I’m an old woman. . .

I'm a feisty one, I am.

I may have mentioned a time or two that I hate painting.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I’m an old woman.

When I was 30 or so, I had a sudden onset of back spasms. Doing the Granny Clampett walk, I waddled my way over to the chiropractor’s office. We’d never met before and he walked into the exam room and looked at me. Then he looked at my x-rays. Then he looked at me again. Finally, he said, “You have a lovely spine for a 70-year-old woman.”

My misspent youth was not kind to my back.

Between yoga and outright refusal to be one of those whiny-assed people who complains about their back all the time (preferring, of course, to whine about other things), I refused to accept his or the neurosurgeon’s diagnosis and have lived reasonably well without back surgery or a wheelchair.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to do things in such a way as to accommodate the limitations of my back. (I was, hands down, the strangest rock climber you’ve ever seen.) I have not found a way to minimize the physical agony of painting.


Lord’av’mercy, I hate painting.

It goes something like this:

I decide to paint.

I sit and ponder the painting.

I get up and gather a few supplies.

I repeat steps 2 and 3, sometimes for weeks.

I spackle.

Sit and rest.

(Rinse and repeat)

I sand. . .sit and rest.

I bite the bullet and get the paint out.

I repeat step 2 for hours.

I begin painting.

I paint 5 minutes, rest 40.

Eventually, 5 minutes at a time, I get the painting done. But my back curses at me the entire time and, in turn, I curse back. It’s rough having an old woman’s spine. It also sounds like a biker bar in here, what with all the cursing.

Instrument of Torture

It’s the ladder work that gets to me. That and the spots near the floor. And around windows. Let’s not forget the bits at eye level.


After two weekends of painting prep, I got the paint out yesterday. It took all flippin day to do about 20 minutes worth of ceiling painting. Tonight, I girded my loins, told my back to shut up, and set to. Three hours later, I have one coat of primer on the ceiling. I’m figuring on two coats of primer and two coats of color. It’ll be years before I’m done.

And since I’m now 50, I’m guessing that means my back is 90 – not too many 90-year-old women up to painting their study. I’m right proud of my progress.

Amaryllis Vigil Day 25

The twins are getting big and the blooms should be spectacular this year.

I mentioned that you have to be tough to live in The Barn; and, it seems, amaryllis bulbs thrive on toughness.  For the past few years, one of the two amaryllis bulbs has produced blooms.  In fact, the second bulb was an off-shoot of the first and I didn’t expect it to ever do much of anything it was such a small and puny thing.  Indeed, both plants look awful most of the year and I only keep them around for the February/March spectacle of blooms.   

This past year, as part of Gardenpalooza, I put all the houseplants in the ground to fill an empty bed.  They were happy campers, all of them – including the amaryllis bulbs.  The two bulbs grew healthy leaves, for once, and simply thrived in the garden.  When it was a given that the first frost was imminent, I ran outside in the rain, ripped all the houseplants out of the dirt and, lacking potting soil, simply set them in the guest bathroom bathtub.    

I got busy.   

I don’t ever use that bathroom and forgot about the plants.  By the time I remember, all of them looked dead.  I left them.   

Last year - double buds.

With the news that Chef Boy ‘R Mine was bringing home a girlfriend, I figured it was time to get the dead plants out of the bathtub.    ‘Twas a miracle it was, but many of the plants survived – they’re on life support, but alive.  In inspecting the amaryllis bulbs I was astounded at how big they’d gotten.  It took some doing to find pots around the house to accommodate their size.  Since they had been brutally treated, I expected no bloom this year.  Hah!  I’ve got two stalks on each of them including the one that has never so much as thought about blooming.  The other major difference this year is that growth is much slower – in previous years, the stalks appear out of nowhere and are 2 feet tall within a week or so.    

One of last year's blooms.

This year’s are taking their time and I’m thinking the blooms are going to be spectacular.  Extrapolating from the past, I expect to get 8 large flowers rather than the 1 double-bloom of last year.  (And look how healthy those leaves are!) Hoo boy!   The camera is going to get a workout in a week or so – two of the bulbs have started bulging – a sure sign of impending bloom.   

I’ve mentioned a time or two (is than an understatement or what?) that 2009 was an awful year in many respects.  With a couple of remarkable exceptions, my well-being has been as brutally treated as the houseplants.  I think this means I should be double-blooming soon.  Stay tuned for updates.  🙂

Maggie (the cat formerly known as Matilda)

Maggie, bless her heart, is either insane or eccentric which explains why she’s my cat.

She wasn’t always my cat. Maggie and I met, I believe in October, during a class break one rainy night. It had stopped storming. The night was all foggy and glistening – a little bit eerie and a little bit comforting. It was warm for the time of the year.

My fellow students and I stood there during break, sharing thoughts and cigarettes. I felt something brush against my leg. Thinking it a moth, I brushed it away and discovered Maggie. I bent down to pet her and she ran off into the bushes.

The glimpse I had of her revealed a beautiful, long-haired, champagne colored cat. I have a weakness for both champagne and long-haired cats. My heart’s desire had always been to have an all-white, long-haired cat, but after Maggie, I think not. They say white cats are crazy more often than not.

Maggie again brushed against my leg and, again, I tried to pet her. She ran off. We did this several times before break was over and I returned to class.

When class was over, some of us returned to the outdoor ashtray to discuss research papers and an upcoming test. Maggie had returned to do the brush, bump and run. Finally, I began walking to my car.

To get to my car, I had to cross Third Avenue in Huntington which is a one-way street, three lanes wide. It gets very busy when night classes are dismissing. Seeing a break in traffic, I quickly crossed only to hear squealing brakes and honking horns. I turned to see what had happened and discovered Maggie running across the street after me. [I have a history of animals following me home  from school – once it was goose that I was afraid of.]

By this time, it’s starting to drizzle a bit. I walked through the faculty/staff parking lot and Maggie followed me, but darted away or under cars when I tried to pick her up or simply touch her. I made a last ditch effort to get her and gave up, getting into my car and leaving.

I headed down Hal Greer Blvd., another busy road, and again heard the braking and squealing and horn-honking. Looking in the rear-view mirror, I saw Maggie running the road in pursuit of my car. Saying something intelligent like “Son-of-a-bitch,” I pulled the car over and ran up and down the sidewalk and street trying to corral the cat.

The rain is beginning in earnest.

Maggie and I dance about. Again, I give up and head for my car. As soon as I opened the door, Maggie shot into the car and crawled under the seat.

Maggie is a large cat. I wouldn’t have thought she could get under there and I certainly didn’t think she could get back out. Kind of laughing and saying, to myself, something intelligent like “This is some crazy cat,” I headed for home.

By the time I hit the interstate, it was storming again. Great torrents of water slowed traffic and the defroster couldn’t keep up with the condensation forming on the inside of the window. Slowing down more and more to cope with increased loss of visibility, my nerves were beginning to be a little on edge, but I was simultaneously amused by the crazy cat under the seat.

About that time, the crazy cat under the seat, shot out from under said seat, clawed her way up my panty-hose clad leg and headed for the windshield in a giant leap worthy of a leopard bringing down a large prey.

And there she sat – on the dashboard directly in my line of vision in front of the steering wheel. I’d swat her off, she leap and sit. Swat. Leap. Sit. During all of it, there was much cursing (me) and yowling (her).

My legs were bloody shreds by the time I pulled onto my road and Maggie had conceded and was back under the seat.

My nerves were shot.

As soon as I opened the door, Maggie shot out like a cannonball and headed for the door just like she knew where she was going.

Once inside the house, we didn’t see her for close to a month. I had named her Matilda, though I don’t know why. I knew she was there – she was eating and using the litter box, but we didn’t see her.

I’d seen enough of her to know that she’d been well taken care of. Her fur was not matted, she was of a healthy weight and size, and she was flea-free. I put an ad in the paper and a few signs up at the university looking for her owner. The only response I got was from a woman who wanted to know if I was sure she was not a black cat with two white paws. (I was sure.)

As time went by, she’d eventually appear now and again. She had a tendency to yowl and she hated the dogs who hated her right back. There was a period of much broken glass in my house as they all battled for supremacy. To some extent, I think Maggie won.

Once the Ex left and Chef Boy ‘R Mine moved to Florida, I began to see more of Maggie. Little by little, she’d allow that as a human I wasn’t so bad. Eventually, her name changed to Maggie – it was clear she was no Matilda.

I think she had been abused in some fashion. She doesn’t like people, she doesn’t like to be petted, and after 7 years, she will just now sit or sleep near me. In 7 years, I have had her in my lap for a combined total of, perhaps, 3 hours.

Getting her in my lap requires catnip. She’s a stoner and a lightweight at that. 20-30 seconds with the ‘nip and she’s bombed. It’s during those times, that I get to touch her. The high wears off quickly, she comes to, glares at me and heads for the part of the room furthest from me. We have progressed, though, she will be in the same room.

She and the dogs are now friends. She spends more time in contact with the dogs than with me. She sleeps with or near them, plays with them and shares their water bowl.

She likes being in the garden with me and she likes sitting under Christmas trees. She loves tormenting the dogs and she prefers to be outside as much as possible. She is righteously pissed off about all this cold and snow, and yowls at me to make it go away. [If only I could, Maggie, if only I could.]

Like every living creature in this barn, she is Not Normal. In a few minutes I will head to bed. Maggie will follow. With much caterwauling and carrying on, she will get into the bed and settle herself at the foot of the bed in the corner furthest from me. She may, or may not, come close enough to have her butt scratched. But if she does, it will only be for a few moments before she glares at me and returns to her corner of the bed.

She doesn’t want much affection, but she has to sit on my stuff – shoes, coat, purse, laundry, books, laptop. The minute I try to touch her, she’s apt to be pissed off.

As I write this, she is perched on the exposed beams howling and carrying on like she can’t get down. We do this almost daily. And, without fail, she always gets down, glares at me, and howls until I let her outside where, due to ice, snow and cold, she will immediately want back in. We’ve been doing this in-and-out thing for weeks now.

I’m headed for bed, now, and she’ll follow, but she’ll act like she hates it.

She’s crazy or eccentric or both. However, she is far more sane than the cat I had before her. Now there’s a story. . .

Stop Chase Bank from destroying America’s Mountains

I hate gravel.

I hate gravel.

This is a repost in response to the Rainforest Action Network’s call to let Chase Bank know that folks don’t like their part in the destruction of America’s mountains.  Go here for more info on what you can do to get the message to Chase Bank.

I hate gravel.

Frank, the guy who built the barn, leveled off a hill, bulldozed it, trucked in gigatons of gravel, and then parked big rigs on it.

Breaking ground for a new garden is unbelievably difficult. Before I can do anything, I have to get the gravel out. This can only be done after drenching rains with the aid of a pick axe, a lot of determination, and hours of time.

Where I could, I made raised beds, but that’s not always possible. When I say Frank leveled the hill, I mean that in a broad sense. My yard is anything but level. If I tried to level it with raised beds, the roses would be level with my roof line.

I hate gravel.

I break ground, usually, in small increments – about 3×3 feet. It can take the better part of a day. The gravel is predictable. First I will have a thin layer of small gravel embedded in leaf debris and the topsoil that has managed to form in 25 years. Below that are huge chunks of gravel – the size of my fist or larger. That layer is a good 8 inches thick. When I get the ground broken enough to get to it, I pry one piece at a time out with the aid of a crow bar. It’s ‘orrible, it is, it is.

After all that, I cart the gravel out and dump it on the road. Then, one 40 lb. of soil at a time, I put earth where there had been geologic atrocities. Conservatively speaking, I have nearly 2 acres of gravel.

It’s ‘orrible, it is, it is.

When we put in the fence, we used a jackhammer. It’s bad. Really bad. I am not exaggerating. [I reserve the right to exaggerate in future stories, but it’s not necessary in this one.]

Souvenir rocks.

Souvenir rocks.

To be cursed with this gravel situation is an irony of sorts, because I like rocks. I have rocks scattered all over my house. Instead of tacky seashell wind chimes and t-shirts, I bring home rocks as souvenirs. (I also bring home shells, driftwood, seedpods and other pieces of nature that strike my eye.) They sit on bookcases, dressers, desks, my dashboard, in bowls, and on counters. I like rocks.

A few years ago, you couldn’t go anywhere without encountering a bin of polished rocks with words engraved in them. Man…I love those things. Words and rocks – it doesn’t get any better. I have a whole bag of them plus a bunch of them scattered around the house and one, very precious one, tucked into a medicine bag hanging from my rearview window. I like rocks. I really do, but I quit buying them when I learned whole mountains were being mined to satisfy my wordstone need.

I like rocks.

I like rocks.

But more than rocks, I love mountains. I cannot fathom how anyone can defend mountaintop removal mining. They take a beautiful mountain, covered in magnificent trees, teeming with wildlife and reduce it to gravel.

The myth of it being good for the economy is usually cited. Balderdash. Coal companies are hauling far more coal out of here than anytime in history and simultaneously employing far fewer people to do it. And if coal is equivalent to economic prosperity, why are the largest coal-producing counties the poorest. The emperor has no clothes.

In a state that has suffered economic deprivation for generations. I understand the problems that could result should the practice be banned. But at what cost do we annihilate our mountains? When we destroy them, we not only lose them, but we lose our communities, our history, and our culture.

I love mountains.

I love mountains.

When my son was born, my (ex)husband and I suffered a radical economic setback. Our goal was to climb from destitute to simply poor. It was another horrible situation. I could have sold the kid and ended the poverty.

I could have. Would I have? Nope. I believe the word is inconceivable.

More knowledgeable people than I have railed on the subject of mountaintop removal mining and I listen to them carefully. I can’t retain the facts and figures. I can’t discuss at any depth all of the issues surrounding the practice. I’m usually good at such things, but in this case I can’t get past the initial shock than anyone could think this is a good idea. All I know is I would no more destroy one of these mountains than I would sell my child.

I hate gravel. I like rocks. I love mountains.