Thursday, December 24, 2009

Groucho The Cat

Groucho The Cat showed up at the cat feeder at Jolico Farm in the cold early winter of 2009. She was a fearless young, 'in-your-face' feline who promptly became pregnant, probably during her first heat in early February. She gave birth to a litter of kittens around April 1st. Unfortunately, only one of those kittens survived to become weaned. She became pregnant again when that kitten was about 2 months old and she delivered her second litter of 6 kittens on August 1, 2009. All of these kittens survived due to human intervention – twice-daily food and water carried up to the barn for them.

I took a real liking to this gutsy cat and I named her because of her resemblance to Groucho Marx. However, her name fit her 'grouchy' personality as well, as she is a vocal scolder to her kittens and even growls at me when I pick her up if she does not want to be held. She has never tried to bite or scratch me. She puts up with my handling, brushing, kissing and stroking, but rarely asks for affection. However, she will follow me around like a dog, and she tends to gravitate to the room in which I am working or sitting, making herself comfortable on the floor or on a nearby couch so as not to miss any of the household action.

I figure that Groucho was born in the spring of 2008. I also figure she was a drop-off, or she had been born at one of the nearby farms as a wild, or feral, cat. The fact that she has such moxie and has such a brave and fearless nature has endeared her to me. I resisted allowing her plight to affect my better judgment but, because she was such a demanding cat, crying at me through the windows when she wanted food for herself and for her kittens, I became like putty in her paws………and, I fell in love with her…………

When she weaned her last litter in mid-October 2009, I took her to the vet and had her spayed, vaccinated and de-wormed. I brought her home from her surgery and kept her in the house for 3 days to recover and then I let her back out to the barn. Two weeks later I returned her to the vet to have her sutures removed. She tolerated these procedures and intimate handling with vocal outrage but without any attempt to harm anyone.

While she was in the house she got a taste of the “good life” of a housecat, and she quickly adjusted to the litter pan and the rhythms of the household. When the weather turned bitterly cold this winter, she began to cry at the windows to be let into the warmth. When we ignored her insistent crying, she persisted and would cry all night long to be let in. We finally caved and allowed her indoors to become our pet.

She has no desire to go outdoors. She adjusted immediately to life in our home. She is quiet, clean and independent, but alert to our movements. She interacts with us and with our big dog Moses, who used to be her arch-enemy when she lived outside.

Our only problem lies with our older housecat “Kitty” who has never gotten along with Groucho. This dislike has escalated since Groucho moved indoors into Kitty’s domain. There has been fighting between the two cats, prompting us to banish Groucho back to the barn. However, this is breaking our hearts and we have decided we need to find Groucho a proper, loving home, even if it means losing our bond with her.

I hope and pray that whomever takes responsibility for her will love her as we do; and if they do not or cannot love and care for her, that they will return her to us. I hope and pray that we will find a very lucky person who needs the love of a very fine cat.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Parties, Family and Some Loving Thoughts........

It's been a while since my last post but we've not been idle! A wonderfully joyous occasion we attended was the wedding celebration dinner of Samantha Ginsburg and Steven Streibig on 11/14/09 in Pittsburgh. I swiped this picture taken at their wedding ceremony in Maui on 10/3/09 from their friend MJ's album because it shows their happiness and their beauty on their wedding day.

Dinner at the Fischer's is always an epicurian delight! Bruce cooks and Elaine bakes and we all eat too much. We moved from a table laden with appetizers, to the dining room where we consumed mass quantities of salmon and leg of lamb this year and to top it all off, Elaine's famous chocolate cheesecake and a homemade pumpkin pie! With Heidi and Joe growing older now, they have built an addition off the farmhouse kitchen with eventual retirement in mind, or a cozy apartment for an elderly family member. It includes many handicap accessibility features and even a ramp! I guess we could all use a ramp entrance, no matter how old or young we are......a ramp entrance and a grocery cart would do me just fine, I'm thinking!

The week around the Thanksgiving holiday was savored in a haze of company and food and lots of laughter and love. Mike, Connie and their dog Maggie came up from Pittsburgh on the afternoon of the 22nd for a pizza party. Brother Hank and his dog Maximus came up on Wednesday the 25th and stayed through Thanksgiving until Friday the 27th when he departed with bags of leftovers for his freezer. We decided we had much to be thankful for in our lives this year, not the least of which are our close family ties.

On Sunday the 28th our table was graced for brunch by our sister and brother-in-law Arlene and Robert Alfred and dog Charlie, and nephew Bruce and his wife Rachel, and their boys Joe and Michael Sheinbart who were visiting Pittsburgh from Florida for the long holiday weekend. We had a loving and heartfelt time introducing the youngest generation to "the farm" where Bruce spent much time during his 'growing-up' years. We laughed as we reminiscently told the old stories about the time when Kim fell through the barn floor into the cattle pen, and the time when somebody splattered a drop of red barn paint into Princess the Poodle's eye! The solution to that problem was Aunt Max running for the gets the red out!!

Last evening Harold, Hank, Ros and Steve, Art and I met for dinner in Pittsburgh at Hokkaido Seafood Buffet and ate like there was no tomorrow! This was Hank's recommendation for dining as it is an all-you-can-consume Japanese seafood restaurant and we were not disappointed. I know they lost money on us as I watched the males of my family make repeated trips for heaping platters of Alaskan King Crab legs, shrimp, sushi, frog legs, name it! We ate for two solid hours; ate and laughed and enjoyed just being together. Steve left to drive their car back to Florida very early this morning, and Ros is due to depart next week. Their trip to Pittsburgh kept them occupied with a whirlwind of events shared with family and friends. We were glad the weather cooperated so we could sneak in to see them too!

All this togetherness lately has given my fertile mind some food for thought. I have been pondering my priorities and trying to pinpoint what is truly important in life. Imagine, as I have, that time is growing shorter. What could potentially give us cause for regret? Would it be trips not taken, or money not made, jewelry not acquired, fine wines and food not consumed, recognition not awarded? Or, would it be the friendships we didn't nurture, the time we spent in anger and not communicating with loved ones; the opportunities we passed up to say, "I love you", causing us not to hear those most precious words repeated back to us?

Do you find there is something your heart and soul craves, something that is missing from your life, leaving you feeling incomplete and empty inside? Could it be love? Could it be a reconnection to family ties? Could it be that you've lost your pathway to The Divine?

Do we appreciate or curse each new day? Do we speak or maintain silence? Can we live in peace and love, or must there be dissention? Can we find forgiveness in our hearts, then take the next step and express it?

Attachments, rigid boundaries, inflexibility, anger and frustration prevent transformation.

Change is an aspect of love moving from the present vibration to a higher vibration in an upward spiraling pattern.

Love is energy; it sustains all form and formlessness; it is our true identity. Love lives in the heart. It is the Glue of the Universe. It is a soul quality. We need more of it in our lives. Love is all there is.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Migrating geese, long walks through fallen leaves and comforting soup.........

Since I was a small child, I have delighted in playing in the freshly fallen leaves, kicking them out in front of me, burying my feet in their weightless, fragrant depths and drifts. When I was younger, before the advent of the tractor and leaf-bagger attachment, I would rake leaves in the late fall just for the pure joy of rolling in the giant piles I would create. Now I content myself with swishing through them on my daily walks down to the lake, where they cover the farm roads and woods trails as they morph from canopy to coverlet on their purposeful transformation from photosynthesis back into soil.

We have been putting the farm to bed, as we do each year at this time. We slowly gather up all the trappings of summer, clean them and put them away. Gone now are the patio tables and chairs, the hose reels, the flower pots, the porch furniture, the screens, the hanging baskets. We've brought in the geraniums for wintering in the dog room where they like the cool temperatures and the sunshine that warms them in the east window alcove there.

Now we fill the bird feeders, sweep up the leaves that blow in eddies around the storm doors, wash the windows for perhaps the last time before spring, add a bit of caulking here and there, bring in the rain gauges, close down the barn doors, take off the mowers, grease up the tractors and put on the snow blower and blade.

The fields are now harvested and bare. The crop yields were bountiful this year. We had plenty of rain and a longer growing season than usual here in the mountains, as spring was early and fall lingered warm and long. This past week our 25 acres of soybeans were harvested by the giant red combine and a 4th crop of alfalfa came off the hayfields. I can't remember the last time we got a 4th crop of hay and I am amazed. Is this a result of global warming? It is quite unusual.

Thousands of geese have passed through on their way to the south to warmer states where they will winter over. I've learned that more than 90 percent of all birds are monogamous, meaning they maintain an essentially exclusive relationship, or pair bond, with just one member of the opposite sex. Geese are especially fastidious when it comes to their loyalty. They're well known for the long-term pair bonds they form. I marvel at them each year. I like to image that the same pairs return to Jolico Farm to raise their young year after year because we provide such a pure and hospitable environment, but that is probably just my over-dramatizing imagination.
However, we enjoy watching for their arrival in the late winter and early spring, for geese, along with the robins, are some of the first signs of life to arrive as the grip of winter loosens and the days lengthen and the warmth returns in the spring. But for now the dogs love to race along the lake shore and shoo the geese back into the water from their resting and sunning spots on the lake banks. A few turns around the lake and Mo and Mimi are ready to race through the woods to see what other wildlife they can scare up.

The last of the garden produce has been harvested. This year we had a huge carrot crop and, even though we've been eating carrots throughout the summer as I routinely thinned the crop, I was astonished at how many I was able to dig out of the ground at the tail end of fall. What to do with such a bounty? Carrots store well in the root cellar, but they are the sweetest and most nutritious when they are freshly pulled from the earth. I like to make Carrot-Ginger Soup and I've made about 4 gallons in the last couple of weeks to freeze in small pint- or quart-sized containers so I have it on hand for a quick hot lunch, for Thanksgiving dinner or to give away to a sick friend. This I have done recently as we have a friend who is taking chemotherapy and suffers from the resulting nausea and loss of appetite. Ginger is very good for calming the stomach, so I sent him several containers of my frozen organic carrot-ginger immunotherapy, laced with lots of love and prayers for a return to good health in each and every spoonful...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pickled Peppers, Visitors, Autumn and Winter............all in the same week!

The house siding project is finished, and just in the nick of time apparently, as Winter is riding hard on the heels of Fall in these parts! Many busy days have passed here in the recent weeks since we visited the beach in Cape May, NJ, now almost a month ago. We returned to find our contractors had finished our outdoor siding project. The added insulation is already paying off in a MUCH warmer and cozier home.

The weather has turned sharply colder and the leaves have quickly changed into their brilliant autumn colors here in our mountains this year, the Pennsylvania range of the Appalachians, which are locally called 'The Laurel Highlands'. The highest point in Pennsylvania, Mt. Davis, is located here in Somerset County and is over 3,500 feet above sea level. The weather fronts moved through very rapidly over the last couple of weeks. We went from temperatures in the 60's with sunny skies one day to over 3 inches of rain the next. The day after that we had plunging temps into the 30's at night with 60mph winds that prematurely blew a good many of the gorgeous leaves off the trees. However, warnings to the contrary, we were quite unprepared for the weather changes that blew in this past weekend. Two Nor'easters rolled up the east coast and some areas in our region got over a foot of snow that felled still heavily leafed tree limbs, causing power outages and some very messy driving conditions.

Around here when it's nasty outside, there is always something to do indoors. With the cold weather catching us off guard, we hurriedly snatched up the remaining peppers from the garden, roasted them on the grill, peeled them and turned them into pickled peppers, a favorite family recipe from my grandmother and my mother. We had a bumper crop of peppers this year and we quickly harvested more than I expected, but they won't last very long. Here's the recipe for the best roasted pickled peppers you've ever eaten!

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Freda's Pickled Peppers:

1) Roast whole, ripe bell peppers over a charcoal or gas grill fire until their skins are blackened and the peppers are soft.

2) Place the roasted peppers into a heavy brown paper bag and close the top of the bag tightly so that the peppers will steam in the bag.

3) When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skins, remove the stems and seeds and discard.

4) Cut the flesh of the peppers into strips and place into clean pint or quart canning jars.

5) Over a medium high flame, mix together equal parts of sugar, white vinegar and water. Then add more water (double or triple what you have already added) to taste until you have a mildly sweet and not too sour brine. Bring this mixture to a rapid boil, then fill the waiting jars of peppers almost to the brim, leaving a small space to top off each jar with a small amount (1/4") of olive oil.

6) Wipe the rims of each jar clean, then add the lids and bands, leaving them turned upside down until they are cool. The lids should be sealed down at this point. However, store them in the refrigerator as you would with refrigerator pickles. They may be enjoyed immediately, but be sure to use any unsealed jars first and plan to eat them all by Christmas, as they do not have a long shelf life.

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We heat our home with wood, a sustainable resource with a very low carbon footprint, and our woodshed is filled to the brim at this time of year. We heat with an HS Tarm wood-fired boiler made in Denmark. It burns wood so efficiently that Tarm advertises that their furnaces create the amount of ash per hour equivalent to that of a burned cigarette.

Each of us can choose to live more sustainably when we understand how our choices impact the environment, other people and other species. In its broadest sense, ‘sustainable’ refers to the capacity of something to be maintained or kept in existence indefinitely. It therefore also refers to balance. A carbon footprint also has to take into consideration how a fuel source was produced. Firewood is usually prepared with the use of log cutting machines and chain saws, and in that, firewood has a tiny footprint compared to natural gas, electric, or heating oil. We also have an oil fueled boiler, which we use to supplement our wood heat, so our alternative fuel is heating oil. There is no natural gas available in our rural area, and propane gas is usually more expensive than heating oil. We gather wood on our property when we are able, but we mainly buy our cordwood from our neighbors, the Beckners, who own a lumbering company. The hardwood we burn comes from the smaller discarded limbs of felled trees that are harvested locally.

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In early October we were pleased to again host what has become an annual gathering of Art's colleagues and their families. This year because of many schedule conflicts, we could not find a commonly acceptable date until well after summer had passed and autumn was already upon us. However, we managed to get the event in under the wire and a great time was had by all. Here are some pictures of a most enjoyable food fest!

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This past weekend we had the pleasure of a visit from our dear friends Sally from Florida and her sister Merrily from Chicago, Ginny from 7-Springs, Laurie from right here in Somerset, and my brother Hank and his dog (my 4-legged nephew!) Maximus from Pittsburgh. The occasion was Sally and Merrily's yearly fall family visit, which we celebrated with a small happy hour here at Jolico and then a nice dinner at the Pine Grill in town. Hank and Maximus spent the night with us and left the next afternoon laden with quarts of chicken stew and ginger carrot soup from our freezer, having really enjoyed resting, eating and playing at the farm.

Life is good. Family and friends are precious. "If you have love in your life it can make up for a great many things you lack. If you don't have it, no matter what else there is, it's not enough......Ann Landers"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Home Improvements, Cape May Vacation and Uncle Oscar...........

The one constant about living in a circa 1870 farmhouse, is the need to endlessly repair, renew, remodel and refresh. Earlier this summer we replaced the downstairs floors with porcelain tile. We are now in the process of replacing the 38 year old siding on the east and north sides of the house and extending the ground level wrap-around porch to cover an open air patio on the garden side of the house. It is hard to believe we are redoing work we had originally done when we first moved to the farm back in the early 1970's. I guess that means we've been here a long time, though of course it seems like only yesterday.

We bought Jolico Farm in November of 1971 after a lot of searching for the perfect place. This farm, in far-from-perfect condition, was just what we envisioned. We wanted a working farm with 50 to 100 acres all on one side of a rural road, with a year-round running spring-fed stream, a livable house and a usable barn and outbuildings. After farm-hunting for 3 years we saw this farm and bought it within 4 days. That was 38 years ago and we have been fixing it up ever since.

Our contractors, Rick Lloyd and Marty Swintosky, have done all of our work for the past 20 years. A later than anticipated start on our siding project this year caused them to be working here during our planned 4-day vacation to Cape May, NJ. We decided to go anyway and trust that the job would progress just fine without our constant hovering.

So, off we went to Cape May on Sunday morning, 9/20 - Max, Art and Moses! We had a grand time, walking for miles on the beach, riding bikes around this beautiful Victorian town, eating great seafood and soaking up the abundant sunshine. We had perfect weather with blue skies and cool breezes and very few vacationers this late in September over the autumnal equinox of 2009. In fact, the Boardwalk at Wildwood NJ was downright deserted, with most shops only opening on the weekends during the fall. One evening we took Mo out to dinner with us at The Ugly Mugg, a dog-friendly establishment, where we dined alfresco on huge steamed shrimp, fresh shucked oysters fried to perfection, and grilled chicken for Mo, whose discerning palate doesn't trust fishy things unless they are from his own lake at home. We stayed at The Blue Fish Inn, a great little motel in a quiet section of town, where they made us very comfortable (evidenced by the picture of Art and Mo relaxing in front of the bedroom TV!) Here are some highlights of our trip:

We took our leave of Cape May early on Thursday morning, 9/24, via the Cape May/Lewes Ferry. We rode on the ferry, Twin Capes, with lots of other cars, trucks, campers and motor homes. To Mo's delight there were also quite a few dogs making the 17 mile trip over to Lewes Delaware, and he was kept so distracted by all the people and pets on board that he forgot to get seasick - a miracle! When we disembarked we headed to Rockville, MD, a 3-hour drive, where we stopped to visit with our favorite uncle, Oscar Hoffman
and Oscar's daughter and our cousin, Barbara Kelsky. Uncle Oscar is 98 years old and is Art's mother's brother. He is the oldest and the only surviving member of his immediate family which included Art's mom Lillian, Aunt Syd and Aunt Mame. Oscar and Art worked together in the clothing business at Standard Sportswear in Pittsburgh many years ago. We had not seen him since his 95th birthday party three years ago, so this visit was a very heartfelt one for us all.

Another 3-hour drive and we arrived home, road-weary but safe and sound! Home is such a fantastic place to be, we always wonder why we want to leave. Mostly we have to force ourselves, thinking that we haven't been away in a while and that we should have a change of scenery and experience the wonders of travel.........only to find that there's no place like home.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day, Summer's unofficial demise? and other 'stuff'..........

Labor Day 2009. The day dawned but never turned into a sunrise, such as those to which we've become accustomed for the past 2 weeks or so........the extent of our summer for this year. The long-running warm weather system moved eastward during the night and the day has remained gray and cool, reverting back to the seasonal pattern of the past 4 months. Too bad for us, the summer-seekers, we who wait all year to revel in the heat of this short season here in the mountains. Summer means donning shorts, tank top, sandals and nothing else! when we can pop early out of bed and wear these skimpy clothes all day and into the warm night! Aaahhhh! So we are sad to bid farewell to this summer that wasn't and, hope springing eternal as it does, we decide that it was just a global warming fluke and set our sights on 2010, knowing that next year will definitely be better, if we can just wait for it.

Good sized pears have grown this year with all the moisture we've had and so I picked some early to ripen more fully on the kitchen porch table. They have begun to ripen over this period of sun and warmth, and we will soon be poaching pears and freezing pears and eating as many as we are able, as nothing is better than a sun-warmed pear picked ripe from the tree, its luscious juices running down your arm as you bite into its sweetness and savor its fragrant flesh.

Nothing is BETTER than a sun-warmed pear, but vine-ripened tomatoes are right up there at the top of the food chain! Surprise! we were able to save some of our plants from the viral blight by cutting off all the green leafy parts, encouraging the denuded plants to pump their lifeblood into the remaining uninfected fruits. We were rewarded by being able to harvest about 100 perfectly healthy and divinely delicious tomatoes. Those we can't manage to eat fresh, we're making into juice and sauce. Though not enough to see us through until next summer, we are grateful for what we could salvage.

New friends, old friends, those just passing through and some returning to stay, August was a month of movement for loved ones into and through our lives. It was so wonderful to see Alyx Mazerov Yuasa again after so many decades. We last saw her as an 8 or 9 year old girl and were so pleased to be able to spend a special evening together on the eve of her return to Japan and her new husband Eiwa. After so many years, we finally had the pleasure of meeting Martha Mazerov, Mike's step-mom and Alyx's grandma, a most delightfully happy and beautiful lady who we look forward to spending more quality time with!

Mike and Connie Mazerov are home now, living and working in Pittsburgh again after decades spent in Houston Texas. I think the heat and the hurricanes and the Texans finally won out! We will have many opportunities to enjoy the love and company of these old and dear friends, residing only 50 miles from us now instead of 1100!

It was indeed a pleasure to meet a new friend, Jonathan Bronitsky, the nephew of David Ginsburg. He and David stopped at the farm for dinner and a break from the road on their way from DC to Pittsburgh this week. Jonathan is relocating to Cambridge UK to study for 3 years and earn his PhD. His Uncle David, induced by the promise of a free 42" LCD TV, drove to DC to help Jonathan move his earthly belongings back home to Michigan. How's the TV working David, and how's your back?

MIMI IS BACK!! and Mo is sooooo happy! Mimi's pretty happy too, and everybody is sleeping very soundly at night with all the hard-charging exercise they are getting. The cooler weather is giving them even more of an energy boost and they run and play until they drop! Art and I only have to adults are needed in this game of "chase me, catch me, steal my toy, eat some poop, sniff a frog, chase a cat". I wish I had their stamina, endless energy and pure joy of the moment. At my age I know I will never have the stamina and energy, but I can certainly work on attaining the pure joy of living in the moment......and I shall.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Family, Friends, Food, Flowers and Fun!

Boy, talk about a busy time of year! The Cook Family gatherings are "sometimes" events. Our last summer picnic was held two years ago in 2007 and was on the small side, with few able to attend. Low attendance is usually due to the fact the family is often scattered across the globe, not because we don't want to be there! We come together when we can, when we must, or at a moments' notice. This years' party, held on 8/22/09, was a larger gathering of 2 generations of siblings, cousins, and the family dogs. It's a toss-up as to who had the better time, the peeps or the dogs!

The Cook family's older generation are sisters and brother, Arlene (eldest), Arthur (the baby) and Sheila (the middle child), captured in the photo above left.
Many more in attendance were: Arlene's husband Robert, Sheila's two daughters, Pam and Jan, Pam's husband Michael and oldest son Josh, Jan's two daughters Adi and Alex, cousins Susan and husband Steve, Howard, wife Caroline and son Brett, Max's brother Harold and wife Janet, baby brother Hank, and family friend Jim. Am I forgetting anyone? Oh yes, the dogs, Moses, Charlie and Madison!

We are a beautiful family, not just on the outside, but beautiful in our hearts and in our love for one another. And love is what family is all about. Really, love is all there is........

The Wigle's are a wonderful family who live over the mountain in Ligonier, PA. On Sunday, 8/23, the day after our family picnic, we attended the Wigle's inaugural pizza party. Arne and Theresa built this AWESOME pizza oven, (big enough to double as a guest house!) on their patio. A crowd of friends was treated to an extraordinary pizza festival! We all got to make our own pizzas, and it was the most amazingly mouth-watering pizza I've ever over-eaten!!

Arne Wigle, the pizza chef at his outdoor wood-fired pizza oven in Ligonier, PA. Bravo!! Delicioso!! Pizza Amore!!! Arne, you've REALLY outdone yourself!