30 April 2009


Mr. & Mrs. Fuzzy had a truly exciting and educational day on Monday when Britt Boucher of Foresters, Inc., came down from Christiansburg for the day. We hired the redoubtable and eminent forester to cruise our wee farm and teach us about the forest and its health. What a day - we walked most of the day, stopping about 1:30 for a pot roast lunch prepared by Mrs. Fuzzy in the crockpot (so she could walk, too). By the end of the day, Britt had given us a six week class - and hopefully we earned passing grades.

Britt really knows how to crash through brush... and so we finally found the mysterious SE corner of the farm, which lies back in some truly wild country. In that area, there was bear scat and a fairly large clear bear print from a hind foot (see photo). He pronounced our front forest in good health and lovely. The back half needs desperately to thin out the barberries, wild roses, hawthorns, etc. The farm contains nearly every tree native to the area, a diverse community. It also has several dense stands of spice bush, an indicator species proving the quality of those parts of the forest. While we stood at the NW corner of the farm, being educated by Britt, I heard a meow in the distance... I called and it was my devoted Jack Tar who had come out searching for us!

By dark, the Fuzzies were getting tired but that was offset by our excitement of the various discoveries of the day, including Britt, one gem of a guy.

Wait! Wait! You forgot the best part, Mr. Fuzzy! Not far from the bear scat area was the mother load of wild ramps. I can't wait to try one!!!!

28 April 2009

Seen on Floyd Freecycle List.....

WANTED: Ammo Cans

Posted by: "Tim"

Mon Apr 27, 2009 4:23 pm (PDT)

My Boy Scout Troop is getting ready to start a project and I need as many Military Ammo Cans as I can get. It doesn't matter what they look like a long as they will still close and lock in place.

27 April 2009

Does Mrs. Fuzzy REALLY like it here?

Um, yes. I do. Why do you ask?

Any moment of the day or night I can, in complete safety, walk into the woods or field and quietly listen to bird- bug- or frog-song. There is soft, rich, green, grass under my bare feet and plenty of work to do with my hands. Inside may still be total chaos but there is great joy to be had within our cluttered walls. You all know how excited I was to have a properly working oven (and it gets regular use) but little did I know the pleasure I’d get in my kitchen from being the subject of Cat TV. There is a shed under the big window which the cats have designated “home base.” It’s lovely to look out at them looking in at us. Beyond the observation platform is beautiful apple tree. Under it lies Nutmeg who seems content for the first time in her 13 years. How can I not also be content?

I also have a little studio that is usable for reading right now. When we’ve created some proper storage space elsewhere this room will have areas for sewing, crafting, and writing. Finally I have that fabled “Room of My Own.” No sharing whatsoever. The companion idea of tearing apart a great big, ugly, and totally redundant bathroom send thrills through my bones. I like designing stuff! .... especially when it's useful and adds beauty to my home.

While I’m not a television enthusiast, I am a fan of sitting on the couch with Mr. Fuzzy who does enjoy perusing the cable listings for interesting programs. We've never had cable before! It’s a time for closeness, amusement, and enjoying some of my baking or a bowl of local ice cream. Sharing that bowl of ice cream in front of the tube makes even the worst day better by bedtime. Yes, Mrs. Fuzzy is quite content about 95% of the time.

So what ruins my little paradise five percent of the time? Clutter and situations where I must interact with lots of people or just a few for a long time. It’s not that I dislike people. You all just make me really tired after two or three hours. No fault on your part. Just a fact. I’d rather be away with the fairies or carrying rocks across the yard. I’ll add in the occasional trip to a certain grocery to this list too. The staff can be a bit doo-lally in that way I though we’d left in Santa Fe. Said store also has major problems with stock rotation and restocking. A trip to get organic canola oil can send me home ready to strangle helpless animals.

There you have it, dear friends: a reassurance that Mrs. Fuzzy is basically happy so long as she can make weekly progress with the clutter, avoid crystal-gazing flakes, and limit her contact with people who want her to act like a social butterfly. I keep to my garden and my errands and I have a happy time of it. I feel welcome and accepted no matter what I look like. Floydians aren’t the same breed as your typical Southerner (other Virginians use more colorful language) so we’ve suffered neither Bible-bashing nor Yankee-bashing. That’s just not the attitude here. If you’re willing to live rural then the locals are willing to let you be whomever you happen to be. The natives don't care if you're from away.

That’s the definition of paradise for me…

26 April 2009

Highland Games at Mount Laurel, Virginia

Our dear friends, Bluebird and Roz, who live down in Patrick County, invited us to join them for a day of watching nearby Highland Games. So Mrs. Fuzzy and I made a thermos of tea, charged the camera battery and meandered down Skyline Drive until we turned off at Squirrel Spur and descended perhaps 800-1000 feet into the valley below and another few miles down the valley to Mount Laurel, the one time home of the famed Confederate General, J. E. B. Stuart. The last name should be a clue - he was of Scottish descent.

Here at the foot of the mountains we were captivated by feats (truly) of strength and agility. The normal games were there- caber toss, weight throw, hammer throw, sheaf toss... and also two others. One involved lifting a perfectly round 340 pound (yes, you read the correctly) stone above your head. The weight is,

of course, one problem, but getting a good purchase on a round stone is nearly impossible. The other category was a simultaneous dead lift of two stones whose combined weight was 770 pounds. There was to be another also involving a rather weighty stone but the second competitor broke the chain!

Like all good clan gatherings, there were clan registries and a pipe and drum band. In attendance were several heiland coos, as docile as our felines and looking quite regal. All in all, it was quite an outing. Thanks, Bluebird, for inviting us! We found the very next best place to Fifeshire - Floyd County, Virginia, and the proof is in the haggis... are we happy or what?

24 April 2009

Seeing with new eyes

Its hard to guess what their brain can decode with no experience but the kittens are opening their eyes. Bluebeard (left) opened his a couple of days ago and the rest are following suite today. Except for Bluebeard, their eyes are just partly open.

The farm continues to green up. The back pasture was fertilized today, a bit late. Wildflowers of all sorts are erupting, albeit mostly small to tiny ones. Some trees, however, still show no inclination to leave out.

The weatherman was right about today - 81F and humidity at one point as low as 19%. There have been a few clouds in the sky to give it depth and scope but otherwise the sun has ruled the day. The next four days are all expected to be as warm so more of April's seeds should be sprouting forth.

The fruit trees have held their blooms tenaciously and kept the landscape bright. Huzzah.

Well Hush My Mouth!

I'm sure we don't qualify for the pinko-greenie-sustainable nut badge from the Green Crusaiders but I do try to shop in a little more ethical and sustainable way than "on average." (It also happens to be a bit healthier and cheaper too.)

We do USDA Organic at the grocery where possible, choose loose veggies over the shrink wrapped stuff, use biodegradable detergents, LED and fluorescent light bulbs, along with eating local pastured eggs and dairy. One of our exceptions, though, is soup. The "ethical" brands are uniformly pretty lousy in the flavor department so Mr. Fuzzy gets stuff from the "conventional" isle. (Do they separate them to prevent cross-breeding?) You might appreciate my surprise when I started reading the label on Campbell's "Select Harvest" soups:

The ingredients are composed of actual food.
The label is printed with soy ink.
The label is of 75% recycled fiber.
The line has no MSG, no colorings, no unpronounceable additives and relatively low sodium.

And it doesn't cost a fortune or taste like crap!

Way to go, Campbell's! You've beat Whole Paycheck at their own game while canning a soup that I, Mrs. Fuzzy, will willingly eat. That's no mean feat.

23 April 2009

weather redux

Yesterday the grip of winter refused to release us- it was 35F at sunrise and spitting snow. Oh, and did I mention gusts of 20 mph? Mrs. Fuzzy had thought she had laundered my flannel shirts for the last time. Surprise! We just love the variability of the weather in the mountains, really, it is so dynamic and stimulating. Today the forecast is for 67F and for the weekend, 83F both days. It appears that we leapt from winter to summer in about five days. Time to visit Slaughter's Nursery and pick up the Witch Hazel I've had on hold.

Despite the weather yesterday, the native trees on the farm are finally breaking dormancy. There is a fresh, vibrant, visually tasty green bedecking on the forest canopy. There are all sorts of "weeds" popping up, some already blooming, probably all with useful value to someone skilled enough to know the traditions...

The kitties were a week old on Tuesday and have exactly doubled in weight. So far, Girlie and her five babies are all healthy and we pray they stay so. Bluebeard, whose lungs are developed far beyond his siblings, is also ahead on another feature- he is opening his eyes well ahead of the rest; I hope that is not a cause for concern. Girlie moved them yesterday from the box to under our bed. We have no idea what that signals. Guess we aren't as smart as cats.

Life is renewing itself all over the farm. Let us be thankful.

22 April 2009

Seedlings... or maybe not

Hi Guys! Remember my post a couple months back about Winter Sowing? Well, it mostly worked.

I learned that I can't start pole beans this way and the Hubbard death rate was pretty high too but the leeks, poppies, and lawn daisies have done really well. My eggplants are coming up now too so we'll see how they do over the next couple weeks.

The poppies and daisies went into the ground yesterday, mainly in my new border to fill in where the daffodils will die back. It'll be poppies and peonies this summer. How beautiful will that be if it takes? Extra daisies went into some bare spots by the big oak tree out front. I know our British friends won't agree, but you can never have too many daisies in your lawn.

Seed starting in the greenhouse, on the other hand, has been a total flop. I'm starting over and really glad I didn't put every seed in the soil. Instead of the rather vague planting instructions on the packets I've gone to the oldest gardening books I can find for plain directions. You know the ones I mean... ones written before everyone presumes you're buying well-started plants at Walmart. I'm finding the USDA Bulletin 409 (part 2) from 1977 to be rich in detail and The Rockwell's Complete Guide to Successful Gardening of 1965 excellent for telling me where I've totally blown it. I must write Mrs. Stratton and thank her for leaving the latter.

Elliot Coleman, Sunset, and even the venerable James Crockett (whose Victory Garden I watched faithfully as a kid) have all failed me. Oh the anguish! Why do none of the modern books tell you what will go wrong, and why, so that you can avoid such disasters as mine? I've had exactly 6 seeds come up and all have croaked within the day.

Thus, as you might guess, I'm getting ready to start seeds again. The peas are only just emerging so I have plenty of time left, right? This time I'm making pages and pages of notes on what to do for the vegetables. Wildflowers are wildflowers so I'm going to just sow them thickly into recycled soup cans and put them out of sight where they won't get really hot. Whenever I get a bunch of seedlings I'll pot them up to grow on until they're big enough to transplant.

Wish me luck!

21 April 2009

Scottish connections

Ah, fairest of blogosphere connoisseurs, no reports of cats or plants today, in fact, not even reporting an event on the farm but rather what we are looking forward to attending. This weekend, there are TWO Scottish (not pan-Celtic) festivals within an hour's drive of the farm. The newspaper notice which is attached is the one we have decided NOT to attend. Instead, we'll head South to Ararat, Virginia, to the old J. E. B. Stuart (General, C.S.A.) homestead for the second annual Laurel Hill Highland Games and Festival. Did I ever mention how much this area reminds us so favourably of Fife? That includes the people, God bless 'em. Many descendants of the original Scottish settlers. (Did you know that Johnny Cash traced his family back to Strathmiglo, Fife?).

Mr. Fuzzy needs to get cracking to find the box with his kilts, dirks and bonnets!

19 April 2009

dreaded community organizers

It seems just like yesterday, during the Republican National Convention last September, when Sarah Palin said “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities,” and later Rudy Giuliani made humor of the very concept of a community organizer.

Here in Floyd County, Virginia, what makes most all of the good things happen are those worthless community organizers, most of whom are working for free (not even the normal substandard pay) to help their fellow citizens without demanding government handouts or invoking the need for outside intervention. I've always heard things were done differently up in Alaska - and have known they were different in New York City - and this must be another case of unbridgeable cultural canyons.

Yesterday Mrs. Fuzzy and I attended an annual pancake breakfast put on by a tiny community organization centered around the little county church we live near. The organizer and power house behind it is in her 80s (being a gentleman, I will not divulge her precise age), aided and abetted by a 30-ish Methodist minister (the two folks in the photo-- you can probably guess which is which). This very loose group picks up trash along State Highway 221, helps elderly neighbors get their trash to a county trash center, and tries to make certain there are no hungry families in the community. They care for each other and strive to make Falling Branch strong and healthy. God bless them all.

On May 16th, the next village (Floyd is a teeming metropolis by comparison) down Hwy 221, Willis, will have a fundraiser at their fire station. For a very nominal donation ($8.00) you get to eat barbecue and listen to five hours of live gospel music so that the Willis Community Food Bank can take care of its own. Oh, and did I mention a cake auction? Their flyer advertises "bring your own chair and appetite, for good food, gospel singing & fellowship."

And here I thought grass-roots action was a hall mark of America and one of its greatest strengths - before Sarah and Rudy set my wrong-headed thinking back on the right track. Wow, thanks! I had even been thinking that Christ must have been one of the great community organizers of all times --- and Pontius Pilate one of the more interesting governors... where is he now when Alaska needs more good politicians?

18 April 2009


Although it may seem that life on the farm revolves around the newborn kittens, the truth is, well, uh, it does. We have to achieve many other tasks in a day but Girlie and her babies are ahead of everything else in the queue when it comes to our attention. So far, Girlie and crew are doing well. The babies do three things- drink milk, sleep and flush that milk through their little systems. For all of her virtues, Girlie doesn't do much cleaning of herself - or so far, of her kittens. Mrs. Fuzzy gives them a washcloth rubbing every night, which not only cleans them up a little (before we put in fresh bedding) but stimulates their bladders and intestines to 'work' almost within seconds; normally their mom's washing would perform this function.

The other cats are feeling a bit needy these days as they don't get to go into the bedroom and take their daily afternoon naps on our bed. Jack and Lily seem especially hurt by loss of privilege - but that's the way it will be until the kittens are at least six weeks old. Here is Grover performing his duties as border patrol cat...

Mrs. Fuzzy completely tore apart and rebuilt the flower bed to the right of the front door. Farm life is good for her - you should see the size of stone she can lift and carry now! The bed is filled with pansies and iris (some of which we brought from home in pots). It is beautiful (photos forthcoming)!

Mr. Fuzzy washed the Morris Minor and the Honda, neither of which had seen soap and water since about last August - both look much improved (guess that means it will rain soon). He planted a few more lavender plants as well. And as most days go, unpacked a half dozen or more boxes...

More trees are blooming or leafing out. The two ancient apple trees down slope from the house are spectacular. Our 65 year old neighbor remembers them as 'old' when he was a child. We will trim and fertilize them in hopes of extending their long lives a few more years. To think of the stories of past farm occupants they could tell...

16 April 2009

Spring IS here - really this time!

Yes, there's more going on at Stratheden than the felines. Mr. Fuzzy has been busy seeding fescue, rye and red clover to improve the pasture... and working on erosion control upon embankments along the driveway. Mrs. Fuzzy is spending hours every day in the little greenhouse with her seedlings. Together they are building cedar 3 x 8 foot raised beds for the main garden.

Here at the farm, we're on a high spot; the spine of the Blue Ridge mountains is less than six miles away. This cooler, higher air has delayed the emergence of plant life when compared to either town or the Shenandoah Valley. At the farm's elevation, plants are running two to four weeks behind the Valley. However, Spring is here at last, no teasing this time... although the native trees are being very coy about showing their blooms and leaves. The pastures have greened wonderfully over the last three weeks.

Our peach tree has finally blown into bloom (see below); maybe we'll have lots of peaches with some luck. The apple trees are not far behind and are leafing out. The tulips began blooming last Sunday, which was a really beautiful warm and sunny day. Today has been sunny and still, hovering around 60F, tomorrow may be ten degrees warmer (21C).

14 April 2009

New Life at the Farm

(photo of Girlie on Tuesday morning, rather rotund)

Mrs. Fuzzy needs a night out. I'm exhausted!

This is what I got done on the farm today: I put my clothes on and toasted a muffin.

Otherwise, I was on Sick Room duty making sure Girlie Girl, who has a terrible cold, ate and drank adequately. On Monday she saw the doc who gave her a pile of medicines. Girlie acted strange all night... lying at my head purring to wake the dead... pacing... And this morning she seemed really uncomfortable but she let me make her eat a couple ounces of canned food and we held our noses over the vaporizer until she let me know she was "done with me." Girlie is just about the most tractable cat you could ever hope to have. Good thing too...

Because a normal cat would have shred me to bits for helping with her delivery. Miss Girlie, though, was a gentle patient. The first kitten took a breath about noon; it took about seven hours from what seemed like the first pains until we were certain there weren't going to be more babies. I understand that sucks for humans... she had five whilst being whacked with the flu, and no painkillers. Poor thing was too exhausted to do more than push them out so it fell to myself and Nurse Worryworte to clean them up and get them settled onto a cozy little teat.

Turns out I'm pretty good at restraining a snappy mama with one hand while helping with the last push and then grabbing the baby and getting it breathing. Nurse Worryworte (aka Mr. Fuzzy) is excellent at purchasing sardines and milk substitute and the world's best helper for getting a kitten onto a nipple.

You may snigger now.

I won't go into detail about getting Girlie to eat "something nutritious" afterwords except to say I had to hold my nose but we do have her fed, hydrated, and snoring away quite happily. The five little babies, four gingersnaps and a black tortie, are doing their kitten thing... making cute mewing sounds and already bullying for the best teat. I think at least four will be longhairs like their mama.

DATELINE: Wednesday Morning...

One of those gingersnaps has already ventured outside the nesting box at least twice during the dark hours of night. Boy are we in trouble in a few weeks! Miss Girlie Girl is up and eating like she's never seen food before. She takes little breaks to love on us. She looks to be half the size of twenty four hours ago.

All is well again at Stratheden Farm.

12 April 2009

Dinner Out

Mrs. Fuzzy occasionally needs a break from being chained barefoot to the stove and Mr. Fuzzy has that intense hankering for a dish or two she doesn't know how to prepare... thus we have almost always treated ourselves to dinner out once a week. The choices "back home" were legion, although in the summer and ski season, tempered by how long the wait might be to have a table. Back home there were over 200 dining establishments; we know of five in Floyd.

Now that's not a bad thing. They're all good, and except for one not to be mentioned by name, inexpensive and the wait staffs are superb. About twice a month we drive northward on Route 221, a few miles from the village limits, to sample the cuisine at Pine Tavern. Next door is a wonderfully preserved (and functional) 1920s tourist court, the Pine Lodge. The meals are in two forms: individual and family style. For the latter, it is all you can eat, presented in serving bowls for the entire table - and for $11 a person! That is not a typo. You get meats (fried chicken, country ham, roast beef), a selection from a large number of sides, desert and your drink for that price. Moreover, it is well prepared, the waitresses are excellent and the ambiance appealing. Reed, the owner, is always present and always jovial.

So we went on Friday night, did NOT eat the family style (we cannot eat that much) but instead ordered from the menu. There was so much food that Mrs. Fuzzy could not finish her steak and Mr. Fuzzy also had some remaining roast beast dinner ($9.00)to take home the dog.

Well done, Reed, well done.

11 April 2009

Seeds and things

Sun. Snow. Rain. Mist. Hot. Cold.... what country am I in again? We're definitely getting all four seasons in a day right now! Thankfully, the greenhouse is kept warm with a little electric heater at night so our newly seeded flats will be nice and cozy no matter what.

The pussycats and I have really enjoyed our time in there... Outside: cold and drizzling. Inside: bikini weather. Today Nutmeg got in on the planting action too by helping me put in the peas. I know... I'm a bit late... but, really, last frost isn't until the end of the month, sometimes into May around here. That works out, doesn't it?

Nutter has also begun to accompany me to the ever growing compost pile. Thankfully, she hasn't put 2 + 2 together yet as she's too busy investigating the smelly alliums that seem to grow wild in our open areas. They aren't pungent so I think we're saved the torture of ramps. Maybe.

So what are we planting in our first ever "serious" garden? It seems like two of everything except Brussles sprouts, parsnips, and broccoli. Give me a bit and I'll post our list of edibles. We ordered mostly heirloom seeds from Baker Creek in Missouri and from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange here in Virginia. Doing this is VERY dangerous as the Baker catalog is like a fine art book of vegetable photographs and Southern Exposure has every sort of herb you've ever read about in some popular anthro tome on Cherokee living. It's a miracle we aren't growing 10 kinds of tomato and 15 pumpkins and gourds. With 14 raised beds, we had to stop somewhere!

10 April 2009

No cussin'

The difference in vernacular language between here and New Mexico is a gap beyond measure. At any coffee house in Santa Fe, the number of four letter words (OK, some have more letters...) bandied about without any restraint is a sad reflection on modern society - and also the lack of the person's ability to more thoroughly express themselves via higher level vocabulary. The situation becomes far worse in certain ethnic groups where the normal conversational level includes four letter words at the rate of every third or fourth word (not an exaggeration).

I have yet to hear any profanity in Floyd town or county. Period. Not on the street, not in a business. The level of civility here is high. Oh, and there is a law against profanity in public - and it is enforced. Attached for you examination is the recent court report for Floyd, wherein the astute reader will note THREE prosecutions for profane language. Just click on the image to enlarge it enough for easy reading. On the other hand, twice my ears have rung when someone has excoriated another person using a vocabulary that would have made William F. Buckley jealous... and apparently for good cause, not random effect.

Yesterday found your correspondent at the Blue Ridge Cafe for an early breakfast. It was difficult to not overhear the conversation at the next table between three men, one of whom was a teacher who had recently moved to Floyd, and two men, perhaps father and son, who were pretty clearly locals, as determined by dress and speech. The older gentleman was white haired and perhaps 70 or older; his son, maybe 40. Both might have been farmers. The topic of discussion at one point was Frank Lloyd Wright's home designs and their livability versus visual appeal. Having known hundreds of farmers in my life, I can't say that more than one or two percent would ever have even heard the name, no less be able to carry on an intellectual dissection of his works. Surely not every farmer in Floyd shared the education of these two men but they provide just one more reason why I love being here so much.

02 April 2009

another mile stone

This may not sound consequential to non-Southern readers of this electronic epistle, but last night a new mile stone was reached here on the farm - our first meal prepared on the barbecue grill - a sure sign of settling in well as well as a sign of more clement weather conditions. Our taste buds have longed for such flavors for so long...

Whilst cooking the deid coo, a task which required less than ten minutes to perform, the weather metamorphosed from sunny and clear into a fog. I've never seen fogs like here - they don't roll in from somewhere else, they may be generated in the bottoms and rise up (although that was not the case last night) or, they may just form from the air, all at once everywhere, as last eve. In perhaps thirty minutes, the visibility went from unlimited to less than 50 feet. The beautiful fog was further enhanced by the delicious colors imparted by the setting sun.

The e-mail is flipping out..... so here's a shorter version of the lovely e-mail that keeps bouncing around in my computer but never getting out....

One female kitten, hopefully to be delivered in person, reserved for She Who Asked. Mr. Fuzzy will need a vacation by late June!


Mrs. Fuzzy