24 December 2011

Happy Holidays

From the denizens of Stratheden Farm, two and four legged, come wishes to our dear friends for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

21 December 2011

Bye-bye, Biddy

Yet another foster dog has found a permanent home. Lil' Bit (aka Biddy) came to us in the summer. She had been left in a backyard when her owners moved to New England.  She was in line for euthanasia at the animal pound so we (OK, Mr. Fuzzy) took her in...

Oh boy, talk about issues. She didn't even know how to play with other dogs, which puzzled Rufus and Rocky mightily. Having never seen a cat, she pretty much ignored them. It didn't take very long to learn she wasn't housebroken... She was very affectionate and pretty smart to after Mrs. Fuzzy worked with her for many hours, she became a pretty good dog - good enough to put up for adoption at last.

Now she lives in luxury in Radford, with a retired couple who are doting and experienced dog owners. May they enjoy many happy years together.

Here she is, on the right, with Rufus on the left, the day before her adoption.

16 December 2011


First, devoted reader, Mr. Fuzzy wishes to apologize for the paucity of posts of recent. He spent eight days with an upper respiratory infection, including pneumonia in one lung, that really laid him out like a Turkish rug. The Doctor has recently pronounced him free of contagion but he is also free of any energy.

The farm's production was not plentiful this year, the summer's drought diminished all growth, even the worst of the weeds. Spring was wet, warm and full of promise but the tap to the sky was closed the first week of June and not reopened until September. Gardens were fair at best and the remainder of the farm yielded but little compared to a normal year.

The Fuzzys shall not complain of pecuniary deficiencies but suffice it to say that Mrs. Fuzzy has taken in boarders for the winter. Find below an image of the foul foursome now dwelling on Stratheden Farm..

08 December 2011

An anniversary

In many ways it seems much longer ago, but three years ago today, almost at this exact hour, Mr. Fuzzy, Miss Lily, Penske and Flora came to a halt after a 1,650 mile epic journey across the heartland of America. The sun would be illuminating Stratheden Farm for less than an hour but the sight was glorious: our new home.

04 December 2011

The planets waltzing

A simple image for your viewing pleasure, devoted reader: the Moon & Venus about November 26th. This is a remarkable challenge for the digital camera - this image was shot at 6:58 p.m. and the sun had sat at 5:18 p.m., or an hour and three quarters before this photo was made. Mr. Fuzzy's eye could barely perceive any colour in the sky and absolutely did not see the moon's ring. The camera was functioning at an equivalent ISO of 6,400 and this was shot hand-held. Yes, there is a lot of 'noise' in the image but with film, this simply would not have been possible. Hopefully, good reader, you have been more edified by the image of Nature in Her Grandeur than bored by Mr. Fuzzy's ramblings.

Remember that you may click on the image to view it in a larger format...

01 December 2011

all the changes...

In the last ten days, the weather has swung from unseasonably cold to unseasonably warm and as of today, back to winter. In fact, it spit snow much of Tuesday and some parts of the county had an accumulation.This new front brought about 2 and a half inches of lashing rains rains last night, enough to fill the new pond about 50% (hurray). More on the pond in a subsequent post, oh impatient reader!

The water heater finally arrived Monday afternoon and the installers came on Wednesday morning. After removing the old boiler (in order to get the dead water heater out and the new one in), they hooked up the Rheem and off it flew - HOT WATER in the house after 15 long days. This photo of the new Rheem unit will probably serve as proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder - Mr. & Mrs. Fuzzy probably find it far more fetching and beautiful than you, our dear reader.

21 November 2011

Falling Branch Potluck

Our little neighborhood has several meals together each year, in the basement of the little 1892 Methodist church at the end of the road. The Thanksgiving dinner is a potluck. Here's the first fellow going through the line as we joined together on Saturday afternoon.

Its wonderful to be in a place with a sense of community.

15 November 2011

Water Heaters, Part II

The search for a new water heater has become an Olympian struggle. I gave the plumbing company my first three choices for 50 gallon, propane fired, 12 year warranty, Energy Star compliant, water heaters, one each from Sears, Lowes, and Home Depot. Guess what - none of the three are kept in stock and waiting time to reacquire a hot water shower ranges from five to 15 days.

So, to widen the choices, next I went to propane tankless water heaters where the Rheem was a clear choice at Lowes. No real contenders elsewhere. Guess what - or are you ahead of me already - three to five days to obtain one. Probably.

Is there a moral here? Why, yes, of course there is! Actually, two or more:

1. order a new water heater before the old one dies. Maybe put it in the garage or paint it wild colors, call it "art" and make it the centerpiece of the living room, where it will live in comfort for a few years until its predecessor dies.

2. if you want an in-stock water heater because your old one is already dead, don't look for a quality product; everyone has six year warranty, non-Energy Star heaters that are unlikely to last much past six years.

14 November 2011

A Few Days Away - paying for them...

The Fuzzies were in Florida for a few days - Mr. Fuzzy was in meetings from 7:30 a.m until usually 9:00 p.m. and hardly saw the sun. Mrs. Fuzzy, on the other hand, played gayly in the 70F degree weather.

When we returned home we discovered that:
1. one or more cats had lower intestinal issues for most of the time,
2. the heat never came on - the poor house sitter probably froze,
3. and today, whilst the repairman was examining the boiler system, the hot water heater sprang a leak. Oh joy.

Tomorrow they will install a new Whirlpool 50 gallon water heater. And we will make a final decision on a new boiler... the old one is very inefficient (too many $ spent on propane - that's why we normally heat the hoos with wood) and probably over two decades of age. Oh, what to do, what to do?

06 November 2011

seasonal conditions

The last week or so, the nights have been at or below the freezing point of water; the days have cooled as well, some, even with all the assistance Old Sol can give, could not rise to the fifty degree mark. Mrs. Fuzzy has tended several fireplace sessions to take the chill out of the house.

Mr. Fuzzy took a stroll about the southern half of Stratheden today; the conditions were perfect - dead calm, not a single cloud in the deep blue sky, about 55F and the long shadows and gorgeous colour of light found only in the autumn before it trends to winter.

The deer were about with four does and one buck spotted. Hunting season is soon with us and they are currently far too nonchalant about sounds and movement if they wish to see the new year. Deer trails abound on the farm - here is one. They are so well-worn that a child would spot them.

The forest floor is thoroughly insulated by a deep blanket of leaves with very few remaining on the trees now. The various pine trees now stand out in stark contrast to their naked brethren all around them.

There is a sense that a new crew has taken over the task of maintaining the forest lives.

05 November 2011

Blueridge Folklife Festival for Fall

The Fuzzies rarely are able to stray far from the farm but there are many notable and noble recreations and diversions nearby, of greater and lessor qualities. One of the best is this festival at Ferrum College in Ferrum, VA. The Fuzzies attended last year although they did not allot enough time; they arrived several hours earlier this year.

The festival has everything to do with life in this part of the Blue Ridge mountains, from moonshine to horse pulls. There are three huge tents for the day long musical programs (one each for bluegrass, gospel and string band), maybe 125 classic cars, 75 classic tractors, stationery engines (pop, pop, pop), coon dog trials, jumping mules, sorghum making, hog dressing, museum exhibits (the origin of the dulcimer in America), food vendors (many of them church groups), etc. The event is only one day long - there is no way to walk fast enough to see each feature. Although this type of event has its roots in Medieval quarter-day/cross-quarter day observances and market fairs, the interpretation and execution are purely American. It was a wide spread tradition of rural America from the earliest days until perhaps diminished by The War to End All Wars; these community celebrations are a major part of the glue which binds together the social fabric. As these get-togethers have fallen by the wayside, so has the society of America deteriorated.

Mrs. Fuzzy took in the music and crafts whilst Mr. Fuzzy was totally seduced by the classic cars. The American cars of the 1920-1950 period were the envy of the world - and exquisitely beautiful. Nowadays, its hard to tell a Mercedes from a Toyota- or a Ford. Ranked by consumer satisfaction, American cars are hardly on the radar screen. Where & why did Detroit go so wrong?Oh, Mr. Fuzzy is in total lust for a '32 Ford Deuce Coupe...

There were about half a dozen examples of bootleggers' cars, all with huge engines and special suspension systems to allow them to power up steep inclines and navigate the curves on mountain roads - leaving the revenuers cars in the dust.

Former bootlegger car with a 455 horse-power engine (!!!) ain't she jist a beaut?

But the strangest competition to Mr. Fuzzy was the Coon Mule Jumping contest. In this area, where coon hunting was (and remains) a major male pursuit, mules were ridden. The problem was: what did the rider do when encountering a fence? There was no time in the darkness (coon hunting is a night recreation) to find the nearest gate - the rider dismounted and the mule jumped the fence, to be remounted on the other side. The attached photo is of a 20 year old mule who has been a champion many times (oh, did I mention the incentive? $6,500 in prize money). The mule is lead to the barrier and then verbally encouraged to go over it (didn't realize a mule would respond to just words...). Except for this venerable old gal, most stand right in front of the bar, rise on their hind legs as if to stand and then lean over the bar with the rest of their body following. This gal walked up to the bar then backed up about three paces, got one or two steps of speed up and leapt. She sure knew how to do it.

The old tractors attracted him, too, but Floyd county has so many fine examples that Mr. Fuzzy has become jaded on the topic.

Another contest which might be unique was the Coon Dog Water Race wherein a coon dog swims after a raccoon decoy which is pulled across a large body of water on an overhead pulley arrangement. (you can find the dog by the second wake- remember you can click on an image to enlarge it for better viewing).

31 October 2011

Firsts on the Farm

Well, I still have no idea where my charger is and the camera has two dead batteries so you will just have to endure a no-new-picture post from me.

Late autumn is officially upon us and not simply because today is a cross-quarter day. Yesterday morning there was a thin film of ice on the kiddie pool we use to provide drinking water to the chickens. Yep, first real frost of the season and it's a shade early to boot. The last tobacco plants are still ripening seed pods and have, thus far, survived the cold with a little protection. I might need to add more if they are to be successful.

Speaking of chickens, this was a momentous weekend in the evolution of my little project! I sold my first batch of eggs to the Harvest Moon Store in Floyd. That makes Sal's Ethical Eggs (named for our favorite hen, Salvadora) a legit undertaking. The manager, Sylvia, loved the name and my home made carton labels, which show Mme. Salvadora and describe the conditions on which the Clucker's Union would consent to their produce being sold. I can't use the O-word because we've not gotten certified but I can give enough information for a reasonable person to put two and two together.

The label reads:
Sal’s Ethical Eggs
From freely roaming, rooster loving, organic-feed-eating, super happy, self-actualized chickens of several breeds old and new.

I've had to restrain myself from going down to see how many they've sold. Right now the girls are giving us 9 dozen a week, plus a few, but the leghorns have just started laying so I'll have 18-20 dozen soon!

22 October 2011

A benchmark of change

One of those rare definitive seasonal changes has occurred this morning in the pastures of Stratheden - a complete coating of thin frost. If ever there was a harbinger of the onset of colder weather, this would be it. At this very moment, early rays of the sun are now raking across it, simultaneously highlighting and destroying it.

The forecast was for a low of 29F so the dining room floor is covered by potted plants brought inside for protection. In theory, this is the coldest night for the next week so they will go back outside today.

Yesterday, hastened by the frost warning, Mr. Fuzzy cut and hung the tobacco crop along with some mullein (used by the Cherokee in their smoking mix). The tobacco was planted very late but has done well; the leaves and stalks are considerably more robust than last year, attributable, methinks, to the improvements made in the soil. Hundreds of pounds of compost await being tilled into the garden once the growing season has totally ceased; with luck and perseverance, next year's yield will be even better.

Autumn has literally been blown in by the winds of change; there have been periods as long as three days wherein the air has never been stilled. Brilliantly colored leaves have danced all about the farm and have now provided a richly textured ground cover and insulation through the cold spells. Very few trees managed to retain their modest coverings; the maples, which gave a fine display of bright reds, have somehow maintained their glory, and most oaks as well. The walnuts were the first trees to be totally divested of their raiment perhaps three weeks past.

15 October 2011

Autumnal Colours

This weekend may be the climax of fall color on Stratheden's grounds. The trees were stressed by the summer drought and some began melding their summers greens into fall yellows as much as four weeks ago. Many of the noble trees who turn to shades of reds have held their display until recently; the maples have been spectacular this season (note to self: plant more maple trees) and the dogwoods display a superabundance of brilliant red berries this year..

The walnut trees were particularly stressed by the lack of water this summer and have shad all of their leaves already. Nonetheless, the yield of walnuts continues to be prodigious and we will have them to dine on through the spring beyond any doubt. The squirrels must be ecstatic.

Yesterday was a classic fall day: azure blue skies with just enough clouds for contrast, daytime temperatures of about 62F and a constant wind ensuring there were always leaves making their final curtsy on the way downward. Today may be a carbon copy, dear reader, and I wish you were here to enjoy it with me.

04 October 2011

Radford Highland Games

Last Saturday the Fuzzies drove to Radford University to take in their annual highland games. Och, it was such a Scottish day, dreich! The temperature was barely in the 40s, the skies were dark gray and drizzling rain in varying quantities, the wind a-gusting, oh it made me so homesick for Fife.

The core of the event was the games but there was superb live music, vendors of Scottish goods (some from bonnie Scotland!), arts and crafts, herding dog demonstrations, etc. What is a Scottish event with nae sheep? (ans: heartbroken). Even Mr. Fuzzy parted with a guinea or two and purchased a fine sporran from a auld Glasgow firm. Methinks most did well except perhaps the Sno-Cone man who was looking pretty blue, literally and figuratively.

Truly, it made me very homesick for the country and our friends there. I wanted to drown me sorrow with Talisker and oatcakes, sigh, and there was a wee dram of Talisker in the cabinet...

01 October 2011

Some of the people and their cameras in the workshop Mr.Fuzzy taught last weekend. Ah, yes indeed, a whole new group who now know why he is denominated "Mr. Fuzzy."

28 September 2011


My dear faithful readers, yes, both of you- my apologies for the lack of recent postings and tidings but Mr. Fuzzy gave a three day national master-level workshop on soft focus lenses last weekend... it took a week or more of intense focus to prepare and when it was behind me, me was exhausted... just late this morning has the mind rejoined the body.

This shall not repeat itself until next year!

So stay close and wait for a post soon.

I thank you for your enduring loyalty and attach a photograph from today of Jack Tar doing his imitation of his grandfather, a black panther.

Mr. Fuzzy (his-self)

22 September 2011

Finally, A Good Deer!

Available from Amazon, no matter where you live.
Last night I went down to the freezer to root around for something interesting to cook for company and came out with a one pound venison leg roast. Mumbling and grumbling about the strange cuts the local game butchers produced from our small doe, I decided that THIS time I would not ruin this prized meat.

I set the meat on the granite worktop we picked up cheap at a thrift store to thaw. Having this little piece of stone really sucks the cold or heat out of an object, speeding up the process considerably. (Thank you S.A. for telling me of the everyday virtues of granite.) I then rooted through my cookbooks for some reliable help and came up with Game For All, a cookbook put out by the local venison farm near our old home in Scotland. 

Diligently reading the preliminary notes, I learned that we would have done well to hang that does for a few days. Oh well. I also discovered Mrs. Fletcher's directions for "fast cooking" venison: Sear in oil, season (not too much salt), roast uncovered in a very hot oven (450F) until underdone (110F internal temp), and let it rest a while to finish cooking. The only thing I added to her recipe was wrapping the meat in foil while it rested.

The result? My first successful piece of roast venison. The seasonings were sesame oil, juniper berries, pepper, and Hungarian chiles with just a sprinkle of salt.

13 September 2011

apple thieves

Dearest of all Readers, Mr. Fuzzy has puzzled about the chunks taken out of the mutsu apples whilst said apple is still on the tree. The cats perform their duties quite well and normally keep even the peskiest ravens away from our fruit. So what could be eating the forbidden fruit?

The answer revealed itself this afternoon as I watched at least four of Mrs. Fuzzy's new chickens way up high in the tree. Chickens in trees? Really? Yes. And here is the proof. You may have to click to enlarge the image but there are very clearly two chickens in view. The next image was made during the booking process and is Perpetrator #1.

Live and learn.

10 September 2011

As darkness falls

Not to confuse you, my precious few viewers - these are taken on consecutive nights...

Just some eye candy.

08 September 2011

Autumn Means Happy Taste Buds

Autumn is officially here! The local potatoes & carrots are now available and boy are they tasty! We've been eating these starchy red and purple varieties for a couple weeks now. I must find out what the red ones are as they're not as waxy as grocery store reds. Both have excellent flavor and hold some color when cooked.

As for the local carrots, they're small but delicious. There's no pressing reason (like blandness)  to tart them up so we don't.

05 September 2011

Divine humor

Ah, dear reader, you are no doubt wearied by my complaints since June of inadequate, nay, non-existent rain. In eleven weeks, the farm received less than 2.5 inches - and in growing season at that.

The Creator has a refined sense of humor as evidenced by the last sixteen hours. Rain began as a gentle drizzle this morning and showered on and off all the day. As of 8:15 p.m., the ground has received 1.63 inches of rain since 4:00 a.m. and it is still raining hard - and expected to continue so all the eve, the wee hours and into the morn. Flash flood watch is in effect until tomorrow.

Now if that doesn't show the Divine exercises humor, then maybe the tornado warning and tornado watch may be sufficient to convince you. The NWS thought the radar indicated a tornado on the ground in southwestern Floyd county and headed this was at 7:15 p.m. That has since been lifted and Mr. Fuzzy is relieved to say he saw no tornado whilst sitting on the veranda with Grover the 20 pound feline in his lap... nonetheless, the tornado watch remains in effect until 4:00 a.m. Good sleep may be elusive this night.

Looking on the good side, Mr. Fuzzy planted radishes and a couple of other autumn crops yesterday. If they were not swept away by the torrents, the seeds should be well moistened and germination not far behind.

The photograph was taken under dense cloud cover right after sunset with Mr. Fuzzy's new camera at an effective ISO of 25,000. That is not a typographical error. Nor is the apparent curve of the land induced by lens defects... it rolls off rather quickly and yet it was raining so hard that water was standing on a slope... the creek will be roaring with a revived life force by now.

We Have Hens!

Mary and Martha, the first chicks to spend time living in a crate inside our home, are officially 'hens.' One started laying pretty little dark brown eggs about 10 days ago and her sister started late this week. Martha (?) is laying nearly an egg a day already. (I can tell the eggs apart by size right now.)

Cute little pullet eggs.

Unlike the Cochins and Dominiques, these Partridge Plymouth Rocks seem to be laying bigger eggs each day. It took the older girls months to get their eggs up to size! Perhaps they will be laying full  sized eggs before winter sets in? The white eggs are from our Dominique girls.

Two or more of the Cochins are now laying eggs with extremely thin shells. Guess it's time to buy another 50# bag of crushed oyster shell.

04 September 2011

autumn colors

The stress of the summer heat and drought has caused the trees to begin to change into their coats of many colors prematurely. It remains to be seen if the half inch of rain this past week and perhaps a decent rainfall in the coming days will be an adequate tonic to the trees... at least the plants of the forest floor which were wilting at mid-week now look to have gained a second wind.

03 September 2011

how about that?

The denizens of Stratheden Farm found it was hard to believe their eyes on Thursday afternoon - one little isolated thunderstorm cell parked itself over the farm and delivered a quarter-inch of much needed precipitation. Two hours later I walked in my socks through the parched remains of the lawn and the grass was already so dry that my socks picked up no moisture whatsoever.

Will miracles never cease? The same event repeated itself to within 0.01" on Friday afternoon. The NWS ranked our probability of rain at 20% for Thursday and 30% for Friday.

The pattern this summer has been fronts sweeping out of Ohio through West Virginia thence into the the valley which I-81 runs. Then the line of storms develops a break as it sweeps into Floyd county, leaving the central portion of the county untouched but after the storms jump the Blue Ridge, the line links back together before the storm moves into North Carolina.

These little rains were not part of one of these sweeping long fronts but rather irregular small scattered thunderstorm cells that have dotted western Virginia like pimples on a fourteen year old's face. Observing them on radar, they are intense and nearly always depicted in red. Especially Friday's downpour was accompanied by deep rolling consoling peals of thunder and the occasional burst of brilliant bolts of lightning. Ah, how satisfying to hear and see the display.

With tropical storm Lee coming from the south and possible hurricane Katia approaching from the southeast, we fantasize about more water from the heavens. Mr. Fuzzy planted an autumn crop of mustard greens and the last of the potted tobacco plants today; it was disconcerting to find that the soil was dry down at least five inches - so soon after these sprinkles. The ground could probably absorb five or six inches of rain before any runoff could occur.

The rains came too late for the beans, corn and muskmelons. The moon & stars watermelons are all still on the vine and would benefit as would the Hopi rattle gourds, tobacco and newly planted seeds. Please, oh, please, more rain.

01 September 2011

Critter Control

We've been using these traps for a few weeks now to deal with the critters in the shop & feed shed (same building.) This just might be the nicest little mouse trap ever made. There's a wee trap door in the back that holds about 4 servings of peanut butter. It fits into tight spaces, is incapable of smashing your fingers, doesn't need re-baiting every day, and the dogs can't get at the dead mouse. The dead mouse shakes out pretty easily or you can throw the whole thing away if seeing flat rodents give you the willies.

27 August 2011


Floyd county remains dry as an old bone. There were high hopes for Hurricane Irene breaking our drought but she has steered too far to the east to have any effect. At 14:30 EDT, she is probably at her closest approach - nowhere near enough to us. Here is the radar from Roanoke; Floyd is indicated by a cross in a circle, just down from the wee cross at the very center. The five day forecast is for 10% or less chance of rain. Sad.

26 August 2011

Cute Chicks

Gratuitous photo of the twit-twits aged 5 weeks old. Persimmon is facing you and Poppy is turning her back. A usual position for both girls.

23 August 2011

Rockin' and rollin'

Well, dear readers, it has been an interesting day... the Fuzzies performed some minor tasks in preparation for receiving hurricane Irene on the weekend and as we were in the town, the earth moved beneath our feet.

From Wunderground: "This earthquake appears to be the strongest to occur in Virginia since May 31, 1897, when a magnitude 6 (approximately) struck Giles County. Reportedly, shaking was felt from Georgia to Pennsylvania and west to Indiana and Kentucky, which is an area that covers approximately 725,000 square miles. It's likely that this quake will have a similar extent when all the reports come in."

The farm is still without measurable precipitation; many tree leaves are now curling. There is little doubt that Irene will bring us rains but they will be too late for most plants and trees.

Hurricane Floyd, only a Category 2 storm, devastated Floyd county in 1999, including washing out bridges and a lack of power for ten to fourteen days, depending on your fortunes. Some models forecast Irene to be of equal or greater strength after landfall. The real question is not so much the issue of strength (nearly all models agree on Category 4), however, but where she will make landfall.

Batten the hatches, mate!