Saturday, September 30, 2017

November Hill pollinator gardens, 3

This morning I put everything out into a staging area.

The butterfly weed and pink swamp milkweed were all planted and mulched already, so this is what was left to plant. 

I spent most of the morning putting things on top of the garden beds, trying to look at height and spread and color and texture to see if I could get things nice. I'm sure I'll make some mistakes but I hope there are some happy errors too.

Once I finished that husband brought home a pallet of stepping stones and he moved them into place in the upper bed. I have a path going from the barnyard "stile" through the upper bed and around and out the side into the driveway by the barnyard gate. There's room to put a little bench under the cherry tree once it gets tall enough. 

This bed is so deep I wanted a way to walk into to it for working and to get to the fence in there as well.

I've planted 10 plants. 

Will get back to it tomorrow! I think it's going to be wonderful! 

Friday, September 29, 2017

November Hill pollinator gardens, 2, or, we went a little wild at the plant sale

I had a list taken from the North Carolina Botanical Garden's sales list and went for the members-only pre-sale. It was PACKED. There were 12 plants on my list and we got all but one, but of course we all three spied things we just had to have, so in the end we rolled two large garden carts to the check-out. It was sort of crazy and sort of exciting.

The first thing I went for was my new favorite plant: spotted horse mint, or monarda punctata.

It is so pretty and I haven't found it anywhere but on the listing for this annual sale. I located the sign and there were only two pots left! I grabbed them, found a staffer, and asked if there were more. They checked and said they were sorry but that was it.

I was sad but moved on to the gazillion other choices they had. Later, a few minutes before we finished perusing, I happened to walk by the table where the spotted horse-mint had been and there were, miraculously, three more! I snapped them up and added them to my cart. 

We came home with a Subaru and an Element full of plants. Guess what we'll be doing this weekend? 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

November Hill pollinator gardens, 1

I think it's safe to start this now that I've actually got 6 new plants in the ground and a Subaru hatch full of more to go in tomorrow!

This is what I have so far, and I'm using common names because they are just easier to type in:

For spring bloom:

Wild blue indigo
Purple coneflower
Orange coneflower
Wild bergamot
Stoke's aster

For summer bloom:

Butterfly weed
Pink swamp milkweed
Great blue lobelia
Button bush
Thread-leaf blue star

For fall bloom:

October skies aster
Raydon's favorite aster
Boneset/Joe Pye weed
Old field sedge

And this is where they are going:

Most of them, anyway. The other side is about 3/4 done, just in time for my shopping trip to the North Carolina Botanical Gardens' members' sale tomorrow evening. My goal was to get 3-5 different plants for each of the three blooming seasons so I can keep some bees, butterflies, and other pollinators happy, and so I can enjoy not only a blooming garden but a busy one.

We're fortunate that one of our county extension agents, Debi Roos, is an expert in pollinator plants and between her presentation in bee school last winter, her pollinator workshop last weekend, and her demonstration garden locally, I have tons of information available to help me along the way.

Another wonderful thing about the above photo is that we expanded that upper tier all the way to the fence and barnyard gate, eliminating lawn and the need for mowing and weedeating in there. We've done the same with the other bed and it's going to be so much nicer to have fun things growing and blooming than the grass and fire ant mounds!

I can't wait until spring!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

November Hill farm journal, 38

I'm happy to be home and was outside most of the day yesterday working and tracking the march to autumn, which feels like a very slow march right now as our temps remain in the 80s with a couple of days hitting 90.

The dogwoods are loaded with red berries and their leaves are shifting to fall color. Most of the deciduous trees are starting to drop some leaves; I'm taking advantage of the mower as I spread stall waste to do some chopping and blowing of leaves at the same time.

It's extremely dry right now and any mowing sends up clouds of red clay dust, so after a couple of short passes yesterday I decided to stop.

We got a new load of hay in last week and our farm helper cleaned out the hay tent and emptied the hay stall, cleaning it down to the mats. We usually take the pallets from hay storage out to the big barnyard and dump all the hay debris, some of which is seeds, and end up overseeding the grass that way. He did that for us too, and it was a joy to see.

The fenceline is now clear about 2/3 of the way around our property. The contractor and I have been texting back and forth nailing down the final details for fencing and gates. I'm relieved but not surprised to hear that he, a horseman himself, will be removing old fencing as he goes so that at the end of the day the horses can safely go into any area of the property. There won't be a day when any part of the fence is left open.

Yesterday I took a walk to the back area of the farm, which was Friday's "office" for our farm helper. He did a stunning job clearing what will be the new back fenceline and also cleared out years of brush and fallen limbs, including one huge tree that took a hit last year during a storm. He has neatly cut that into firewood and stacked/secured it for us. That section has never been so clear and tidy. I've enjoyed the wild look back there and enjoyed my various incarnations - the woodland path, the labyrinth - but right now it's a great time to get it cleaned up so we can get the fencing in and then decide what to do with it.

It's easy right now to see where my long-time plan for a writing studio/guest cottage would go!

Down at the edge of the forest in the open area the entire stretch as far as the eye can see to the right and left is a goldenrod haven. Honey bees are getting in their last big pollen run and I stayed down there awhile just watching them work. I'm happy to know that next year my bees will have those flowers to forage.

Which reminds me - I put in two kinds of milkweed on Thursday morning before I headed to Porches. The Saturday before last I attended a pollinator garden workshop and we all got six plants at the end. These are the first official members of my own pollinator garden. The mulch arrived yesterday to top off the newly-expanded beds that flank the garage, gate to the barnyard, and the front porch area, plus some to create a bed outside the gate by the mailbox.

I have a list of more pollinator plants to get at one of our local native plant nurseries and will be working on that later this week.

It was so nice seeing the back area clear - daughter and I took the Corgis back there yesterday evening for a walk. We had a hard time coming back through the barnyard as Keil Bay and Cody wanted to visit with us and with the dogs. Soon enough we'll be working on getting the Corgis used to being out on the larger part of the farm while respecting the space of the horses and donkeys. They have regular meet and greets through the fences and gates but these two dogs have never been allowed to run loose out there. We'll start with some dog runs while the equines are in stalls eating but I hope the transition goes smoothly enough that the Corgis can be out without any stress on either side.

In other farm news we bought the propane tank that's been sitting on our property since the house was built and will be able to shop for the best propane price and have it delivered as we need it. There was some initial difficulty with the propane company about having to have our gate code, but this was negotiated and I happily opened the gate for the delivery yesterday.

Today is a gray day though no rain is forecast. It would be nice to get some but the gray sky is a nice break from bright sun and blue sky!

Monday, September 25, 2017

The power of two - and 2 to the 4th

Before I left Porches yesterday I went outside to see if I could spot the two black vultures. I found a downy feather on the skylight glass and was even more curious to see how large they were in a more normal context. Sitting on the skylight they looked big but their necks had downy feathers too, so I knew they weren't adults.

After only a minute I spied them circling above the house, quite low, and although I couldn't see much I was happy to say goodbye to them. After I said goodbye I walked on through the front area of the house and when I glanced up again there were 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 - 2 to the fourth power - of black vultures spinning and weaving and soaring above me.

I don't know enough about the family structure of black vultures to know if it was a family group or simply a bunch of friends, but it was such a delight to see the spinning kaleidoscope of birds in the bright sky.

Leaving was difficult but as is usual once I started packing things into the car, my mind spun forward to November Hill and getting home. As I drove out of the Porches and onto the little country road it sits on, a few houses down, two black vultures dashed on foot out in front of my car. It was the two young ones, and now that they were on the ground, in the context where I could measure them against things like flowers and bushes and the car, I saw that they were much smaller than adult size. I think they were around 14 inches high from foot to top of head. They dashed in and out of the brush a few times, and said another goodbye, and then flew off again.

Seeing these two young birds was such a treat. I have only ever seen adults up close and I suspect the youth of these two is what sparked their curiosity about the skylight and what was inside it. The adult birds seem much more aloof and except for the huge injured turkey vulture my daughter and I rescued once, I've never been able to get very close to them at all.

As I drove into Chatham County, the first thing I saw in the sky was a kettle of vultures circling, a very common sight in our area, and when I turned onto our main road and passed the little church, a single black vulture was resting on the very top of the steeple. I've seen this only a few times, and once saw one on the same steeple spreading its wings in the sun. A productive, much-needed retreat that was already such a gift ended on another rare and lovely note.

And now I'm home! It's a perfect sunny day on November Hill.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

On the last morning (of this writing retreat)

The fog rolls down the river, in a thin stream at first but eventually obliterating the mountain behind it. Suddenly the landscape is different, I am someplace different, and for a piece of the morning everything is mysterious sweet.

Then the fog ends, just like that, it has gone on its way, and the mountain is back with its trees, evergreens and those just on the edge of changing colors.

I got to the end of my list yesterday but as is the way of lists of things to be done, finishing doesn't mean anything except the opening to a new list.

There was something missing and I thought of it as a beat in the last act of the novel but couldn't lay my hands on more than that. Talking to another writer in the kitchen I found myself suggesting drawing out the structure and promptly took my notepad to the upper porch and did exactly that.

What I was thinking of as a beat is in fact a chapter, with a number of scenes, and it's a pretty important chapter. I made a page and a half of notes on what this chapter needs to do, and why, and which characters' arcs rely on this chapter.

But then I was caught up short when I came in to start writing it. I did what many of us do when we get stuck - research - and made a quick list of three novels I feel I need to read before proceeding. This is not true but writers do need to read and I'm a bookworm first and foremost, so, with the magic of ebooks and my Kindle app for iPad, I soon had the first novel on my screen and read from then until near midnight The Cartel by Don Winslow. I'm not even halfway through this very thick book, and it's mesmerizing, if violent, and I will tell you how surprised I was that the first chapter is about a beekeeper.

Lest you think I've gone the rest of the way around the bend, the novel I'm trying so hard to finish involves a kidnapping by the cartel. The chapter that needs now to be written is the big action scene that resolves not only the final conflict but the inner conflict for two main characters and two minor characters. I suspect I have subconsciously left this out because I really don't know how deep I want to dip my toe into this action. It's not my usual kind of writing and although there's plenty in this novel that suggests I'm fully capable of pulling this off, I am not totally sure I can.

So I stayed up reading about the cartel and about ten minutes before midnight through the open windows I heard what sounded like a series of gunshots. After the gunshots (or perhaps it was actually something else entirely) there was dead silence and then an odd fluttery cooing bird sound that I am completely unfamiliar with. It is of note that while I found this juxtaposition of noises in the dark of night a bit unnerving, compared to the cartel novel it was Nothing. So I turned off the light and went promptly to sleep.

This morning I am sitting in the piles of paper and books and notepads and my three pair of glasses conjuring a bubble of energy I can transport back with me to November Hill so that once I settle in with husband and daughter and son via the app that allows he and I to watch a TV series together even though he's in the north and I'm in the south, once I hug dogs and snuggle cats and breathe with horses and donkeys, once I take delivery tomorrow of a load of mulch and a tank of propane and address the daily life to do list, I can find a quiet spot and open up the bubble of this novel and get myself to write that scary chapter.

Send some good wishes my way.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

My morning writing companions - a pair of black vultures!

My little room on retreat is on the third floor of a beautiful antebellum home that looks out over the James River in Virginia. The room still has the old fireplace and two original floor to ceiling windows, but the owner thoughtfully added in a ceiling fan, a skylight, and a window to the front to allow for air flow and light and a view of the mountain beyond the river.

The bed is just to the right of the skylight, perfect for stargazing before falling asleep. I've had the windows open the entire time. With the ceiling fan and a small desk fan it's been perfect, and I am able to listen to the birds, insects, and such which I find very comforting and inspiring as I work.

This morning I woke up to what sounded like something cantering across the roof. It definitely wasn't a squirrel, but it didn't sound like a four-legged creature so I was mesmerized. I looked up at the skylight and there were a pair of black vultures!

I adore black vultures. They do a much-needed service to man - eating and ridding the landscape of carcasses - and if you take the time to look at them they are incredibly handsome birds. If you've never seen them performing their morning cleansing ritual where they spread their wings and hold them to dry in the sun you are missing a gorgeous sight.

These two birds today seem to be as fascinated with me as I am with them. They are looking in at me,  striking regal poses, spreading their wings, and generally putting on a show for me. I've never been this close to a black vulture, so close I can literally look into their eyes.

At least one culture viewed the black vulture as a symbol of the divine feminine. To me they symbolize that as well as a connection between the earth and heaven - to watch them fly is for me a thing of joy. They soar, they circle, they weave in and out as a group. They stand in groups when they  feed and the spreading of wings in the sunshine makes them look, to me, like nature's black angels.

This is the last full day of my writing retreat and to have this visit this morning is the perfect start to my writing day. A gift that speaks to me on an archetypal level.

They flew earlier this morning but returned as I started this post. I'm honored.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Couldn't resist the light or the mirror frame

The late day sunshine cascaded into the room across the hall, which is lonely with no writer in it, and I was drawn in with my phone. Just took off the cold damp cloth I'd wrapped around my neck to cool down after moving my bags in from the car, and took out the wrong glasses - thought they were my reading pair but they were the old prescription spare pair I bought off the internet. Not sure why but they suddenly seem better than my current progressive lens pair! So now I'm alternating between three pairs of glasses but have written around 4K words so, writing retreat life is good. Tea and an oatcake and a blog post and now it's back to the desk. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

At the desk, writing retreat in progress

So happy to be here. The drive was wonderful, clouds manifesting shapes of things that came to mind as I drove. This often happens, the synchronicity of the creative process, as I'm entering the zone, or the space where deep work happens.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Just started reading this book which is about finding ways to get beyond distractions and into a "deep work" state of mind. He talks about Carl Jung and his writings on this and although I'm only a chapter in, I'm very glad to be reading this right now. I know what deep work is and I know how to get there but I need regular booster shots in doing the things I know I need to do to achieve it.

Number one for me is logging out of Facebook and staying off for several months. Check.

Just in time for some deep work on the novel!

It's so easy to do tiny bits of things and never get to a long, ponderous effort where time seems to disappear and the hours fly by.

(Not sure if I'm defying the notion of deep work by reading more than one book at the same time, but there you go!)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Day in the life of a writer, 1

I like having "series" of blog posts that focus on one topic and realized this morning I should start one for the writing life here on November Hill. Years back I hosted a blog where writers, including me, wrote posts every day of the week about writing. It was a wonderful thing but in the end became too labor-intensive to keep going. I had another solo writing blog as well and at some point became tired of having my life "split" between two blogs since, after all, it is all really one life and who is to say where the farm and the horses/donkeys/cats/Corgis and the writing begin and end?

Thus, a new series here.

Today's day in the life of a writer:

I got an email from the editor-in-chief of a literary journal that focuses on long short stories. Several years back I wrote a 12k story that pre-dates my novel claire-obscure and fills in a gap in Signs That Might Be Omens.

My plan was to use it as a promotional piece but when my writing group heard me read it out loud at a retreat that year, they all said I should submit it on its own. Most of the story takes place in Paris and I adore the Paris Review, so I sent it off to them after a final edit. Several months later I got a little note in the mail that said they loved it but couldn't take it, and that they would like to see more of my work. That's a nice rejection, especially from Paris Review.

I've been sending it out about every 4-5 months since. Several more journals rejected it, and at least another two said they liked it a lot but noted that it was quite long for their publications. I workshopped it last year and was able to cut it down to about 9k, which at least brought it under 10k!

In late spring I found a list of journals that only take long stories and submitted it yet again. Mind you, this is year three of submissions for this one story!

So this morning the editor-in-chief of one of these journals emailed to say she is delighted to have the story in hand, is getting ready to read it, and that the longer it's been since submission the more likely the story has been longlisted as having potential for publication. I hope Clairette finally finds a home!

My dilemma with this story is that it is a very long short story but not long enough to be a novella. There's technically a form in between called a novelette, but not many places seek out submissions in that word length. I've considered, instead of cutting it back, actually expanding it into novella length. Submission options for novellas seem to be mostly limited to contests though, so I decided to focus on cutting instead of expanding.

My mantra with the shorts I've written in the past few years and submitting them was to focus on finding them each the right home. So far every short I've written and edited has indeed been published. Clairette is the one that's been tricky to place, but maybe this is her time.

As you can probably imagine if you read this blog regularly, my to do list with writing is about as long as my to do list for the farm. The difficulty with writing to do lists is that the work is not a living creature and thus gets perpetually pushed aside for those that talk, whinny, bark, bray, and meow.

I suspect this is the difficulty most writers face. A story may take years to place, for no payment at all. Novels may take that much time or longer. It's a labor of love but even more so a labor of "I can't not do it." If you're a writer it's usually because writing is a way of making sense of the world around you. I can't not do it, but I also can't shove everything else aside to do it full time, front and center, because the living people and animals in my life mean even more. I won't call it a battle, but it's an ongoing struggle for me. How to keep a balance between life and writing.

One way I've managed it is with writing retreats away from home. Getting off the farm, to a place where my only focus is writing, is an odd and wonderful sort of journey. It's not a vacation, but it does feed my writing soul, and it allows me to make significant progress on work that needs hours a day of focus which is so hard to attain when I'm here on November Hill.

I've most recently tried to get 2 weeks away a year, and with time here at home I manage to get things done. This year I've decided to try a 4-day weekend a month. My September weekend is coming up and I am already feeling the energy flow. I'm at the end of a final edit for a novel that has also been underway for several years. It's gotten good feedback from my writing posse and also from an editor I hired to read it. I aim to get this to agents as soon as possible - because it's time to get this one out of my hands.

I have THREE complete drafts of new novels waiting to be edited. There was one insanely productive year when I wrote like a mad woman and got them down. Looking back I have no idea how I did it, but now I'm backlogged with work. It seems to be my modus operandi to have way too much on my plate at all times. I think I've made peace with it. I don't ever have to finish it all. There's no way to finish it all. Because I thrive when there are lists and projects piled around me waiting for my attention. That it also adds a little stress to my life that all that work is awaiting me is the core of the struggle. The bone I have to pick with myself on a daily basis. But if I look at it as a way of life instead of pressure, as treasure instead of the to do list, it becomes delightful.

So, today, I'm focusing on the email from the editor and the excitement that maybe Clairette is finding her home in the world. Later this week I'll be digging in deep to Never Not Broken. It's the writing life.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Feeling sad today, and reminded to treasure every moment

Starting the day with tears of both sadness and joy as I just watched The 7MSN's tribute to Lucy, a gorgeous donkey who left this world last week. It's so hard to say goodbye to our beloved equines. Lucy leaves so many memories for her 7MSN family to treasure, but I know the heartbreak is huge right now.

Yesterday I was at the barn with my beloved equines, experiencing the full range of emotions that come with sharing space and time with other living things: joy, love, awe, annoyance, and finally gratitude. If I'm annoyed it means they're alive and well and doing things that don't always fit with my plan of action for the day. I stopped in that moment to remind myself of that.

After two horse hoof trims and a lot of mucking, I was besieged by a horse fly who stubbornly followed the horses into the barn and decided I was the best target. In a stall, flinging a muck rake around, my glasses flying through the air because the thing landed on my face and I swatted it, and my glasses, away, I was joined by the pony, who came in the stall with me, trying to help, and by Cody, who hung his handsome head over the stall door and did what he could to offer support as the fly bit me in the one part of my back I couldn't reach.

They're my herd, and we share so much. It's heartbreaking when one of them leaves us. Seize the day. Sink deep into the moments when things are funny, hard, sad, crazy, and full of love. In the end, all of those memories will be oh so precious. But the best thing - you'll have lived them.

Hugs to Lucy's herd at 7MSN.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Harry Potter with the NC Symphony

Last night we attended a showing of the first Harry Potter film with the score directed and played by the North Carolina Symphony in perfect sync with the movie.

It was a lot of fun! The music was wonderful but it was also quite amazing to see this with a crowd encouraged by the conductor to cheer and make noise as we encountered our favorite characters. It helped that I got tickets early and we had a box to ourselves. I loved the audience experience without being crammed in the middle of a row. It was so good we got tickets for the next one during intermission.

As the credits rolled the symphony played the final score with huge fanfare and it was an absolute treat to hear. 

The place we'd hoped to eat before the show was totally booked with an hour and a half wait so we got snacks at the concert hall and had a very late dinner at another restaurant. Good but I'm not used to such late nights these days!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

November Hill farm journal, 37

The perimeter line to our left is clear! That's the one side we won't be updating fencing on as there is an old existing fence that is just on the other side of our line. I still have some hope to purchase a piece of that property and I'd prefer to wait to see if that can happen before we spend money to fence it in. However, having the line clear of brush is making it so much easier to see what parts of the fence we can repair to make it dog proof.

We're starting to see some leaf fall happen, and although the temps have climbed back into the 80s the feeling of fall is here to stay. I've been wondering what's driving my intense, furiously-paced obsession with projects right now. I do not exaggerate when I say that I have cooked up around 15 new ideas in the past week. Pinterest is fueling this frenzy.

I think the many years of starting back to school in September is also contributing. I'm not taking any classes, have no textbooks to peruse, but I am as busy as a bee planning things to do.

As usual, the remedy for the frenzy is to walk the path to the barn and let the horses settle me down. Today I spent some time grooming and feeling the winter coats coming in. The pony is off to the thickest start at this point. I was considering trimming manes into the annual sport cuts but there are still a few horseflies out there so I'm leaving the manes long for another few weeks.

I'm seeing the squirrels rustling around, the deer are getting active, and the bunnies are out as usual. It won't be long before I'm raking up acorns to toss into the 11-acre wood.

I'm not sure if I mentioned that when I ordered the delivery box for the front gate area I also ordered a bench that opens up for storage, thinking I would put it in the tack room. I ended up putting it in the barn aisle and got matching bins that fit inside - the grooming tools are now sorted into hard brushes and curries, medium, soft, mane and tail, and hoof. I have another bin for tack cleaning supplies. They're all out of the dust and it's pretty nice opening up the bench seat and seeing how tidy everything is. Keil of course had to check to see if there were any treats being stored there.

The bench also makes it easy to sit and just relax with the horses and donkeys. I have chairs outside the barn door and do often sit in them, and off and on have had one chair in the barn aisle, but this bench is right in the middle of the wall and I love having it there.

Another sign of fall is me starting to think about riding after the summer off. When I think about riding, I start feeling the motion of the horse beneath me, feel the saddle, the stretch up and over when mounting, and the sensation of the reins in my hands. I find myself giving "air" leg aids when I think of cantering and the past two weeks I've been putting on riding pants even though I knew it was not quite time to start.

Something to look forward to, along with chilly nights, gorgeous color as the trees change, furry horses, the end of biting insects for awhile, and much less mucking of stalls as the boys stay outside during the days and the nights. Sweaters! Vests! The end of 3-shower days. I'm ready to say goodbye to summer 2017 and move on to autumn.

Adventures in DC, thanks to Amtrak and AirBnB

After returning from Ithaca in August, my daughter and I took a 4-day trip to DC before her fall semester classes started. It was a wonderful trip!

We decided to try Amtrak instead of driving or flying, and booked business class seats. The train left mid-morning from NC and arrived just after 5 p.m. at Union Station in DC. The business class car was quiet, adjacent to the dining car, and the seats were roomy with curtains and foot rests. The Amtrak staff were wonderful. I only had two issues: the WiFi was slow and the bathroom smelled strongly of the chemical used for flushing the toilet. It was super clean but that smell was intense. Still, the novelty of taking the train and getting time to read and work while traveling without the fuss of the airport was worth it.

At Union Station there were many red taxis waiting as well as Uber and Lyft rides, and I had opted not to rent a car while in DC. It cost about $12. to get to our destination from Union Station.

After researching hotels for days when planning the trip, we decided to go for AirBnB instead. I found a beautiful entire home for rent within walking distance to the National Zoo, which was our main destination, and the owner was gracious and helpful when I booked the place for our stay.

It was gorgeous.

The home was in northwest DC, a beautiful two-block walk to the zoo, and a two-block walk in the other direction to a fabulous little market where we were able to buy everything we needed to eat in while we were there. The house had a gourmet kitchen and was a treat in itself. Absolutely lovely space that felt like home. (If home has no cats, Corgis, or humans tromping in and out from the barn!)

Every room was beautiful but I dearly loved this kitchen:

We had no problem getting Lyft rides when we needed them. We ended up doing two days at the National Zoo and one day of Natural History Museum. And ended that day with dinner with a good friend.

Unlike the NC zoo, which is a huge hunk of land out in the middle of nowhere, with one entrance, the DC zoo is in the middle of a big city and has many entrances on all sides. We enjoyed the exhibits for the most part, though I felt the apes needed more space and felt they were depressed. I was blown away by what they call the "O-line," which is an actual tower and wires that the orangutans can use to travel from one habitat to another, right over the heads of the zoo visitors. We didn't get to see them do this, but even the idea was exciting.

I think my favorite sight was the tiger cooling himself in his moat.

The Natural History Museum was fun, especially since we took the entire day and just meandered around. We ate at Rosa Mexicano after, which was close by and very fun. The pomegranate margaritas were wonderful!

We will absolutely recreate this trip again, via Amtrak, at the same beautiful AirBnB home, with more visits to the National Zoo and some different museums and restaurants next time. It was terrific getting to spend some fun time with my daughter before she got busy with classes.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mailbox bliss

Soon after we moved to November Hill we bought an oversized mailbox to accommodate my online shopping habits. I would rather order just about anything than go to the mall or drive around shopping for something I need. The big mailbox makes a big difference to the rural postal service carriers who otherwise have to hang packages on the mailboxes or leave them at the door.

With the new gate, though, and new fencing soon to be done, our big mailbox, now 13 years old, really looks shabby. The post is wiggly and it's not quite straight and it was time to get something new.

I went online and started searching. I had some ideas, couldn't find exactly what I wanted, but finally found something that came close enough and was priced well enough that I snapped it right up.

It is amazing! And a little bay Hanoverian is on the way to stand in that little shelter. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Infinity - and spreading manure

With the Newer Spreader I am still enjoying my pattern making as I do the chores around November Hill. On Sunday I created infinity in the front grass paddock.

Most days it feels like that around here. Endlessness, everything, infinity. The times when it doesn't are when I get caught up in what I haven't done, how many things need to be done, all the things that limit the expansiveness of nature and living with animals who never seem thwarted by negative thinking.

Since I made the symbol in front I find myself going to the front porch to look at it, to remind myself. 

Paulo Cuelho has this to say:

Monday, September 11, 2017

Paperhand Puppets - summer 2017, the silencing of science

Paperhand Puppets are always wonderful, but this summer's show was especially beautiful. A few images from the night we went. Something that seems pertinent this week.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Funny cat story

Ever since Pippin was a kitten he has gone hunting and brought his prey home, through the cat door, into the house, where he generally drops it in the middle of the living room floor and yowls low and long to let us know he has something.

He's brought in mice, shrews, black snakes, worm snakes, birds, squirrels, bunnies, and butterflies. Hearing that low groaning sound has come to mean someone is going to have to do a rescue mission. Sometimes he willingly gives up the catch, other times he takes it and makes a mad dash away.

Yesterday I heard him yowling and found him on the deck looking into the sliding glass door. I knew he had something, figured it was a mouse, since he brought one of those in the day before that and let it loose in the laundry room. We still haven't found that mouse, last seen running hither and yonder around the riding boots and washing machine.

So I walked to the door to see what it was he had.

It was a toy mouse.

Somehow it seems a milestone that Pippin, big game hunter, is now bringing home toy mice. What a hoot!

Friday, September 08, 2017

My little secret pleasure: the Breyer barn!

Even as I work on the daily chores and ongoing projects at the big barn, I have a little list that's easy and fun to check every few days. It's my daughter's Breyer barn that she got for Christmas one year and at some point abandoned for the Real Thing. 

This spring as I readied for my first-born to move away, I needed something, just a little thing, to do to occupy some little piece of my brain that was fretting the passage of time. One day I was gazing at the Breyer barn, bemoaning the days when the Breyer horses were cared for and the barn kept up. I don't know what triggered me to go online and look at accessories, but when I did, I discovered there is an entire world out there where Breyer horses compete in model horse shows and apparently other adult women have inspired an entire industry. 

Every few weeks I order a new barn accessory. A padded halter and lead line. Feed supplies. A salt block. Hay nets. A three-step mounting block. These things have all cost under ten dollars and picking the new one item every week or two, and waiting for it to arrive, makes me really happy. 

As you can see, though, even the Breyer barn chores get out of hand. I haven't had time to fill the hay nets yet!

Stay tuned for updates as I upfit this little barn. 

Thursday, September 07, 2017

More adventures in Ithaca: Cornell campus, Space Sciences

As promised, a few shots on campus. The view from the Johnson Museum is stunning and the sky was absolutely gorgeous the day I was there taking photos.

Heading to Space Sciences, new academic home for my son.

It was also home to Carl Sagan!

In the hallway. Beyond my comprehension!


And on the way back to the car, more lovely Ithaca sky.

My last night in Ithaca, feeling sad, feeling happy, feeling like a mom, we were walking back to son's apartment from dinner out when suddenly out of nowhere a double rainbow appeared. My personal sign of good fortune and "all is well." What a way to end a fabulous trip and the sharing of a journey as my first-born moves into a new phase of life.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Hurricane Irma: what we'll do to prep for horses

Living in North Carolina in hurricane season, even as inland as we are, I have developed a routine over the years for preparing in case bad weather related to hurricanes comes through. While November Hill is indeed on a hill, our property lies between two rivers and near a lake, so while we don't usually have to worry about flooding on our farm, the roads surrounding us are often in flood advisory zones when we get heavy rain.

For those not familiar with North Carolina, we have many big trees: oak, pine, tulip poplar, maple, etc., and the combination of heavy rain with high winds can increase the chances of these big friends toppling. Years back when Fran came inland we listened to the roaring of wind all night and got up to a landscape completely obscured by fallen trees. Our basement was flooded. We had no power for two weeks and had to walk to the local large grocery store which became a distribution point for bottled water. We had a toddler and a cat then, so there wasn't as much prep nor was the power outage nearly as difficult as it would have been with all our animals now.

This time of year, when hurricanes head our way, or look like they might head our way, I stock up on bottled water for humans, cats, and Corgis, as well as cat and dog food, human food that won't spoil and doesn't need to be cooked, and any batteries we need to power things like flashlights, etc.

I monitor the devices (iPad, iPhones) and keep batteries charged.

I fill the bathtubs with water to use for flushing toilets in case of power loss.

For the barn residents, our horses, pony, and miniature donkeys, I stock up on bagged feed and hay. Closer to the time the hurricane approaches I make sure every water trough is full of clean, fresh water. I fill all the buckets and keep them full in case we lose power. I make sure the water storage tank in our feed room is clean and full.

I have a wish list of things I'd like to have in place for power outages in general, but especially for hurricanes:

A whole-house generator.

A hand pump installed on our well, so that even if we lose power and thus the well pump, we can get water out.

Extra stall mats, shavings, and buckets for our garage, in case I ever decide to move the horses there for safety. I think this would only be true for truly extreme weather and obviously weather we could predict with enough time to safely move the horses from barn to house. This would also probably necessitate doing some practicing so they would be used to the drill and not alarmed by the garage doors being raised/lowered. Now that the barn roof is so secure this goes further down my wish list!

The thing that used to be on the wishlist which is now done:

New barn roof with hurricane clips! I'm so grateful we were able to get this done this year. The hurricane clips make it much less likely the roof will rip off during a tornado or high winds. Since our horses generally weather the storms in the barn this is important - our vet told us years ago that he sees many more injuries in storms due to flying debris hitting/cutting horses than he sees horses injured inside the barn, ASSUMING the barn is in good shape and is well-built.

We do not lock our horses in but with their shelters on both sides of the barn they can walk in and out and they seem very happy to stand in the stalls and keep their eyes on the storm.

We also have a good chainsaw and I make sure we have gas for it prior to a hurricane. It's essential for clearing fallen trees from fences, roads, etc.

Our hot water heater, stove, and heat are powered by our propane tank, but only the stove can actually be used when the power is out. Matches are essential for lighting the stove and also the wood stove if we need heat, which isn't usually the case since hurricane season is well before the cold hits here.

This year there's a new item on my to be done list that sadly hasn't been done yet and is too late for Irma:

A good tree trimming of the big oak adjacent to our house, the tree limbs overhanging the barn, and some fenceline branch trimming. This is going to require a professional with special equipment. The company I got an estimate from mid-summer turned out not to be the right people for our needs and I haven't had a chance to find a new one yet.

Sending out thoughts for safe passage for this upcoming storm and to those still reeling from Harvey.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Three little kittens...

...are coming to live on November Hill!

My brother, sister-in-law, and nephew took on the care of a number of feral cats this past year. They fed them, tamed them, got them all spayed and neutered, and then the final litter was born on the summer solstice in June. They will continue care and feeding and loving the cats, but decided the three little kittens needed a home. It took about an hour for us to say yes.

Meet, left to right, Fox, Summer, and Winnifred:

They will arrive after they get spayed and neutered. We can't wait to meet them and settle them in to their new home on November Hill!

Monday, September 04, 2017

On a long, dark night you need a Malkoff Hound Dog Super

A few weeks ago dear husband was out of town taking photographs of the eclipse and Baloo Corgi woke me up at 4 a.m. barking his head off at something outside. I went out, aimed my pitiful iPhone flashlight at the dark of night, saw nothing, and came back in. Sleepless at that point, I decided it was high time I found myself a real farm-friendly flashlight, so I researched high and low on the internet and found a pricy but highly-recommended and rated option. Malkoff's Hound Dog Super:

I ordered it, confirmation was quick, and it arrived that week with a handwritten thank you on the invoice. When I saw the box and then opened it up, I thought they had made a mistake. This was far too small to do what I'd read this light can do in terms of illumination.

It's easily held in my smallish hand. I popped in the batteries and turned it on inside the house. No way. I figured I'd been had. That night I took it to the back deck, figuring I was going to be even more disappointed when I turned it on and tried it out in real darkness.


This little thing can check the fence lines from my back deck and front porch. It illuminated every spider in its web from my back door to the barn. I checked the horses, donkeys, and pony from head to hoof, from the house. When the leaves are off the trees I'll be able to check the neighbor's fence lines too.

Never again will a Corgi bark and me wonder what is out there. Highly recommended. Seriously, if you have horses and you don't already have a good light, this is the one. You can see them HERE.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

On brush piles, a metaphor

I've seen it before and now am seeing it again. As the wooded edge of our property gets cleared, we decided to create medium-sized brush piles of the cuttings along the way, instead of paying someone else to haul the brush away, instead of burning, which works well but adds a layer of stress to the work that I wasn't eager to take on.

Our farm helper (I dislike the use of the word helper here since he is in fact doing all the work - champion is more like it, as he is conquering some tasks we simply cannot do in any reasonable time frame) has meticulously layered the brush as he goes, avoiding the natural draining paths and areas where the pile would interfere with other growth we want to encourage.

There's a fairly long section of running cedar that is quite lovely and seems to prohibit brushier volunteers, so we opted to protect that and the brush piles were put on either end of it.

Initially the first few piles seemed large and although not ugly, they did catch my eye in a way that I didn't like, presenting as things to be gotten rid of at some point.

Years back we had a huge brush pile from my own clearing of overgrown garden beds and a few other areas and the pile was higher than my head and double the width of my arms spread wide. I fretted that pile for a year and then one day happened to glance out the window only to realize that nature's process of decay had done the chore for us. The pile had composted itself down to almost nothing.

Already I am seeing these smaller piles doing the same thing. The newer ones seem huge now in comparison to the earlier piles, which now look shrunken, and brown, blending into the landscape even more than they did when freshly cut and green.

I've seen birds using them for cover and squirrels dashing in and out. I suspect the bunnies are using them as well.

I notice how my own stresses and worries do the same thing - looming large and unwieldy and then shrinking down to the point that eventually they become memories instead of active thoughts.

The piles are now appearing to me as a sort of natural art installation. When I view them that way, they become that. A late summer show. I'm looking forward to seeing how they transform through the fall, into winter.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Drama in the storm

Yesterday we were under a tornado watch for most of the afternoon into the evening, and although we thankfully never had high wind nor any rotation here, nor the huge hail that fell in counties around us, we did have a severe thunderstorm.

As usual I was out at the barn making sure horses and pony and donkeys had fresh water, hay, and were settled in. It was pouring rain, thunder was booming, and suddenly the pony and donkeys went into high alert. The ducks were heading through the neighbor's yard at a nice clip, straight for our front field.

The pony's head went up high, ears pricked, and then suddenly off he went down the dirt paddock toward the front field gate at a huge, fast trot. He arrived at the fence about the same time the ducks did and they swerved and headed back in the direction they came from. The pony stood guard under the big oak tree for awhile until I lured him back to the barn, rain still pouring down.

Once he was in the barn eating his hay the ducks made their way back to the fence, ducked under, and ran across the front field to the "little" barnyard, where they gathered under the closer oak and began to eat millipedes.

They were eyeing the barn door and I was trying to figure out what would happen if they suddenly ran in the barn. Who among the equines would spook, who would not? Who would chase them out? I was wishing I had my phone and its camera and video capabilities but it was inside the house.

As I stood there watching a huge lightning bolt struck somewhere across the gravel lane, and as it hit and sizzled loudly the ducks' tails all waggled in unison with the sizzle. Then they took off and ran quacking back across the front field toward home.

I'm not sure what ducks were doing out in such a storm but they perked up my evening and by dinner time the storm had passed and all was quiet again.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Why my to do list will never be empty

Yesterday as I worked outside admiring a few of the completed projects around me, my eyes ratcheted to the gate at the end of the driveway. It's almost time to apply the tung oil but that wasn't what I was thinking. A lovely new gate and new mailbox needs something more. Landscaping! Oh, dear. My mind went spinning off with ideas and now I've reluctantly added that project to my list.

On the back end of the farm I was doing more chores and imagining how wonderful it will be when the fencing is done and my sadly-neglected woodland path is cleared again and enclosed for the dogs to roam. This wasn't enough - off went my brain again, gallivanting toward something, it wasn't sure what, that resulted in a Pinterest session later in the evening, and the search words "cobblestone path."

Oh dear. It never ends!

I'm the same way with writing projects. I think it's safe to say having lists of things to do is one of my primary motivators.

If you're on Pinterest, come find me there. It's my visual list extraordinaire.