to borrow a can of 2-cycle oil. He and a friend were planning to spend the day cutting firewood, but needed to mix some chainsaw gas and didn't have any oil. Our place is a lot closer than town. However, I'd recently used my last bottle of 2-cycle oil to mix up a can of gas for my chainsaw, so Jerry borrowed that instead.
When Jo and I (and the dogs) took our afternoon walk, Jerry and his friend were still cutting and hauling firewood. I think they were trying to cut enough for Jerry, his friend and Jerry Joe's son. Jerry has a fairly large house that he heats with a wood-burning furnace. To me, those wood-burning furnaces are the worst of both worlds. You have to go to all the effort of cutting firewood, but if the power goes out and the forced air part of the system stops working, you're going to get cold. I'll stick with my Vermont Castings wood stove that heats just fine when one of our ice storms takes down the power lines.
I was glad to see that Jerry had taken down a couple of dead trees that were within falling distance of the power lines that come down to our place. I've been thinking about cutting down those trees for a while now, but just don't trust my tree-felling skills. About the time I get to thinking that I know what I'm doing when it comes to getting a tree to fall where I want it to fall, I'll make a major miscalculation. When I'm cutting in the woods and misjudge where a tree is going to fall -- or, more likely, make my cuts in the wrong place -- it means the tree gets hung up against neighboring trees. When cutting near power lines, the results can be much worse.
Several years ago, I got a chance to see that there is actually quite a bit of slack and give in the power lines. I'd really studied how to fell this particular tree so that it would fall right between two nearby trees. I made my cuts in just the right places and the tree fell to the ground exactly where I wanted it -- well, almost. I'd gotten so involved in keeping the tree from hanging up on its way down, that I'd failed to take note of it's height and how close I was to the power lines. The top of the tree hung up on the power lines long enough for me to skip one heartbeat and then came on down. The power lines whipped up and down violently for what seemed like five minutes, but was actually only several seconds. Jo said the lights down at the house blinked off and on several times, but in the end no damage was done, except that our telephone line ended up wrapped around the bottom power cable. It stayed that way for several years, but caused no problem. A crew from our electric co-op was eventually unwrapped the lines.
About this time last year, a different neighbor cutting firewood on the edge of the co-op's easement had a similar experience. Again, the power lines held, but for and instant the two power cables and the telephone line were all making contact. He popped the fuse for this section of power lines and, despite our surge protector, fried the modem in our computer.
Monday, November 19, 2007
More clouds were around today, especially this afternoon. That kept today from getting quite as warm as yesterday, though the temperature still made it up into the mid-seventies. That's still mighty warm for mid-November -- warm enough that we didn't need a fire in the wood stove again this evening. That's fine with me. The less firewood we burn, the less I must cut, haul and split. The warmer temperatures are helping Jo out too. It usually cooler -- and often damp and drizzly -- this time of year. Those conditions make it difficult on a potter. It takes longer for her work to dry enough so she can continue working on a piece -- like trimming the bottom and, in some cases, adding a handle. Jo's been known to dry her thrown pieces inside and old refrigerator fitted with a light bulb, but that's a tricky process that demands more time and attention. If the work dries too fast, it may crack.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
The sweet gums are about the only trees left still holding onto colorful leaves. The oaks are the last to lose their leaves, but they're not very colorful -- usually just brown.
Until today I hadn't noticed that there are no sweet gum balls this year. Evidently, the same late spring freeze that got our oaks and walnuts also killed the sweet gum blooms. I'm certainly not heartbroken at the absence of sweet gum ball, but the small, seed-eating birds will miss them.
When we were up in Springfield, MO, during October, I noticed that they had a good crop of acorns and black walnuts. They got the same late freeze that we did, but being farther north, their trees hadn't started blooming yet.
We had some gusty south wind early in the week. Now most of the colorful fall leaves are on the ground, although a hickory at the top of the first hill on the way out from our place was still showing some bright yellow.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Jo: Talking and Drinking Coffee
Saturday evening we attended the awards presentation event. Because we do functional work we're seldom burdened with having to accept those ribbons and cash awards, but enjoyed socializing and scarfing up more free food. Saturday's finger sandwiches didn't compare to the previous evening's feast, but were good nonetheless.
Sunday was pretty much a repeat of Saturday with about half the sales. That's typical for a Sunday.
Based upon my conversations with a limited number of other artists, sales seem to be down a bit this year. Some returning exhibitors did well, but some didn't. Most of the first-timers (like us) were a little disappointed. Unless there's some obvious reason – like terrible weather – speculating on the ups and downs of an established show is an exercises in futility. Some artists suggested that that the LSU football game on Saturday and the New Orleans Saints game on Sunday may have hurt. Others blamed the fact that the show had expanded by adding another 30 exhibitors. Who knows? While our sales weren't great, we did well enough to return next year – if we can get juried back into the show.
Sunday evening we packed and loaded without any problems. Then, we drove back to I-55 and a little town named Amite where we stayed in an independently owned motel. It was oldie – so old that we had a metal room key and not an electronic card – but quiet, secure and reasonably clean, if you ignored the two pieces of chewing gum affixed to the bed's headboard.
Monday we came home, leaving Amite at 6:15 and arriving at the house at five o'clock, stopping only for gas, sandwiches and to pick up Rusty and Bucket at the vet's.
A few more photos taken in Covington here.
Entrance to the Children's Area
We were in Covington when show check-in started at three o'clock Friday afternoon. However, after checking in we had to wait until around 4:30 before we could actually start unloading and setting up our booth. It took that long for the police to get the street blocked off and parked cars moved.
The streets in old, downtown Covington are narrow. By the time you get a canopy set up on both sides of the street, you can just barely get a van down the middle which means you cannot park in front of your booth location to unload without plugging up the street. The majority of the exhibitors parked on side streets, alleys or in parking lots to unload, but there's always a jerk or two who will opt for doing what's easiest for them with no regard for the problem they're causing others. Jo and I lucked out with our booth location. We were able to park in a parking lot fairly close to our booth and unload from there, and able to do so without having to work around one of the jerks blocking the street.
Covington has its obligatory miles and miles of strip centers, car dealerships, warehouse retail outlets and purveyors of fast food along the highway into town, but has managed to keep its old downtown area vital – or, maybe, it was revitalized at some time in the past – with an eclectic mixture of offices, shops and eateries. There are very few empty storefronts. Instead, there are law offices, a tattoo parlor, taverns, bistros, CPA offices, antique shops, stores selling fine interior furnishings, art galleries and a natural foods store. Of course, the downside of all this vitality is those narrow streets just weren't intended to handle all the traffic generated, even when there isn't an art fair taking place.
Opening for business on Sunday morning.
(The St. Tammany Parish Criminal Justice Center, a huge and relatively new complex, is on the edge of downtown. I think that's what accounts for the large number of law offices downtown. I reckon it's best to keep the lawyers, courtrooms and criminals in the same area.)
Jo and I worked until around seven o'clock getting the canopy and fixtures set up. We unloaded the boxes of pottery into the booth, but didn't unpack the pots until Saturday morning. After finishing with the booth, we attended an artist “welcome” party hosted by the Three Rivers Arts Festival. A few shows hold these events on set up day, but Jo and I seldom attend. Usually, we arrive later in the day and by the time we finish with our booths all we want to do is get to the motel, clean up and go to bed. I'm glad we didn't miss out on this party, though. We had a great meal: Salad, red beans and rice, seafood etouffe and some of the most delicious bread pudding I've ever tasted.
PVC Yard "Art"
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Motel 6 scenic vista
The past weekend in brief: Jo and I exhibited in the Three Rivers Arts Festival down in Covington, Louisiana. (Actually, only Jo's pottery was juried into the show; I just went along to provide a strong back.) Covington is a “north shore” community (i. e. on the north side of Lake Ponchartrain across from New Orleans), a fer piece from our Ozark hills. The show was good for us, but not great. Because it required a 1,500 mile round trip, the show really needed to be great.
The “When do we leave?” debate: We needed to be down in Covington Friday afternoon so we could get the van unloaded and the booth (mostly) set up. We could leave Thursday afternoon and drive all night. Or, we could head out early Friday morning. Both choices were complicated by needing to get our dogs to the vet's for boarding.
If we left Thursday afternoon, we had to get to the vet's office by five o'clock. Leaving then would put us down in Covington too early in the day. If we waited until early Friday morning, we'd have to make a special trip to the vet's Thursday afternoon. Jo and I finally opted for leaving Thursday afternoon, mostly because of my night owl habits. Leaving early Friday morning would have meant that we'd head out about the same time I normally go to bed, and that wouldn't have been good for my staying awake while driving.
The “Which route do we take?” debate: We could have driven south to Pine Bluff, AR, and then angled east to I-55, but since we'd be driving at night, we chose to stay on the Interstate Highways: Down to Little Rock, east to Memphis on I-40, south on I-55.
The sleeping navigator: Jo drove until we reached the outskirts of Memphis while I napped a little. I drove the rest of the trip because I can see better at night and because I'm more accustomed to staying up until all hours of the night. We didn't have any problems until near the end of the trip. I'd stopped and bought gas on the south side of Jackson, MS, a little after midnight. After that stop, my navigator did some serious napping, more serious than she realized. A few hours down the road, Jo woke up enough to ask, “When are we going to get to Louisiana?” I told her we were about 20 miles outside of New Orleans. There was a long pause while Jo cleared a few more cobwebs out of her head. Then, she informed me that I should have already exited onto Interstate 12. Getting back to I-12 required backtracking for about 25 miles. I really should start looking at the maps before we leave on a trip.
Scenic Slidell, Louisiana: Our ultimate destination for this leg of our trip was Slidell, LA., which is about twenty miles past Covington on I-12. Jo had spent much time online trying to find us a reasonably priced room in Covington, but there wasn't anything available for less that $100 per night. Spending that much for a place to shower and sleep cuts too deeply into our bottom line. Jo finally found a room at the Slidell Motel 6 for around fifty bucks.
We arrived in Slidell a little after 4:00 AM. There's not a lot – that I want to know about – going on in Slidell at four o'clock in the morning so we pulled into a truck stop parking lot to get some sleep. Sleeping in our van when it's fully loaded for a show meant remaining upright in the standard issue Econoline cargo van bucket seats that we'd been occupying for the past twelve hours, but that didn't bother me. I managed to get several hours of sleep. I don't think Jo did quite as well, but she was quiet and let me sleep.
We decided to give the Motel 6 a try mid-morning. The lady at the desk was nice enough to let us check in early, so I got a few more hours sleep in a bed. (Some friends of ours tried the same thing at the $100 per night Super 8 motel in Covington and were told they'd have to pay a $50 early-check-in fee.)
It's not a pretty picture, but leaves not doubt that last week's temperatures finally dropped low enough to finish off our garden. Our gardening for 2007 is over – over except for cleaning up and putting the garden to bed for the winter, that is. The majority of the cleaning up will have to wait until after the first weekend in December, though. That when we finish our fall art fair season.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Jo picked a few more tomatoes, dug some volunteer potatoes and cut a few flowers to bring inside this afternoon. I suspect that tonight's temperatures really will finish off everything still growing out in the garden. The forecast is calling for temperatures down into the mid-twenties here and a freeze is predicted almost state wide.
The dogs helped Jo in the garden while I changed the oil in the van.
I decided that the tall grass under the fence might be draining off too much of the juice. Even though our grass is growing slowly these days, it had still gotten tall enough to reach the bottom fence wire, especially on the west end of the garden. So...... I dragged out my trusty Weedeater and trimmed the grass under the fence all the way around. While trimming on the back side of the garden, I also discovered that a metal pepper cage had rolled up against the electric fence.
When I finished trimming, I again tested the fence. This time I was getting a bright flash of light and even an audible click whenever the fence cycled on. That ought to be enough juice to zap any raccoon. I'm not really certain what effect the electric fence will have on an armadillo unless he touches his nose to the wire. Trimming the grass may have helped, but I suspect that removing the wire cage accounted for the majority of the improvement.
I found this little tree frog out in the garden a few days back. I suppose it thinks it's on a tree branch or stem of some sort, but it's actually camped out on the UF romex running out to the fence charger.
Believe it or not, I finally got some firewood cut on Monday, and I thought I was going to succumb to heat stroke while doing it. The temperature made it all the way up to 81º here early Monday afternoon. That's WAY TOO HOT for cutting and carrying firewood! Fortunately, a new cool front starting making it through during the middle of the afternoon. I can't say that the temperature suddenly cooled off, but at least clouds moved in and the temp did drop a few degrees.
I filled the log hoop on the porch and got a start on filling one of the racks out in the yard. There's a lot more firewood that needs to be cut, but at least we won't freeze to death in the next couple of weeks.
I expect that this is the last Tomato Hornworm we'll be seeing for several months. It's getting late in the season for these critters. This hornworm was munching away on a datura (jimpson weed, moon plant). I though those were supposed to be poisonous.
Our dogs are so mistreated that...
We don't even feed them and they must survive on bell pepper scavenged from the garden.
I gave my old Poulan chainsaw all summer to rest, recuperate and heal itself. With freezing temperatures in our forecast, I decided it was time to see if my hands-off approach to chainsaw repair had worked. No such luck. My chainsaw was still plagued with the same affliction with which it ended last winter. It would start and idle, but not rev up enough to do any cutting. I remained convinced that a fuel problem of some sort was the culprit.
Since a through external inspection reveal no cause for the problem, it was time to tear into the carburetor. After removing the cover from the carb “bowl”, I found a small screen that was totally covered with crud. Cleaning that little screen did the trick. My 25-year-old chainsaw is now cutting wood again.
The tree leaves are finally starting to color and it's beginning to look a little more like fall around these parts. The color change is two or three weeks behind schedule which seems to be the case in most of the rest of the country. Some claim that the color change is governed more by day length than by temperature. I cannot believe that. Our days have been getting shorter right on schedule as they do every year. It's the cooler temperatures that are lagging behind.
Friday, November 02, 2007
We've only experienced the very lightest of frosts so far this fall, with only the most tender of vegetation getting a little leaf burn. However, the weather forecast called for temperatures at or near freezing Thursday night. It was time to harvest what remained out in the garden or risk losing it.
Peppers were the main crop we had to harvest. Various hot peppers (jalapeño, poblano, salsa) went into plastic bags and directly into the freezer. They'll be fine for cooking. I'll eat a lot of fresh bell peppers for a week or so. I don't particularly like them cooked and Jo doesn't like them at all. The cayenne peppers I'm drying and will grind into pepper flakes.
Jo also picked all the tomatoes that were still on the vines. Some will go ahead and ripen, many will end up back out in the garden compost and we will probably have some fried green tomatoes.
(Note: The weather forecast was wrong. Imagine that! The temperature never dropped below 40º. Oh, well. Picking all the peppers was a job that needed to be done and we had a nice, sunny day for that chore.)
This year's sweet potato harvest was a disappointment. The bunch pictured above was the best we got in terms of size and quantity. All totaled, we only dug 39 pounds of potatoes. I was expecting a lot more from this year's crop because we've kept the vines from being eaten and the plants got plenty of water. This isn't the worst production we've ever gotten from a row of sweet potatoes, but I was hoping we'd come a lot closer to our record production of around ninety pounds.
These potatoes weren't easy to dig either. Our procedure is for me to work a spading fork under a bunch of potatoes and pry up while Jo tugs gently on the vines. The bunch of potatoes comes out of the ground and most of the dirt falls off. However, this year's sweet potato bed was on the outside of the garden. Roots from a nearby sweet gum tree had invaded the bed and prevented me from being able to pry up. The competition from those tree feeder roots may also be why our production wasn't up to expectations. I dunno.
Our sweet potato harvest is now curing in the basement. It will be about a month before they're ready to eat because you've got to give them time to convert starches into sugars. The basement isn't the best place for curing sweet potatoes, but it's all we've got. Ideally, curing should take place in a less humid environment.