Thursday, November 25, 2010

In which Thanksgiving takes several days to celebrate properly

Isn't Thanksgiving just the BEST holiday?

Family. Friends. Food. Foolin' around. More food. I love that. The weather, not so much.

Check it out:

Jim started the apple-citrus brine for the turkey on Tuesday evening (while talking long-distance to his brothers in Colorado). Just don't drop the phone into the turkey's, errr, cavity!

The brining bucket is better known as our red camping cooler. It kept the turkey from freezing while it was outside in the pump house, covered in brine.

While the turkey is soaking in brine, it's time to bottle the wine. Jim made 12 gallons of dry plum wine from our plum harvest in 2009 (that's more than 50 bottles of wine!) and 6 gallons of sweet blackberry wine from all the blackberries he and I picked down by the river this summer.

The herbs for the chicken and the stuffing came from our garden, as did the potatoes.

The glorious bird!

Everyone has plenty to eat today.

...except for Puzzle, who claims that he should be served the entire turkey to eat by himself. (he got some little pieces of turkey with his kibble)

Even the chickens got lots of vegetable scraps.

Hana and the goats didn't want turkey. Hay is her favorite.

Fiddle loves hay. Also beet pulp. Also apples and carrots. And whatever else you've got.

There's also time to play in the sn*w, which was sufficiently deep to keep some of our guests away on Thursday :-( but the kids didn't mind the white stuff at all!

After dark, it's time for a little cutthroat card playing. Okay, not very cutthroat.

The cat always wiggles his ears when he's got aces.

The next day, we got word that one of our guests had dug out from her house, and was coming to visit. So we had a second Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat.

Lisa learned to make pumpkin pies.
It was almost four years ago that Jacqui was diagnosed with some ugly cancer, and had to find a new home for her big moosey standardbred mare.
Um, I guess you can probably figure out who the new moosey standardbred mare's owner is, huh?

Jacqui's other reason to come down to the States (besides visiting us and seeing her former horse) was to pick up Isis! (That's not her registered name. Her registered name is Yumi, which just makes us think "Yummy?!!!???)

Isis just weaned a litter of very nice puppies, and is now ready to start life as a house dog.
She is a ball-maniac!
Also, she's pretty fond of rolling pumpkins around!
Fee's non-hatred of Isis lasted for about fifteen more seconds after I shot this photo.

"Stay away or I will stomp you with my hard-hard-feet! and bite you with my sharp-sharp teeth!
Fiddle proves that she is tame, after all (once the dogs have been taken into the house for a while) by showing off her "yoga moves."

After a long weekend of fun, even the boots look tired.

Life is good.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In which there is a NaNoWriMo chapter about a bit of luck

I didn't have the faintest idea what to write on my NaNoWriMo novel this morning. It was like the entire population of Skookum went indoors and turned off the porch lights.

Then Jim and I braved the snowy roads to go into town and get a few essentials (chicken feed, extension cords, a truckload of gravel--you know, farmer stuff), and in the cashier's line at the hardware store I saw a man who seemed to me to be the world's tallest leprechaun.

And there was my story.

(Just so you know, Jim saw him too)

December 30, 2010 Skookum Tribune issue number whatever, volume whatever
Meet: A Lucky Woman
By Annabeth Spencer

Margaret was nearing the end of the unluckiest day of her life.

So far today she had lost her job, dropped her cell phone into a sink of soapy dishes, left her husband, and packed up her clunker of a car with a few boxes and suitcases (mostly filled with clothing for her 3-month-old daughter) in an attempt to get herself and young Bridget all the way to Margaret’s parents’ farm north of Skookum before dark fell and the snow-slickened road became completely impassible.

She should have known that the car would break down.

Why on earth should the car continue to function, when all of the rest of her life was falling apart around her ears?

She didn’t even know what was wrong with the poor old machine—it started grinding and growling a few miles off of the freeway and the sounds got louder and louder until the car’s body was convulsing and rattling so hard that she feared the door would fall off. Slowing down seemed to help a bit, so, with snow falling heavily from the sky and tree branches over the road, she turned on her emergency flashers, slowed her vehicle to a near crawl, and looked for a gas station or even the lights of a house that would lend a telephone so she could call for help.

But, for mile after slow, shuddering mile, she saw nothing but darkness and snow ahead, behind, and on each side.

At least the baby was asleep, she thought, checking Bridget’s welfare out of the corner of her eye. Yes, still fast asleep in the safety seat beside her. That was a small blessing, anyway.

A car drove past her, heading the opposite direction, without seeming to notice her vehicle’s slow speed and staggering demeanor. She wondered what would happen if her car broke down completely, out here in the darkness…and then cursed herself for the thought as the car, seemingly in answer to her unspoken fear, gave an extra-hard jolt before sputtering forward again.

The snow fell thicker than ever, and her car's bald tires were beginning to spin and slide. Between the wobble of the engine and the slip of the wheels, Margaret was not sure how much further she could go…and then the engine quit entirely.

She wrestled the machine to the narrow shoulder of the road, and sat there for a moment in stunned silence. What could she possibly do now?

She stayed there, head down, motionless, afraid for a few minutes to even consider her options. The cold was unreal, and she was not dressed for a long walk in snow, especially not carrying the baby.

In despair, she lowered her forehead to the steering wheel with a groan. “Dear God,” she said aloud. “Can I not have just one lucky break in this dire day?”

When she lifted her head, she saw in her rearview mirror the lights of another vehicle—a truck, perhaps? The headlights seemed much taller than her little car. She wondered if she should jump out of the car and flag down the driver, to ask for help, but was suddenly petrified with fear—how could she trust a stranger with her daughter’s safety and her own?

Margaret resolved to decline any offer of help when she saw the truck lights come near and slow…and she nearly cursed when the truck went by her stranded car without stopping.

Then, through the windshield, she saw the truck’s brake lights flash and the bright whiteness of the backing lights filled her dark-adjusted eyes. As the truck reversed and drew near, another light filled the sky: a flashing amber strobe emitting from the top of the truck cab.

Could it be that in all the surrounding darkness, the only other vehicle on the road with her was a tow truck? For the first time all day, Margaret smiled. It was a faint, rusty smile, from a face grown unaccustomed to smiling.

The tow truck backed up to her crippled car, and in the flash of her emergency lights and the answering flash of the strobe, she saw a tall, lanky man leap out of the truck and walk jauntily through the falling snow as if he were striding over a warm spring meadow filled with flowers rather than over a road covered slushy snow and mud. She got out of her car and stood beside it, gazing up at him, trying to control her urge to smile at his broad grin and jovial bearing in the midst of this atrocious weather.

“Good evening, Miss,” he greeted her in an accent that she couldn’t quite place. Irish? Scottish? It sounded like something she might have heard in an old episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but she wasn’t able to tell if his inflection was real or not. “You look to be needing a bit of a tug for your buggy.”

He was dressed in coveralls tucked into sturdy leather work boots, with a dark green work jacket over the top and a bright red wool toque tugged tightly over unruly black curly hair that escaped from under the edges of the hat to form a woolly black ruff around it. His face was angular, his eyes bright, and for a brief crazy moment Margaret felt that she must be looking at the world’s tallest leprechaun. He was smiling at her in a way that made her wonder how long it had been since another person besides her own baby had smiled at her.

“Hi,” she said, and then she stopped. She didn’t have cash for a tow truck, and she doubted that towing would be covered by the cheap insurance purchased by her stingy husband —soon to be ex-husband, she corrected herself mentally. “I’m, uhm, I guess I have a problem.”

“What’s happened, then?”

That was the wrong question for Margaret to face at that moment. After all, what hadn’t happened?

Her job, her marriage, and now her car, broken and stranded on an abandoned roadside. The tears she had suppressed all day long could not be contained for another moment, and to her embarrassment, Margaret found herself sobbing and babbling her tale of woe to this friendly and sympathetic stranger. When she finally got to the part about the car’s ungodly seizures for the past few miles—the part he had asked about, she realized belatedly—she saw him nod his head kindly.

“I can take a little look under her, if you like,” he offered. “Are you good to stand here for a mo’?” She nodded, afraid to consider what expensive injury he might diagnose in her car. He handed her a clean red bandanna from an inside jacket pocket, and she mopped at the tears and melted snow streaking her face as he pulled a flashlight from another pocket and folded his spindly body low to the slushy road and peered underneath. He got down even lower to the ground, and reached underneath with an ungloved hand. When he stood up, she gasped: his fingers appeared to have been dabbled in dirty orange-tinged blood.

“Oh, it’s not me that’s made this,” he reassured her quickly, wiping his fingers on a pant leg. “But I’m afraid it’s no good news for your rig. There’s a big puddle of tranny fluid under there. She’ll not be going farther on her own power, that’s sure.

“But, before you lose heart,” he hastened to add, “I can tug you as far as the town. I’m going that way myself, you see,” as he saw her beginning to object, “and I’ll not be charging you for the ride. ‘Tis not fit for man nor beast out here tonight, not to mention ladies and babes. You just be hopping up with that wee girl into the cab of my truck, and I’ll hook up yon car and get you back into the lights of town. Are we agreed, then?”

She nodded gratefully, and opened the passenger door to unload her daughter as the tall slender figure bent to his task with the back of his truck and the front of her car. In fewer minutes than she would have considered possible, he had the two vehicles linked together, and he clambered up into the driver’s seat of the truck and started the heavy diesel engine. The radio blared into wakefulness, a surprisingly twangy fiddle tune filling the cab with music.

“Is that Irish music?” she inquired curiously. “I’ve never heard anything quite like it before.”

“Not Irish, directly,” he answered. “though I daresay that somebody’s Irish grandpa taught it to somebody else’s Scottish grandma who brought it to Cape Breton so Natalie MacMaster could learn to play it so well. She’s a wonder of a fiddler, that girl.”

Margaret had to agree with this assessment, as the music swooped and swirled effortlessly like the snowflakes eddying around the headlights of the big tow truck. They rumbled through the darkness wordlessly, letting the music take the place of conversation between them.

She must have dozed off for a moment, because she started awake when she felt the truck engine slow and grumble as the driver worked the clutch. Around her she saw the lights of Skookum, the familiar parking lot and brightly-lit sign advertising the Food4Less grocery store. The parking lot was almost deserted, but Margaret saw with relief that the store was still open.

The driver saw that she was awake, and spoke quietly so as not to awaken Bridget as well. “If you want to go use the phone inside, I’ll unhook your buggy. It can stay here safe in the parking lot until you’re able to retrieve it again.”

“How can I ever thank you?” she asked him sincerely. “Having you drive by my car tonight was the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that your luck will be changing now,” he answered with a smile. “You just go make your phone call while I’m working out here. If you want to buy a cup of hot coffee and a lottery ticket while you’re inside, I wouldn’t say nay to it.”

She slid down from the tall truck cab, and he handed down Bridget to her, then slid out of the door on his own side of the truck and began the task of detaching. She looked over her shoulder as she entered the store, and saw a green shamrock logo and the words “LUCKY DAY TOWING” emblazoned on the door of the big diesel truck.

The sight made her smile again.

Margaret was directed to the grocery store manager’s office, where she sat amidst invoices and timesheets and dialed the familiar phone number that connected her voice to the voice of her mother. It took a few minutes to explain the situation to her mom, and a few more minutes to assure her father that, although the car had broken down on the road it was now safely delivered to the Food4Less lot, and then a few more minutes after that to assure her mother that the baby was fine, she was fine, and that they didn’t need anything else at the moment except a ride out to the farm.

When she hung up the phone at last, she breathed an easy sigh. Coming home to Skookum had been a good idea. And maybe the tow truck driver was right: she was feeling a little bit luckier already.

She bought a tall cup of coffee in a go-mug, pausing over the cream and sugar before decided that on a cold night like this there could be nothing better than a cup of thickened and sweetened coffee. She dumped two packets of sugar and a heavy dollop of milk before carefully affixing the plastic lid.

She went to the cashier, and paid for the coffee and a lottery ticket. The cashier smiled kindly at Margaret. “Your car broke down on the road? I didn’t dare drive to work myself in this awful weather; I made my boyfriend bring me in. How ever did you get a tow truck out on a night like this, I wonder?”

“Oh,” said Margaret with a smile that seemed to come easier and easier to her with the practice she’d had this evening, “the guy from Lucky Day Towing just happened to be driving by and headed this way, and he towed me in.”

“Lucky Day Towing?” said the cashier in confusion. “What company is that, I wonder? I’ve never heard of it.”

“Oh, I’m sure they’re local,” Margaret answered. “He said he was headed here. Tall guy, black hair? Looks like a leprechaun?”

“There’s no tow operation called ‘Lucky Day’ anywhere near here,” answered the cashier. “I listen to the scanner from home, you know, it’s kind of a hobby. I know all the tow guys—they come in here for coffee when they’re out at night. But I’ve never seen one who looks anything like a leprechaun, short or tall.”

“Well, he’s just outside,” Margaret told her. “I’ll be back in a minute; I just need to take him this cup and the lottery ticket he asked me to buy.”

Once outside, she saw her clunker car parked at the far end of the parking lot, with snow already beginning to cover it completely.

The rest of the lot was empty. No tire tracks were visible in the space in front of her car.

Margaret looked at the coffee cup and the lottery ticket in her hand in confusion. Then she smiled, and pulled the red bandanna out of her pocket and used a corner of it to scratch off the first number on the ticket.

She was feeling lucky.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In which the weather is rather frightful but NaNoWriMo isn't

The dang sn*w continues to fall here at Haiku Farm, and more is forecast for tomorrow. I can only hope that the rain will come to our rescue before Thanksgiving Day! Meanwhile, the brightside of being sn*wbound: my NaNoWriMo project is now at 36,168 words!

Here's a new chapter:

December 28th, 2010
Skookum Tribune issue number whatever, volume whatever
Meet: The Bird Painter
By Annabeth Spencer

Ed Rucker has been working for Pilchuck Public Works for nearly forty years. He’s been married to Betty Rucker for thirty-eight of those years. Ed is the father of two adult daughters, a deacon of the Pilchuck Presbyterian Church, a member of the Elks Club, a volunteer fireman. But if you ask most people who know Ed, they don’t mention the man’s job, or his family, or his club memberships.

People who know Ed talk about his birds.

Ed started drawing birds when he was in high school. He worked three summers in Alaska, and while he was there, a guy on the fishing boat he worked showed Ed how to sketch the terns and gulls and other native birds they saw as they fished in Prince William Sound. Ed was never much of a letter-writer; as his undiagnosed dyslexia made reading and spelling a tremendous challenge for him, but his girlfriend Betty threatened to start dating another guy if she didn’t hear from Ed at least once each week. In desperation, he would write a brief few sentences each week, and fill the rest of the page with drawings of birds. The early sketches were primitive, executed in pencil or ball-point pen on cheap notebook paper, but Betty treasures them still, and keeps them in a small cedar box that one of her friends built especially for the purpose of keeping the old letters safe.

After high school, Ed and Betty married and he started working for the County Public Works, driving the lawnmowers or the snowplows, as seasons dictated. He learned to clean drain pipes, and he learned to build picnic tables. For many years he made extra money by selling firewood cut from the trees that he saw going to waste on his day job—trees that were cut down or limbed or topped to make way for a new sidewalk in a park, or to make power lines safer in bad weather. Before Ed took over the disposal of that wood, it was just tossed off to the side of roads, where it would rot away in a few years. Ed grew up on a little farm, though, and he recognized good firewood when he saw it. He requested and got approval for a “tree recovery” project, in which he and the other crews would track where they had stowed trees and branches cleared from public lands. Then, he and a neighbor boy would go by in the evenings and pick up all the trees and branches, use the chainsaw to cut out rounds small enough to lift, and then haul the whole load back to Ed and Betty’s place. Every weekend was spent splitting rounds—at first by hand, and later with a gas-powered splitter--and stacking wood into neat rows to be sold as firewood.

Ed smiles at the memory of those days, saying, “My job with the County paid the bills, but selling the firewood paid for the extras: the piano lessons and prom dresses, and even part of the college tuition.”

There was no time in those days for drawing, except for an occasional Christmas card sketch.

When the girls were grown up and graduated from college, Ed sold his firewood business to a young fellow in the Public Works department who was supporting his wife and twin boys. “Picking up wood and hefting it around is work for a younger man,” Ed says. “The wood wasn’t getting any lighter, and I wasn’t getting any younger. It was time to pass the job along to somebody else.”

Then came a dilemma that Ed and Betty had never encountered before: What to do with Ed’s spare time?

“He was driving me crazy!” Betty laughs. “All the time that he used to spend gathering, splitting, stacking and delivering firewood, he was now spending in my kitchen. I knew we had to find him another hobby, fast, or I was going to toss him in the oven and serve him to the neighbors.”

She remembered the old bird sketches, and asked Ed if he’d like to take some classes. The Parks department had all kinds of art classes going that summer, and Betty signed Ed up for every art class in the entire catalogue—sculpture, sketching, watercolors, and even needlepoint. “I was desperate, and so, I think, was he,” she says.

Ed didn’t much care for needlepoint, but the sketching and watercolor classes really captured his heart. He didn’t wait for Betty to sign him up for the next session of classes—instead, he called the Parks office on the first day of enrollment and asked the Parks secretary to sign him up for as many sketching and watercolor classes as they had. Soon, he was attending art classes every day of the week, except Sundays. “Sundays, I stayed home and practiced all the stuff we learned in classes during the week,” Ed says. “I was still taking up all kinds of room in the kitchen, but at least I wasn’t making a lot of noise there anymore.”

Before the start of that winter, Ed converted his old workshop, formerly full of chainsaws and other firewood-working devices, into a proper artist’s studio. He installed a little wood-burning stove, replaced the old scratched-up vinyl windows with double-paned windows, and then built a painting table by the windows. From the gutters and beams of the roof, Ed hung birdfeeders of every size and description.

Outside, the building itself seems to be alive with the continual fluttering of finches, robins, sparrows, wrens and other native songbirds. Inside the building, Ed spends hours each day photographing and sketching his avian visitors. He draws all sorts of birds, from great blue herons to pet parrots, but clearly his strongest affinity is for the cheeky, chirping chickadees who crowd his window feeders.

From rough sketches, he then draws the birds in pen-and-ink. When the ink is dry and set, Betty is called to the studio. It’s time to add the color, and unbeknownst to many of Ed’s friends in the art world, the artist himself is colorblind.

Unable to tell the difference between red and green, Ed depends upon his wife to assist him. He shows Betty the photos of the birds he has drawn, and she points to the colored paints he should use. His color washes are pale glimmers contained by the dull browns and blacks of the inks, as the birds in his drawings flit, flutter and fly in the variegated powder-blue skies.

Though winter surrounds the rest of us, for the chickadees produced by Ed Rucker’s paintbrush, the days are full of the chirping song promising a springtime soon to come.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In which the best part of sn*w in the Swamp is that it's gone pretty fast

This is not what I want to see when I look out the windows at the Farm:
Ahem. Pumpkins are supposed to be ORANGE. Not WHITE.


There's only one cure for the way I feel...
c'mon Fiddle. Let's go check out the woods.

Hmmm. White here, too? Bah!

The trails are still the right color, at least.

and the longer we stayed out, the less whiteness we saw.
Fine! Perfect! Excellent!
Green, red, yellow, brown: all good colors.

Mimsy and Puzzle also think that purple is another nice color for a cold November afternoon!
Life is good. (The sn*w is gone again, at least for now. Whew!)