30 December 2009
Tomorrow night will be a full moon, the second this month. Alas, the weather prognosticators are predicting and 'major winter storm event' for tomorrow so I went out last night in the crystal clear air, and experimented with the digital camera. The moonlight was absolutely brilliant on the old glazed snow surface. Even my old eyes could see well into the shadows.
I have never made long exposures in low light with a digital camera and so this was a grand adventure. The camera indicated the proper exposure at ISO 800 was 13 seconds at f/4. The result is below, and IMHO, is nothing short of amazing - the Canon technology, not my aesthetics... my only complaint is that is looks too much like a daylight scene!
25 December 2009
Mr. & Mrs. Fuzzy
and the ten cats
and the two dogs
who have learned how to live together and enjoy each other;
is it possible they smarter than humans?
2. the only stop light in the county
3. a window at Farmer's Supply
4. a holiday tree
23 December 2009
Now since most of our readers are city folk, I'll explain something about clearing a 1,000+ foot driveway in hilly terrain in and out a of dense forest. When winter first shows her white head, the prudent diesel tractor owner pours an additive (I use "Seafoam") into the fuel tank. Diesel conceals like jelly at not-very-cold temperatures and is impossible to start an engine in this condition' once it happens, it is hard to remediate. The additive prevents this effect and also keeps the fuel fresh over an extended period of time. Next, you probably have to take the bush-hog off and put the blade on... the blade can be raised or lowered and the skew angle changed from a right angle to the direction of travel to perhaps 60 degrees or more.
Snow is quite variable and this particular snow was dry but packed, meaning that is is dense. Our Ford 1710 tractor is a moderate size of tractor and cannot pull a huge load, even though it is four-wheel drive, when the tires cannot achieve traction. In deep, fresh snow, the tires can get excellent traction but once driven over or diminished to a thinner layer of snow, the tires may not get any purchase. Additionally, when pulling a load of heavy snow, because the blade is set at an angle, the blade wants to push the tractor front end in the opposite direction.
So, trying to pull too much snow, except on the first pass, will throw the front end off the road and the tires, if they start to spin, will destroy the beautiful road bed that you have struggled to maintain over the years. What is 'too much snow'? For our tractor and blade combination, perhaps six or seven inches. Mr. Fuzzy figured that given the forecast, he should pre-plow that evening when the depth was only five inches or thereabouts. The temperature was steady at 22F with a light wind. The snow readily yielded to the blade. I was very confident and went down the road to Charles' house with the blade. It did not take long and so there was time to clean out Sally's quarter mile or so drive. The wind had increased and the snowfall was now so hard that I could hardly see; time to turn homeward.
Now, at this point, dear reader, Mr. Fuzzy will admit to two very serious errors. When he left the house, he had in mind to clear his own drive - and thought he would return to the house in thirty minutes or so. With that assumption in mind, he donned a Scots bonnet on his head and wore old, tattered, torn, blue jeans. They would have been just adequate to keep him warm along with a good quality coat and fingerless gloves. As it happened, given the extended goals, he was outside in the dark snow storm for more than two hours. By the time he neared home, he couldn't feel his fingers or head - and the paper thin jeans were wet and verging on frozen to his thighs. It became a race against time through the now white-out conditions to reach warmth. He was so cold that it required almost ten minutes under a hot shower before his head could sense either water or warm. A VERY bad mistake in terms of clothing. He was lucky.
The next morning, a disconcerted Mr. Fuzzy looked out the window and saw, or maybe should say, DID NOT see the driveway. The additional snow piled on deeply, the pre-clear the night before was almost worthless. Sigh. Snow depth was about a foot, far too deep to move with a single pass of the blade.
It took more than half a dozen passes to skim off the top six inches or so, then the next four inches or so and then a carefully monitored skimming just about the gravel surface. Mr. Fuzzy made a serious tactical error in the first passes (in each direction) by only opening a path about six feet wide. When making the next pass, the snow being moved had no place to go because of the marginal pile from the first pass. Next time I know to make an initial pass at least three feet wider than the final path.
The temperature has been most pleasant the last few days; it rose to an unexpected 47F today which melted much of the driveway completely clear down to the gravel bed. The snow has compacted and is now less than eight inches deep in most places but the way it sparkles in the sun it gorgeous.
The image below was taken at sunrise.
22 December 2009
Actually, I'll just get you started with your host & hostess and those animals who are no more. That way this won't run long...
Catfish was our first cat. She was a funny little tortie our friend Barbara gave us when her family moved off the game preserve. Catfish had never lived inside before and relished every moment of her short life. We don't have a straight story on how but she died while we were in Scotland. Catfish loved being held like a baby.
Does that bring you up to speed on the spirit pets? I'll now present you with a diagram of the LIVING (+ Tam) cat population of the farm. It'll be easier if you can visualize it.... trust me!
* After reading this Mr. Fuzzy reminds me we did buy a farm, extra acreage, a new roof, and water system this year. Our money is hid in the pockets of our neighbors, it seems. Happy (frugal) Christmas!
18 December 2009
I know one or two of you out there might be wondering how safe it is to leave milk and eggs in the fridge for so long... Good nog must mellow at least two weeks to taste smooth and four to six weeks is pure liquid bliss. (Until the hangover kicks in, anyway!) Watch the video above (From Science Friday) to see what happens to the dreaded salmonella bugs in a batch of real eggnog. You'll be surprised!
So, hurry up and make this stuff if you want to enjoy the real thing. The following is enough for a party. You can cut it in half or double it. If you want more than that you're a lush and you'll just have to mix up separate batches. Do follow the directions exactly...
12 large eggs
1 C sugar
1 Qt whole milk
1 Qt heavy (pouring) cream
2 oz rum (plain)
1 Qt bourbon
16 December 2009
15 December 2009
Poor Rocky, our wee dog, is exhausted after being "walked" all day yesterday. Rufus, the big puppy, is disconsolate at the loss of such boisterous playmates. I'm just perplexed at how I managed to corral the kids, entertain Mom, keep the house from exploding, AND get dinner on the table for three nights.
11 December 2009
When this house was built in 1991, they owners cut so many corners that it is a miracle that the house is not round. The windows are of poor quality and leak air badly, especially when the wind rushes and roars outside (like last night). I have made many small modifications (such as spraying expanding foam around the electrical outlets and switches) towards halting this infiltration and surely the flow has been decreased but you can still feel the cold air that has snuck into the house.
On cold windy nights such as last night, the furnace would have run constantly to maintain an night time interior temperature at 60F. We couldn't afford to heat both this house and all of outdoors without the Century Fireplace Furnace in the living room. It is out of character with the rest of the house but the first owners actually spent good money for a good product. With less than a dozen logs in a twelve hour period, this marvel of engineering kept the ground floor at 70F. I cannot say enough good things about it. Thank goodness for it.
09 December 2009
At 7:00 a.m. today, precipitation had finally ceased and the sky was crystalline clear. The woods, too, were crystal like - encased by ice. As the sun warmed the air, the sound was as if it was raining again, water pouring off of the frozen limbs in cascades. In less than two hours, the warmth of the sun had raised the temperature to 47F and no vestige remained of the morning's crystal palaces. (remember that you can click on an image to enlarge it)
05 December 2009
Winter is officially in residence at Stratheden. Although the temperature is steady at 32F (0C), it has been snowing madly since before the dawn. If anything can enhance the already superb beauty of the landscape of the Blue Ridge, it is snow. Yes, Kerik, its even better than fog.
25 November 2009
The menu is as follows:
broccoli with feta cheese sauce
green chile sauce
peach pie with custard
Indeed, it's a Happy Thanksgiving for us!
23 November 2009
22 November 2009
Physalis alkekengi (franchetii) Chinese Lanterns
"These plants are often simply called physalis, a name derived from the Greek word for bladder. As a member of the nightshade family, physalis is related to tomatoes, peppers and petunias.
The ribbed, lanternlike bladders are actually enlarged sepals that have fused together to envelop the forming fruit. Tear one open and you will discover the fruit, resembling a cherry tomato. Inside the smooth, shiny skin the thick flesh is embedded with a rich harvest of seeds.
The bright husk guards the fruit as it dehydrates in the fall air. Gradually, it becomes paper thin and begins to break down to a delicate, lacy veiling. When this covering finally rips open, the seeds are sufficiently light and dry to be scattered by the wind."
Thanks to Mad Professor Palmer for taking Mr. Fuzzy's color image and transforming it into a magical monochrome. The farm has other pesky members of the nightshade family, including horse nettles. All are invasive and very difficult to eradicate.
20 November 2009
Oh, yeah, and the other thing that happened is that Mama changed our kibbles so we get junk food ALL the time now, not just when we run out of the fancy stuff and Mama stops at the grocery for something to tide us over until the Hippie Store gets the other food in again. The babies had some tummy trouble so we can't have food with fish guts in it any more. :( I liked the fishy food! The good news is they are feeling all better now so my little students can study with me again. Buster and Ann are taking lessons from me on how to be therapy cats. They're pretty darn good already! Figures.... they're the same kind of color as me. ORANGE CAT'S ARE THE BEST!
OK, this is getting long now. I have so much to tell you but it's fall and that means we're having to keep the neighborhood clear of evil mice. Some of the neighbors don't have cats so we go to there houses and kill the mice there too. Mr. Harmon is nice and doesn't have a dog so Jack goes there a lot and I go all the way to the end of the road and help out because their cat died a few weeks ago. It's a LOOONG walk so I'm pretty tired after my twice daily patrols. that's why I haven't written in so long. The good news is we've been successful- no mice in the house AT ALL so far!
Hope you're having fun wherever you are.
Chief Therapist, Stratheden Farm
PS- Here's a picture of the last mouse we let Mama catch. Now we just dispatch them in the field because there are so many we don't have to share any more.
18 November 2009
All summer we've been little more than the hands that turn the door knob to our six adult cats. We've gotten hardly a sideways glance from four of them since warm weather settled in for the summer. Even our sweet Jack Tar has been less than cuddly. But now...
It's the season for love. Chetworth comes looking for a head rub, Lilly and Jack jump into our laps for a good wash and nap, Grover insists upon being picked up, and MamaCat has suddenly taken to dancing and singing for us. She's even started letting us pet her again!
That's right... MamaCat, our semi-feral lady who hides from everyone and every thing, has suddenly decided she likes head rubs. May I remind you that this is the cat I haven't been able to touch at all for at least eight months despite feeding her for three years?
So, despite heading into the season when we can't turn over in bed for the 100 pounds of cat that suddenly appears with the cold I'm happy. My kitties are all getting along and they're all telling me they love us. Even MamaCat.
17 November 2009
Once again, the mountain weather has proven 'versatile.' After three sunny days 70F, it is back to fog and cool. The high today was 45F. Perfect for all of the deer hunters in this part of Virginia, which is fairly over run by the deer. Two friends have collided with deer in the last week... the most expensive way to bag a buck if I so myself.
Disclaimer: this image was made along the Blue Ridge Parkway, not on Stratheden farm. Looking at it carefully, mayhaps we were magically transported back to bonnie Scotland for a few miles.
16 November 2009
15 November 2009
He has been neutered and is ready to be adopted (yes, he is an official foster cat of the Humane Society). Hodge wants to be indoors and never far from a human who can love on him. When we open the front door, he immediately starts to make muffins, he is so happy to see us. It will not be easy to seem him leave one day.
14 November 2009
11 November 2009
As in any self-respecting Veterans' day parade, it began with the Cadet Corps in their crisply ironed brilliant white trousers.
There was a marching unit of World War II veterans and I am most pleased to report a rolling peal of applause followed them down the street. Floyd has not forgotten their sacrifices.
Nor have they forgotten their fallen comrades; the only float I have ever seen which commemorated those killed in action followed the veterans. Most men respectfully removed their hats as it passed by.
You could not have asked for better weather for a parade- it was brilliant sun, about 70 degrees and perfectly still. Hard to believe it was November (today it has rained 2 inches and the high was 44F, more typically November).
The Humane Society volunteers walked with (or carried) their foster dogs, hoping to find good homes for these deserving canines.
09 November 2009
08 November 2009
07 November 2009
He seems fine loose in the house - which is still more than we can say for six month old Rufus. Girlie, Lilly and Buster are untroubled by being a few feet away from him - and he has no aggression toward them. While we ate our lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches (on Mrs. Fuzzy's home baked rye bread), he just laid at our feet under the table. It is as if he has always been here.
Rocky has an oversize head, svelte tiny waist and short little legs. His coat is a really deeply colored brindle with dashes and splashes of white. He looks like a dog right out of a Hogarth engraving.
05 November 2009
It is hard to imagine just what constitutes raccoon logic but they 'test bit' about 50-75 of those lead balls. As you know, pure lead is fairly soft... and they left their little tooth marks pressed into those balls.. Those balls are now useless and will be melted and re-cast.
As a final act of cleaning and re-ordering the shop, the cat door which had been installed for the convenience of our cat herd is now boarded up by 1/4 inch plywood. Sorry cats, I'll miss your company.
Last week, most precious readers, was, well, one that won't repeat anytime soon, with luck.
Our water pressure had been irregular for months and with our erstwhile plumber, Bill of Appalachian Plumbing here for another issue, we asked him about it. His best guess was that the pump was wearing out. As it evolved, he was prophetic - in another hour, it died for good. In the state of perpetual and delusional optimism, we hoped it would miraculously come back to life but by nightfall, we knew in our hearts (and wallets) that it was not to be.
Bill came by the next day and confirmed that the relays and other parts of the system were not the problem. He came back with an assistant to pull the pump but with the weight of 420 feet of water filled pipe, they could not lift it. The local well man was summoned but bowed out - he had the flu. The next closest well service was 35 miles away and responded they would come the next afternoon... but their previous task proved more of a challenge than estimated and they did not arrive until Thursday. By sunset Thursday, we had running water once more - and a $3,000 bill, sigh.
Among other discoveries during the process: (1) the pump was sitting on the well bottom and that explained why so much particulate matter clogged the filter, (2) the fittings were galvanized rather than brass, a health-hazard, (3) there were no torque mounts on the pump so every time it came on, the torque caused it to beat itself against the well pipe, (4) the pressure tank in the house was about half the size it should be and thus the pump came on more frequently. Like almost everything else about this house, the original work was substandard. It leaves us to speculate what the next failure will be and the cost of repairing it correctly.
We thank our most marvelous neighbors, John & Nettie and George & Maureen for filling up our water containers for four days and allowing us to use their shower. The bad news is the house is poorly made; the good news is that we have the finest neighbors that can be imagined.
02 November 2009
24 October 2009
The rapid swing from cold to warm triggered a natural phenomenon: tens of thousands of Asian lady bugs (Harmonia axyridis) swarming on the house, attempting to enter. As the USDA site notes:
"Multicolored Asian lady beetles are attracted to lighter colors: whites, grays, yellows. So, light-colored houses, especially on hillsides in forested areas, might serve as “homing beacons.”Once the lady beetles enter the walls of a building through cracks and crevices, they may or may not proceed to the interior of the building. Most stay in the wall spaces."Thanks to the very poorly fitting screens and windows, hundreds made it inside but then had to run the Hoover gauntlet - I was busy with the vacuum cleaner for two solid days. Now they have left as suddenly as they arrived.
The cold of last weekend may also have served notice to the wildlife population that winter is not far away - you'd better be stocking up on food. The raccoons surely took notice. Our foster cat, "Hodge," has been spending the nights in my shop where he is warm in his little bed and protected from most predators. On Tuesday night, the raccoons tore off the flap of the cat door and had a party in the shop. They tore open every baggy in sight - no matter what the contents - washers, wooden pull knobs, rags, etc. and generally knocked over things, pushing them from shelves onto the floors. You may rightfully ask how I know it was raccoons? Because they leave their calling cards: poop piles. Last night I caught one on the back porch tearing open a huge bag of thistle seeds intended as winter bird feed.
Since Monday's killing frost, the week became unseasonably warm- last night's low was an incredible 65F and it is now 73F.
A storm blew across from the Midwest on Friday, changing the three days of gloriously blue skies to gray - and brought quite a blow as well. That wind is still gusting on Saturday afternoon; up to 34 mph according to my weather station. Its power has denuded many trees of their colorful glory until next year. The wind has been introduced courtesy of a new cold front, and by mid-afternoon, even with a good bright sun, the temperature has begun its downward trend.