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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Oh Sleepless Night

(To The Tune of Oh Holy Night)

Oh, Sleepless Night
The VanScoyks they are barfing
It is the night when they all got the flu

Long lay the bug even with the hand washing
Til it appeared and our tummies felt it's wrath

A thrill of hope, at 4am Jeremy is rejoicing
For yonder breaks a new and spew-less mourn!

O hear our anquished voices

Oh night of slime!
Oh, night the washer ran
Oh, night of slime
Ooooooooh, night of slime

Led by the nightlight, down the hall careening
With growling bellies, by the toliet we stand
O'er the laundry, a bulb is softly glowing
As Nana washes chunks out of a blanket by hand
The mother of the brood lay thus in lowly danger
Of throwing up in her queen size bed.
Brad knows her need, her weakness is no stranger
Behold the pot, before it lowly bend!
Hold her hair, down the drain please send!

Truly we must love one another
To clean up this mess and do it in peace
The fever will break, but now we are sick all together
In the morning this oppression will cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
When the cramping passes and sips of water we retain
Cola is the cure! Then, ever, ever praise we,
In our bellies it will remain!
In our bellies it will remain!

Merry Christmas, Everybody! I cherish each and every one of you for the way you brighten my life. Thank you- The heart is mine, the fingerprints are yours.


Monday, December 22, 2008

And this is why she naps, frequently

At 7:15 this morning, my eyes fly open and I think, "Wow. The house is awfully quiet. And Cold." And I realize that the furnace is not running. This didn't happen last week when it was 65 degrees - no, it has to happen when it is wind chill three below. I'm just not good at keeping track of the oil in the tank in the basement - the gauge is meant to be comfortable viewing for men five foot eight and over, and to get an idea of how much fuel in there requires me to get something to stand on. SOOO, instead of actually keeping a stool next to the tank, and remembering to check when I am down there, I just seem to.....run out. Occasionally.

So, before I even leave my bed, I place a call to the Oil Guy and someone HUMAN actually answers the phone. We go through the ritual of spelling/misspelling my last name. V as in Victor, A, N, S as in Sam, C excuse me is that D as in Dog? As this point, my brain always screams WHY WOULD IT BE D? WHERE would it be D? but it's pointless. Anyhow, we get that straightened out and oil is on its way.

I get the dogs out of their crates and put Little Black Dog in her houndstooth coat. All business is done within feet of the front door because THEY can't wait to get back inside. I start the little gas fired heater in the living room. Close the doors on the little dogs. THEY will be warm, soon. Okay, then. I go into the kitchen to make tea, and the pipes to the kitchen sink are frozen. I go upstairs and get the hairdryer so I can take care of THAT while I am outside doing the barn chores.

Since it's Christmas Holiday, there will be no kids getting on the school bus today so the barn chores are up to me. The oilman arrives while I am out there! That was fast!

I think it is worth mentioning what I am wearing. A black hat with built in earmuffs. A black puffy coat - like rappers wear. Black gloves with the fingers cut off, so I can actually DO things. A sweater. A Turtleneck. A pair of fleece pants. Socks. Rubber garden clogs. Oh, and I am carrying a hairdryer.

I throw one pile of hay through the hole in the barn floor down to the Big Yellow Horse who is waiting beneath with three goats under her. I take another pile of hay and throw it in the door to the Big Brown Horse who I notice is shivering and favoring one leg. She is very old, and a rescue, and I briefly consider going in to put her coat on her, until Nellie Goat charges the door. I slam it shut just as her horny head barrels into it. Note to self: text DIL to help me with this later today. A belly full of hay will keep her warm until I can get back in.

By the time I have finished in the barn, the oil guy has the tank filled and is trying to figure out how to get into the house to start the furnace. Other people's houses are designed so you can get into the basement from the house, but not mine. And now you have to go through the addition, up a board that serves as a ramp, through a door and voila! There you are in my basement. The oil guy takes a minute to take in The DISHROOM which is kind of daunting, starts the furnace with a roar and a bang and I have heat. While I am down there I notice that the insulation I have stuffed in the grillwork windows (no glass) has blown out. Okay, well, I will fix that while I am thawing the kitchen pipes.

These grillwork windows are about six feet off the ground. I am five feet. There are four of them. Four times is about the number of times a woman of my age and physical condition can climb onto a wicker chair she has dragged around, so I have to maximize my opportunities. I collect all my materials - fiberglass insulation torn in the right size pieces and placed flat in trash bags, odd scraps of wood to wedge in to hold the fiberglass in place, a long piece of pvc pipe to push it in place (because of course there are shelves full of dishes in front of each of the windows) and put it on the chair. I am so proud of how I am working this. As I am dragging the chair to the second window, the arm of the chair rips the door off the furnace box. I wedge that back in with a piece of wood. Wedging is the operative task of the day.

I plug in the hairdryer and hook it over the door so it is blowing directly on the kitchen pipes. I work my way through stuffing fiberglass filled trash bags in all four windows. By the time I am finished, I am pretty sure the pipes are thawed, so I heft myself back onto the chair one more time and wrap fiberglass around all the pipes that lead to the sink.

I go back upstairs, hit the powder room and knock a mirror off the counter. It doesn't break so I am spared seven years bad luck. I am trying to remember if I broke one a while ago. It's now 8:45 am. I'm exhausted.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Blue Sky Farm Christmas Letter

It's that time of year when people I haven't seen for a long time (and with good reason) feel the need to connect and send me Christmas Letters. Always folded in quarters in lavish Christmas cards, opening them sends shivers down my spine. They seem to come in categories: TMI and Full Out Bragging.

TMI (Too Much Information) is usually a list of funerals, surgeries and divorces. Full Out Bragging is a recitation of graduations, awards, births, and trips. There is a hybrid (TMI/FOB) which is bordering on emotional abuse.

I've never sent a Christmas letter not just because I don't like getting them, but also because Rodeo's Christmas Letter would go something like this:

Hey, everybody, sorry this is late.

It's been a busy year here at Blue Sky Farm. No, the addition is not done. No, we don't know when it will be done. No, the kid's house has not sold. No, we don't know when it will be sold. Yes, that is our bucket truck, no it's not rented, we bought it.

The boys have each grown five inches and keep their school work secret from their parents and me, so we don't know what grades they are in or if they have won any awards. They get on a school bus everyday, but they could be part of a secret gov't program.

I have only been to the emergency room three times this year: vertigo, teeth through my lip and a truly near death prescription mix up. We do have two weeks to go til the New Year.

Trips: Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Lost and Found in New York City, TWO trips back to New York with Anita for "the View", Road Trip with Gail to Arizona (pictured, with our candy necklaces), each wonderful and fabulous in it's own way!

However, who could forget the Summer Stay-Cations - one for me, one for the dogs. And for Nola, Petey and Daisy, winter stay-cation looks pretty similar to summer stay-cation.

Sadly missed: Earl and Josh W.

Things Acquired: Lucille (pictured), Nellie, Rita, Nathan, Two Yet to be Named Chicks, Fencing, Manure Spreader, Gas Fire Place.

Things Lost: FIVE HUGE DUMPSTERS FULL OF CRAPDEDOODLE, thousands of dollars in commissions due to the market, three chickens to either the bobcat or the red tail hawk.

Hey, wait. This has been sort of cathartic. Maybe that's why they send those letters.

Out my window, the snow is falling, the wind is howling but I am toasty and warm, as are all my friends and family and animals. Merry Christmas to all and may this coming year bring you the blessings of creature comfort.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Spirit of Christmas

This year, I am trying to reclaim Christmas.

The last three Christmases I took a pass - 2006 it was just three weeks after Charles died and I was pretty much in a fog. One of the last things he did on this earth was put up Christmas lights. I remember watching him teetering on a ladder, tweaking the weather beaten strings in the crabapple tree and wondering if he was ever going to come in for dinner. I'm looking out the same window now and I can see those strings of lights blowing in the wind, nobody in the family having the heart to cut them down. Obsessed with Christmas lights, we are still finding boxes of vintage bulbs he hid in the attic and bags of brand new strings he forgot in the barn.

2007 we were still adjusting and making it good for the kids, but feeling our way, and making a lot of jokes about getting to pick out trees WE liked. An oft quoted Charles anecdote was of Christmas tree hunting in the snow, on a bitterly cold day in a local tree farm. Daughter-In-Law and I found ourselves standing in a cold, bleak field with darkness sifting down around us, not knowing where Charles and the kids were. The lights went out in the vendor's shack, only a few cars left in the parking lot. After about two hours, an ancient school bus lurched into the lot and Charles and the two boys fall out the door, laughing hysterically. They had taken a BUS to a distant field in search of the perfect tree and ....didn't find one. This was funny to them at the time, but not funny to DIL and I for another five years.

The up shot of this is that I have a PINK fake tree covered with girly ornaments. The lights are already on it, and you just plug it in.

However, to keep the Ghosts of Christmas past from casting a pallor on all future Christmases, I am trying to do new things, start new traditions, and feel Christmasy. So I have to act Christmasy. I decided to make Christmas gifts for friends.

(My family does not want home made gifts. We do enough of the touchy feely Walton's Mountain kind of crap every day, they want the hard goods like appliances and bling)

I didn't want to bake cookies. It seemed toooo hard. I've been making soup like a fiend but I don't want to give anyone food poisoning by mistake. It's just what would happen.

So, I decide on something that LOOKS Christmasy, suits the majority of my friends, and would be fun. This is how I arrive at Homemade Cranberry Liqour.

It's a beautiful red - so it's Christmasy. It's alcohol so it suits my friends - sort of a liquid one size fits all. And It looks more like 'compiling' than cooking, so it would be fun.

I've had my eye on these huge Ball jars with bales and rubber gaskets at the local Hardware store, so when the Liqour is done, I use them for something else so it also fits the 'gift for me' category that I was ashamed to list above.

First step: research. I read about fifty recipes on line, all of which seem to be cut and pasted from an original one.

Second step: buy the ingredients and amass the tools. (I even buy a new vegetable peeler because I realize that the one I have is not very sharp, and I bought it in 1978). I have to go to the Liquor Store to buy the vodka. In Pennsylvania, you have to buy wine and liquor (except rubbing) at a special state owned store, with state employees, during restricted hours. If you want beer or malt beverages, that's another store. But not on Sundays, at all. I think that this is a holdover from our Quaker heritage, not that I know many Quakers who don't bend an elbow. I googled the subject but got more complaints about the system than information on its history. However, Pennsylvania was also the location of the Whiskey Rebellion - moonshiners fighting government regulation of home stills. However, here I am at the liquor store, buying three huge bottles of vodka. I can read minds, so I know that everyone in the store has noticed what is in my cart and has decided I am an alcoholic. I fight the urge to explain the purchase to the clerk, because A.) I know he thinks I am an alcoholic B.) I know he doesn't care. I trip going out the door and feel that everyone has confirmed their suspicions. I have been to the Liquor Store about four times in my life and felt this way each time. More pointless self loathing.

Third Step: Mulching the cranberries and pouring the vodka in the big jars. You also have to make a sugar syrup which IS cooking, but I didn't notice at first, but really easily accomplished, until I have to pour the hot syrup in the jars and find that they are too tall for me to reach easily when on the table, too heavy for me to move to the floor or the chair. So I climb on a chair with a pot of boiling sugar syrup and risk my life. Well, it is christmas time and I haven't been to the emergency room yet.

It's gorgeous! In a couple of days I will decant this into smaller jars and wow my friends with my thoughtfulness and creativity. If you are one of my friends and reading this, feel free to thank me now. I will also be 'cricutting' a label - that should be another episode.

I hope this is good enough to repeat next year. It's sort of a decoration for the kitchen in addition to a gift so it's really a win/win. I hope it gives my friends a warm glow on a cold night, sometime in the next month or so. Because really, that's the best we can expect in this life.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Threads of Memory

I have forgotten birthdays, anniversaries, and tax bills. I have forgotten my phone, shoes, and hair appointments. I've forgotten to unplug the iron and I've forgotten where I've parked. I've completely forgotten people's names, where I met them and why I've disliked them. Don't even get me started on hours spent hunting car keys, lost earrings or important papers. I've picked up an exquisite Limoges milk pitcher from the sideboard in my own dining room and wondered where it came from. Thank goodness my old horse Bonnie had a real barn lust or there would have been many afternoons out trail riding that might have ended in hysterical phone calls because I forgot how the trail went. I accumulated almost fifteen pounds of brown sugar over time, because I could never remember - while at the grocery store - whether I had it in the pantry. I've walked into rooms, forgetting why I went in. I've forgotten to close gates in the pasture and doors on the barn, leading to many many domestic episodes. I've forgotten how to spell "predicament" and how much 35 minus 17 is.

In fact, while I was writing this, several times I have forgotten what I was doing and wandered off to do something else.

My point is....Dear Daughter-In-Law brought an ancient Singer Sewing Machine in from the barn (don't remember where we got it, how long it's been there or why I brought it home in the first place) and said, plaintively and with much rolling of her doe like eyes, "I wish I knew how to use this."

I have not touched a sewing machine in many many years. My mother was and is a Seamstress Supreme and sewing was an activity, much like reading or playing an instrument, that was a huge part of my childhood. She made all of our clothes, and going to the Fabric District in Philadelphia to pick out fabric for dancing school costumes or prom dresses was a very special occasion to be shared just between us. We would stand together in front of the pattern books, turning the large pages, and she would say - I can take that sleeve, and put it on that top, and we can match it with that skirt and make it out of this fabric- and outfits and evenings and girlish dreams would form, and out of the scraps, my Barbie and Chatty Cathy would have the best, most fashionable doll clothes In our neighborhood - sorry Gail, but I still think so!

She had a Necchi Sewing Machine that did zig zag stitches and scalloped and serged and ruffled. The arrival of this machine when I was little meant that my sisters and I got her old machine just for us to use. It went into the basement on its own table, next to the "toy' iron which heated up enough to really iron clothes and the 'toy' oven which got hot enough to bake cookies. We had real scissors, boxes of straight pins and needles, and all these appliances used electricity. All the little girls in the neighborhood had similar little kitchens and laundries in their basements, which we played in when we weren't sledding down hills without helmets and riding our bikes in traffic. Or walking over a mile to the candy store with our quarter allowance. It was a different world. It's not that we didn't burn ourselves or cut ourselves or sew our fingers into the hems of little doll pants - it's just that unless you were REALLY hurt - requiring treatment by a doctor - it was just child's play.

But, where was I? Oh, yes. DIL, with a dusty, chicken poo encrusted ancient Singer Sewing Machine.

I'm staring at the machine which she is wiping down with a cloth. It's so pretty - shiny black, with gold scroll work. She's holding an equally old spool of thread. Apparently, in the same pile of junk in the barn that held the machine, there was a sewing box full of balls of lace, little papers of needles and pins, LA MODE buttons, and that is also now on my kitchen table.

"I could make stuff with this." DIL is now unrolling lace across the table. "Why would someone have so much lace?" (I'm assuming she means the original owners of the box and the machine, not us - because I still can't actually remember bringing this stuff home)

I say, "Well, women used to sew the lace on the hems of their skirts, to make it pretty, or longer, if there wasn't enough fabric."

"I could make something on this machine, if I knew how to put this thread on it." She's trying the spool out on various places.

I know how to thread it.

Of all the things I have forgotten in my life - important things, unimportant things, objects and thoughts and occasions and feelings - I remember how to thread this machine.

I remember my sister sitting next to me and saying,"I'll show you - just ONCE, though." I remember where to put the thread spool, I remember the way you hook it through the arm (I remember it's called 'the arm') I remember looping it around the tension knob. I remember that you have to be careful not to screw with THIS too much. I hand her the thread and tell her to thread the needle - because my eyes just can not do that.

Once the needle is threaded, there is the matter of the bobbin. I show DIL how to use the wheel to move the needle down down into the sole to loop around the bobbin thread and pull it up. I remember all of this. I remember that the bobbin is a pain in the ass.

We start sewing all the junk mail. About every three inches, the bobbin thread breaks. Apparently the long deceased owner of this bobbin kept adding different colored thread to the already filled bobbin and it is a hot mess. DIL gets tired of sewing the junk mail and rushes off to the fabric store to buy fabric to 'make something.' I insist she take a picture of the machine with her camera, so she can show the people at the fabric store what she is using. I don't really know why I think this is a good idea, but there is just something about US buying fabric that seems to require some kind of validation.

In about an hour, she's back with batting and fabric and a BIG IDEA. She's going to make pillows. Now, in addition to making all my clothes and my doll clothes, my mother made slip covers and curtains and I remember that it was a major activity that involved piping and fabric on rolls and moving furniture to get areas big enough to cut the fabric and rows and rows of straight pins and zippers longer and more problematic than the Mexican American border. The whole family talked of nothing else for weeks, and even my father the engineer used to get in on the cutting and pattern making. DIL is unfettered by any need other than to get that Singer chewing up yards of fabric, so she cuts two squares, sews them together and stuffs them. Every once in a while the bobbin thread breaks, or the machine comes unthreaded, or I offer technical advice like - "reverse at the end of each row, to secure your stitches." Voila, pillows! Less than three hours after she dug that little machine out of a pile of hay in the barn she has a stack of pillows and a whole bunch of creative pride.

Then she says it: "You are like a real mom. You taught me to sew."

With affection.

Along with threading a machine, I will never ever forget how I felt when she said that.

I make her promise that at my funeral she will tell my sisters and my mother (assuming I go first) and anyone else that will listen, that I taught her to sew. On a machine. That I remembered how to thread.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Putting Up The Star For Charles

So, not every family has a forty foot bucket truck to hang their Christmas decorations - just THINK what the world would look like if they did!

However, We Do. And My Son the Genius built a star out of plastic coat hangers and a string of lights, and decided to hang it as far up the spruce tree in the front yard as possible. He used a pole to hang it. We did get it lit, but he's not satisfied, so will make modifications tomorrow. Charles would have loved this.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dream River

Of the many things that Charles brought to my life was music. He loved it, needed it, surrounded himself with it. We used to sing together in the car - all the songs we grew up with - and make the grandkids crazy. "Dream River" is one of my favorite songs by one of Charles' favorite groups. I didn't know it would take on such meaning for me.

Dream River, The Mavericks

Floating down the dream river,
With the moon and stars above,
Maybe they can help me find a way
To have your whole love

Sleeping in the darkest room
Dreaming you are in my arms
Oh how I wish my dream comes true
With all my heart

Don't want this night to end
Don't want to live without you

Floating down the dream river
With you by my side
I know it's make-believe
But please don't wake me
I don't mind

Don't want this night to end
Don't want to live without you

Floating down the dream river
With you by my side
I know it's make-believe
But please don't wake me
I don't mind
I know it's make-believe
But please don't wake me
I don't mind.

Monday, December 1, 2008

For Charles - Two Years Later

American Tune
Lyrics and Music by Paul Simon

Many's the time I've been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I've often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I'm all right, I'm all right
I'm just weary to my bones
Still, you don't expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

And I don't know a soul who's not been battered
I don't have a friend who feels at ease
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered
or driven to its knees
but it's all right, it's all right
for we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the
road we're traveling on
I wonder what's gone wrong
I can't help it, I wonder what's gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age's most uncertain hours
and sing an American tune
Oh, and it's alright, it's all right, it's all right
You can't be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow's going to be another working day
And I'm trying to get some rest
That's all I'm trying to get some rest