"Commentary from the Countryside"
Thoughts on current events,
history, homesteading, preparedness, real food, and anything else I find interesting, from a cranky, middle-aged woman's common-sense perspective.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Me and My Kayak

Did you ever have a "Happy Place"?  A certain place where you go off by yourself to just be?  To think, observe, and be at peace? Many people do, I think, especially when they're children.  My first place was the bathroom closet.  Now before you laugh, it was a large closet and I was a small child!  It had a louvered door, and I was always fascinated with the patterns of the light as it came through the louvers and laid on the towels.  Of course I couldn't see those patterns unless I went in the closet and shut the door, and of course I couldn't help it if that was the same time that my Mom was looking for me.  I suppose that's part of what makes a Happy Place special, one never gets to stay there for long.

As I got older, my Happy Place changed.  There was that certain corner in the hay loft, that certain branch in the catalpa tree, that certain cedar that hung out over the gulley in the back section of the farm.  The Happy Place can be anywhere one finds it - when I was young it was often on the back of my horse - now it's on the lake in my kayak.

Thirteen feet eight inches of green plastic; wide in the middle and pointed at each end. A seven foot aluminum shaft with oddly shaped plastic bits at both ends. Doesn't sound like much, does it?  But oh the places we go! 
Sometimes we're out on the Great Lake, nothing but tall billows of mysterious blue between me and Canada.  There's an edge of excitement and fear.  Tipping here would be disaster, can't let the current pull me sideways, paddle, paddle, paddle, hang on....now, turn and stroke hard!  Then a deep sigh as I glide safely back into the harbor and an irrepressible urge to giggle nervously as I've cheated the waves one more time.

Sometimes we're out on the Bay, calmer, more protected, much more shallow - yet if the wind picks up still a challenge.  It's invigorating to paddle straight out, slicing into each wave, the bow slapping down in the trough, spray flying, a ferocious grin on my face.  Or it's a quiet day, and I paddle lazily, letting the tide take me where it will as I lose myself in watching the drops fall from the end of my paddle and shatter into brilliant reflections.
Sometimes we're out under a hot sun on an airless August afternoon, the water flat and green, egrets slowly stalking the shallows and glaring at us when we get too close. I slump back in the seat, legs up over the edges of the cockpit, feet trailing in the water 'til even that isn't cooling enough and I roll out, falling into the delicious green coolness and swim for a while, my kayak patiently waiting on it's tether.

Sometimes we get to the edge of the water, and God says "not today".
Sometimes we paddle back into the channels, watching for deer and eagles in the wooded section, and admiring the tall, fancy houses in the development.  Once I almost hit a turtle with my paddle, and more than once I've had big carp bump into the bottom of my 'yak.  Now that is a disturbing feeling!
Sometimes we go out when the sun is striking red and gold fire in the maple leaves, and the sky is so blue and deep that I feel I could float right on up into that limitlessness, if only I could paddle a little harder.  I pick up the leafy jewels from the water, and lay them along the side of my kayak just to enjoy them more.

Sometimes we'll float down a river, drawn along by wondering what is around each bend; startled by fishermen on the bridge yelling when we catch their unseen filament lines with our paddles and instinctively ducking as a beet truck thunders across the highway bridge just as we pass under.
Sometimes we'll travel to a new put-in and discover new views, like a towering rock shaped like a turnip or small caves in the shoreline that are invisible from land.

Sometimes we go out when the mist has come in, and all is shrouded in white mystery.  The sun becomes shy and peeks out every so often to see if we're still there.  Everything is perfectly calm and sounds carry for miles, each stroke of the paddle sending watery echoes to the shore.  The reflection of the house behind us somehow lays out in front of us and we're paddling over the image of the back door - which is on the opposite side of the house!  After experiencing that,  I wasn't quite sure we were going to make it back to the same reality we had left just an hour before.

Sometimes we'll load the kayaks on the trailer and head out for adventures up north. 
And sometimes we go out so late in the season that everyone else has given up for the year.  We paddle past closed up cottages, with boats in their yards, sleeping under tarps.  We work our way around large pieces of ice, oak leaves frozen perfectly flat into the surface.  Stopping to take a picture gets a little more complicated when I realize the breeze has pushed my kayak up onto the shore ice, and I have to use my paddle like a ski pole to push back off into the water.

Sometimes I'll do crazy things with my kayak - which doesn't always work out well.  I've learned that a Garmin GPS unit is waterproof as advertised but phones and cameras are not; that paddling along the outside edge of a harbor breakwall is a bad idea; that shooting a shotgun while seated in a kayak will not send you scooting backwards across the water; nor will hooking a large fish on your line drag the kayak along behind it - unless you haven't dropped the anchor.

We've had some adventures, my kayak and I.  The green is beginning to look a bit faded; there are bumps and bruises and many, many scratches; the paddle is battered and scraped, all of it mute testimony to hours of fun.   And each time I haul my boat out I am again so thankful to my Mom for introducing me to kayaking, and buying my boat for me.  Thanks Mom!  Many times she and my daughter are along for these wonderful adventures, which makes my Happy Place even happier.

And we keep looking for converts!  Friends that visit are often dragged out to the water with nothing more than a 'try this you'll like it', and after paddling around for a bit, most whole-heartedly agree.  It's so much fun to see someone else get bit by the paddling bug, and I always hope that I've helped them find a Happy Place.

Now doesn't that make you want to come along?

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Little Before and After

Can't believe it's October already.  I think it's my favorite month of the year - I love all of it.  The crisp, cool air, my neighbor's tractors roaring through the harvest, colors, football, geese flying overhead, their mournful calls echoing, and most especially the colors.  I can't imagine living where the maples and beeches and poplars don't burst into flames every fall.  We took advantage of it all by spending last weekend exploring the Houghton and Higgins Lake area, getting the truck muddy on the trails.

Got myself into a bit of heat exhaustion early in the summer, coupled with accidentally exposing myself to chlorine gas when trying to fix the pool pump.  So I've spent most of the summer sort of dragging my tail feathers with little energy to care for the homestead, or write, or can tomatoes. God was watching over me, though.  The chlorine incident could have been much worse.  And I'm feeling better now.

The garden this year was Not Good.  All was going well, even though I didn't know for sure exactly what plants I had in the ground, due to an unfortunately windy day and a failure on my part to properly secure my little greenhouse.  I came home from work to find it toppled over, all the little transplants tumbled in a heap.  I was able to re-pot many of them, however in the jumble it was impossible to know if I had Mortgage Lifter or Amish Paste, yellow squash, or zucchini.  But everything rooted well and grew quickly.  This little greenhouse was only $20.00, and was perfect for hardening off my transplants.  Properly secured against the wind I'd say two or three of these little portable units would be a great investment for folks with a small garden.  I've seen them in garden catalogs for well over $60.00, so make sure you shop around.
Some of the survivors.
I am glad I used the landscaping fabric, it made a world of difference in weed control and it didn't take much time at all the keep the plants weed-free.  The fence kept out those pesky rabbits and my beans were safe.  Everything was going well, until I made an impulse buy, late in the season, of a lonely little pumpkin plant outside local store.  It just looked sad, so I brought it home and put it in a corner of the garden.  Three weeks later I realized it had been mislabled.  Four weeks later I realized my adopted warty squash plant had brought in diseases, and my giant, happy spaghetti squash plant in the opposite corner of the garden died within a week, despite my efforts with anti-fungal soaps.  Then the tomato plants went.  Sigh.  However I did get a good bean harvest and I'm still digging potatoes and carrots.

Coming into the fall and winter I'm glad to finally have one of my on-going projects completed.  The window quilts for the living room are done, and hung in the windows.  I completed the pieced front, and then got blanket fleece in hunter green for the backs.  A friend at work used her long-arm quilter to do the seams for me, and I sewed rings along the outside edges for the cording.  It runs through the rings and across the top of the window in small eye bolts screwed into the trim.  When I pull the shades up I simply wrap the cording around a cleat screwed into the wall to keep the shades at whatever height I like.  I didn't want rings right down the center for a cleaner look from the outside, however there was an un-expected bonus - when I pull the shades up, instead of staying straight across like a roman shade, they 'pouf' into an attractive arc in the window.

Well, that's the updates, my friends.  I hope all of you have plenty of food put up for the winter and that you see God's blessings every day.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Moments in Time

Every now and again in the headlong rush of everyday life I suddenly find myself in an encounter with Stillness, and in that Stillness, sometimes I find a Moment.
Oh, I know what you're thinking - in modern parlance a woman who is 'having a moment' is losing her cool and emoting all over the people who happen to be nearby.
But my Moments are not simply a quiet time of reading a book, or daydreaming while doing a task, or even losing my cool.  They can more easily be described with phrases such as C.S. Lewis' "Surprised by Joy", or even the verse from the Bible "be still and know that I am God".
I never know when a Moment will come, what shape or color it will be, or what scent it holds.

The Moments come suddenly but gently and always fill me with a supreme content.  I feel completely at peace, secure and cared for as I must have felt as a tiny infant held in my Mother's arms.  Nothing is wrong, no matters are pressing, no regrets, no sorrows; no chores cry out to be done, the weight of responsibility no longer lays on my mind or my shoulders. I am free, and still, and quiet, and happy.
These Moments do not happen frequently, and I feel them so deeply that I can remember them for years.  One time that still lives clear and bright in my mind occurred near Christmas when I was but six years old.  I was in my room in our old farmhouse, the upstairs bedroom with but one window and sloping ceilings tucked under the eaves of the roof.  I was laying on my bed, my head cushioned on a favorite stuffed toy, it's plush fur soft on my cheek.  In my hand was clutched a book that I was struggling to stay awake and read.  My gaze fell on a decoration on my dresser, which was a small Christmas tree of silver tinsel with a bright red ornament on the top.  The tree sparkled in the light and then the sparkles seemed to surround me with warmth and joy.  More than forty years have passed, but I can still feel the joy of that Moment.  I think even then I realized it was something special.

Today I had another Moment.  I came in for dinner after cutting the grass, but wasn't very hungry. So instead of eating, I sat in my recliner, leaned back, and closed my eyes, and there it was.  The sting of sunburn on my arms, the music of the birds busy about the yard, the gentle tones of the windchimes on my porch; the scent of freshly-cut grass and the lily-of-the-valley in the fence row, the rich fragrance of baking bread coming from the kitchen, and the soft caress of the breeze flooding through the open window all surrounded me in a zone of comfort and peace and joy.  For just that fleeting Moment, all was right with my world.

I treasure these Moments.  They often seem perhaps like a gift from God, just the tiniest foretaste of what heaven will be like.
Today I planted corn, onions, and peppers in the garden.  The tomatoes and squash I put in last weekend seem to be doing well, and some of the potatoes have sprouted.  I've gone back to using landscaping fabric for the whole of the garden.  It's expensive, yes, but when I look at that cost vs. the cost of time and effort to deal with the weeds and cultivating while working full time and trying to keep up with other chores I've decided it's worth it.  The garden is smaller this year, as well.  We finished putting the fence up and now I have to fashion a gate.  The eternal hope of a gardener - this year will be better than last!  Last year I didn't use the fabric and never got time to put up a fence and I ended up with a fine crop of weeds and the rabbits ate all my beans.  Not this year!

Spring has been a busy time, the snow was slow to melt and then the rains came, so the garden is late this year and I've been dealing with flat tires, broken pins, and other mechanical issues with my lawn tractor and attachments.  It took two days just to get the weedeater to start and it still isn't running right.  Then there's the whole 'windows left open during a torrential downpour' incident.  Life is never boring on the old homestead!

Strawberries should be coming on soon, and I hope I can get two or three flats, at least.  It's getting harder and harder to find good local sources as several of the farms I used to visit have closed down.  Just thinking about fresh Michigan strawberries makes my mouth water, they're so good, especially after a long winter of only dried or frozen berries.

I've also been going through my pantry storage to see what I have and what I need to stock up on and what I want more of so I know what to put in the garden.  Somehow I managed to run out of pasta just when we wanted our favorite hot-weather tuna salad dish.  Now I know most people don't get excited about pantry staples, but I've been so very happy to find non-GMO flour at the local Mennonite store!  It is truly wonderful stuff and my bread has never tasted better.  It's more expensive that the regular GMO flour, currently around $30.00 for 50 pounds, but oh is it worth it!

Well that brings us up to date - I am sorry I haven't written more, sometimes life just gets in the way and I've had to travel for work a lot lately.  I hope all of you are doing well and have your gardens in!  God bless!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reflections in the Snow

I just went out to call the dog in, and the sky is breathtaking!  I wish I was a good enough photographer to capture it all.  It's around ten below zero, and the air is sharp and clear.  Standing on my porch I see the moon peering down from a velvet blue sky, glinting on the icicles and lighting the yard with a soft, sliver light.  The stars are so clear and so close, and somehow their twinkling seems joyous.  Off to my right my American flag stirs just a bit in a gentle sigh of wind, the stars on the deep blue field echoing the sky above.  The sky is so soft and blue and deep I could almost feel myself falling up into the limitlessness of it, my snowflake jammies warm in the still air, blue fuzzy slippers trailing along behind.

This is the time of deep mid-winter, of frosty mornings and cozy evenings by the fire.  We've already gained an hour or so of sunlight since the solstice, but the cold has not eased it's grip, not even for the traditional January thaw.  It puts me in mind of how winter was when I was small:  endless acres of fields buried beneath the drifts, icicles on the eaves, cold toes and wet mittens.  I must admit, I'm enjoying it.  Yes, I said it, I'm actually enjoying the cold and the snow!  I think I'm acclimated to it.  This morning I was out doing some chores and the sun felt warm on my shoulders.  I got so warm I had to take off my hat and scarf, only to come in and notice the thermometer said 3 below zero.  Sunday it was all the way up to 19, and it felt like Spring to me so I went shopping after church without my jacket.
Driving to work at -15 F.
What can I say, I've always loved winter.  We wore snow pants and boots to school, and hats and mittens Grandma had knitted.  One afternoon when I was about eight the schoolbus got stuck in a giant drift, so the farmer at the closest house put a bunch of straw in his manure spreader, hooked it to the tractor, and came out to the bus.  We all clambered off the bus and into the manure spreader and had us a hilarious hayride as he went from house to house, getting everyone home before dark.  Our parents were grateful, and us kids thought it was a blast.  Can you imagine something like that happening now, in these days of political correctness, irresponsibility, and lawsuits?

Of course, it's not all fun and games.  The propane bill is wiping out my savings, and there's been some terrible accidents in the county.  And every now and then when I'm looking at seed catalogs I'm anxious to get back in the garden.

But fter a couple of years with little snow, it's been great to get out my cross-country skis again.  Skiing through drifts is a lot of work!  Fortunately I found a snowmobile trail to follow for a while.  Fresh air, sunshine, and diamonds all around.  What could be better?

By the time I got back around, my tracks were starting to fill in again.

Skiing where no one has skied before!
 Last winter I bought a used snowblower, and never needed it.  This year I can't say just how happy I am to have it!  Trying to shovel my driveway would have just been overwhelming this year.  Thankfully this old machine has been staring right up and working well.  I'm also so blessed to have a 4x4 truck!  The winds have made it difficult for the road crews to keep up, and there's a time or two I probably would have been stuck, if not for that magical button on the dash.

Work has been taking a lot of time, with plenty of meetings and such.  Many days it seems I hardly  get through supper and do up the dishes before it's bedtime already, but I have been working on projects, such as trying to finally finish the window quilts for the front room, cleaning out the basement, and experimenting with some new recipes for laundry soap and venison lunchmeat.  I've also been dealing with some allergy-type things and have embarked on a crusade to not only get chemicals out of my home but to improve my immune system.

So all in all, it's been a  busy winter!  I hope this finds all of you doing well.  God bless, and stay warm!