Friday, December 31, 2010

Last Day of 2010........End of a Decade

2010 was a year of shifting change; an active year, one of blessed and quiet solitude, of slow but steady growth, a year of loss and gain. Many things happened in 2010 but I can recall nothing bad. I take this as a sign that my heart and mind are open, happy and full of wonder at the glorious light-filled life with which I have been blessed. I am most grateful for Arthur, (my soul companion throughout the ages, my best friend and husband of 41 Earth-years), for my loving family, my caring friends, my faithful pets, all gifts from God, who I know loves me beyond measure because He gave me all of you.

My heart is full of love for all, and I want to wish you a Joyous, Healthy, Loving 2011!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Concrete..... Solid Stuff!!

Concrete trucks..WOW! They are BIG and LOUD and HEAVY!! Laden with 10 cubic yards of concrete, each will weight between 35 and 40 tons. You don't want one of these on your driveway or sinking into your lawn, either! A construction wheelbarrow full of concrete can weigh nearly four hundred pounds. Trying to push that up a slight grade is grueling work. Our job required 3 delivery trucks, each holding a full 10 cubic yard load. After the initial grading, leveling, ditching and installation of drains and shale, our contractors poured the main patios on one day, and poured our new sidewalks and porch steps on day two. The cement that binds concrete is made primarily of limestone, the most abundant mineral on earth. We are fortunate to have a limestone quarry just a few miles from our farm, so our concrete is considered a 'local green' product, requiring minimal fossil fuel expenditure to both mine and deliver it. I especially like the fact that, unlike asphalt, it produces no toxic runoff. In the month since the concrete was poured, we've had two significant rain events, each one delivering over 2" of precipitation in a 24-hour period. We are gratified to see that all the underlying drains are working as they should, removing many gallons of runoff that would normally have ended up in our basement! 

This project was two years in the making. With the downturn in the economy, there are fewer concrete contractors in our area, and those who are still in business are overwhelmed with the available jobs. So, although our excavating contractor had us scheduled, we had to wait until the concrete guys could give us a week of their time. Fortunately it all came together before the snow flew, but just barely. Just as the dry summer weather ended, the autumn became wet and soggy causing annoying rain delays and muddy, saturated ground. It was a fight to the finish, but Matt McMullen Concrete, LLC came through for us! The grass seed went in just before the weather turned foul in earnest, but the seed never had a chance to sprout as the nights have been too cold to support germination. This means we will have mud until the grass begins to grow next spring. So be it.... But, a huge thanks to the Matt McMullen Concrete Clan from Gallitzin PA!! Here's a link to their website.

 Patios and drains just hope the grass seed germinates before 
winter sets in..........NOT!!

 VoilĂ !! Complete with new gates for the dog pen.


November has been a busy month for us. Early in the month we attended a 100th Birthday Celebration for Art's Uncle Oscar Hoffman in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Uncle Oscar's children, Barbara and Howard and their families, hosted a wonderful luncheon in his honor. He won't turn 100 until January 1, 2011, but due to the unreliability of winter travel, we celebrated two months early. Oscar was alive for both World Wars and he served overseas in WWII. What is it like to be 100 years old? Always a man of few words, Oscar is quite underwhelmed by the significance of being alive for a century. He is the oldest and last surviving only brother of Art's mother's 3 siblings. We wish him continuing good health and recognition on the "Today Show" Smucker's Jelly Jar on his birthday!

Geese feeding in the cornfields before continuing on their fall migration.

Mimi, Art and Mo....

 Sheeder's sheep in the distance enjoying the 
last blades of fresh grass.

A glorious pre-sunset sky and silhouette of our farm buildings 
at the end of our walk.

We are thankful the bad weather held off as long as it did for us, as other parts of the country have already had their fill of winter. The snow began, as predicted, on Thanksgiving Day this year, not an unusual occurrence for our neck of the woods. Brother Hank and his wild Pitt Bull/Lab Maximus arrived on Friday after Thanksgiving. Mimi The Poodle has been staying with us while her people have been in Florida for the holiday, but Moses was in his element shepherding his favorite cousin and girlfriend during their 2-night sleepover. We had our Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday this year. This too has become a tradition with my brothers over the years since our mom passed away in 2001. Of course, the weather always plays her role. This year the snow made an appearance and the ground looks to stay covered for the foreseeable future.

Harold and Janet, my brother and sister-in-law.

Reunion for brother Hank and high school friend, Jim McNaul. They hadn't seen each other for 30 years!

As the snow continues to pile up, the dogs are dressed in their Anti-Hunter regalia, as their daily 'Walk-ies' (pronounced with GREAT enthusiasm) are as regular as the postman here at Jolico Farm.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pressing Our Luck, But Not the Panic Button....YET!!

This is a "BEFORE" snapshot of our current undertaking. We are into our 4th week now of our patio replacement project. The impetus for this project, planned over two years ago, is the need to install new drains on the UP-hill side of our farmhouse, as the house has had a perpetual water-in-the basement-when-it-rains problem, probably since it was built in 1870. Our contractor is Stoy Excavating, the same excellent company that built our beautiful lake over 10 years ago. Jim Stoy is also our neighbor and our friend. We had a long, dry summer this year, and actually that would have been the perfect time to have had this work done. However, masonry contractors (the guys who pour and work the wet concrete) were too busy with other projects to get to us.....until now. YIKES!! We are pushing the limits of good weather in which to pour concrete, that mysterious alkaline substance that starts out heavy and wet and very quickly ends up permanently cast in place. You've gotta respect the guys who mold this stuff. They are strong and have endurance, much like the medium with which they work. Tomorrow morning, good Lord willing, they will pour and work 20 yards of concrete which, by evening, will be our new patio. The next day, by the good Lord's grace, we will have two new sidewalks and new front porch steps. The day after that comes the predicted snowstorm. So, our backs are to the wall; we are on a tight schedule here; we are pushing our luck. It's SO EXCITING though!!

A familiar sight these days are the formations of Canadian Geese. I love to see them fly over each day and listen for their calls at dawn and dusk. I miss them when they leave and welcome them joyously when they return in the spring. I find them fascinating and beautiful creatures. I think they are my favorite wild bird species.  

Their life expectancy is about 20 years. They weigh around 20-25 pounds. Migration is a learned process and migratory geese have a flight range of 2 – 3 thousand miles. Resident geese fly 100 –200 miles to find food, water, and safety. Resident geese can fly long distances as their migratory cousins, but generally have learned that it is not necessary.
Migratory geese do not become resident geese unless they are injured. Their mating season is February to March. Geese mate for life and will stay together during all seasons. However, they will find a new mate if their mate dies or is killed. Migratory geese nest in Canada. Geese nesting in the U.S. are "resident" geese who were born here. Resident geese were imported to the area for rebuilding dwindling numbers for conservation or hunting. The urban nuisance was not anticipated.

Their nesting season is generally mid March to mid May. The age of geese when they begin to nest is 3 years. Geese return to the general area of their birth each year to mate and nest, sometimes to the exact site, sometimes a nearby pond or other body of water. The instinct to return to their general area of birth is very strong. Migratory geese fly 2,000–3,000 miles to return to these sites, but resident geese do not know how to migrate. When geese are chased from their traditional nesting area, or the nesting area has too many nesting pairs, they find alternative sites to nest … sometimes farther from water, sometimes in nearby ponds, sometimes on rooftops or balconies. They will hide their nests. However, geese prefer isolated sites near water to nest, and islands are their favorite location. Nests are usually on the ground, in the open.
• Sometimes geese nest in brushy or swampy areas not subject to flooding.
• When egg laying begins the "Father" goose will stand sentinel watch nearby, but not so close as to give away the location of nest to a predator. When a solitary goose is seen during nesting season a nest is somewhere in the vicinity.
• The eggs in a nest are called a "clutch".
• Average number of eggs in a nest is five.
• Mother goose lays each egg approximately 1 day apart until a full clutch is obtained.
• Eggs not being incubated are cool to the touch.
• Mother goose waits until all eggs are laid before she begins to sit on the nest to incubate eggs.
• Incubation time is 28 – 30 days.
• Undeveloped eggs (still fluid) will sink or float vertically, with the wider portion of the egg pointing down.
• Developed eggs will float horizontally or at a slight angle and break the surface of the water. At that point they are one to two weeks away from hatching.
• All geese eggs in a single clutch hatch on approximately the same day.
• Baby geese are called "goslings".
• Natural predators of geese are foxes, raccoons, owls and snapping turtles, and in our area, coyotes.
• Goslings can fly approximately 2-3 months after hatching.
• During June adult geese lose wing feathers and are unable to fly. This is called molting.
• Molting season runs from early June to late July.
• Geese can fly again approximately 6 weeks after molting.
• Generally by early August all geese (except injured geese) are able to fly.
• During the molt, geese need to be near water (any water) for easy escape from predators. The molting area needs an easily accessible food supply. 

Geese facts taken from:

The perfect end to a perfect summer is the much anticipated glorious blaze of autumn leaf color. Because we were so deficient in rainfall this summer, predictions for spectacularly colorful trees were not good. Our mountain foliage changes colors about 3 weeks before the surrounding lower elevations and, being a destination for tourists, sight-seers, and fall festival goers, many businesses depend on this season of the year for a good portion of their annual incomes. Autumn arrived a bit ahead of schedule but we were blessed with vibrantly hued hills. I love to share the beauty of this magical and special season, and photos are the perfect medium. Each autumn is different - no two are alike...just like all of God's creations. Photos document the uniqueness of nature and leave us with lasting memories.

And finally.........RIP
Tonto Crail Cox
A brave-hearted, beautiful, loyal, loving boy who passed on October 20, 2010.


If it should be that I grow weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then you must do what must be done,
For this last battle cannot be won.

You will be sad, I understand.
Don't let your grief then stay your hand.
For this day, more than all the rest,
Your love for me must stand the test.

We've had so many happy years.
What is to come can hold no fears.
You'd not want me to suffer so;
The time has come -- please let me go.

Take me to where my need they'll tend,
And please stay with me till the end.
Hold me firm and speak to me,
Until my eyes no longer see.

I know in time that you will see
The kindness that you did for me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I've been saved.

Please do not grieve -- it must be you
Who had this painful thing to do.
We've been so close, we two, these years;
Don't let your heart hold back its tears.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Seasons change.....time to flip the mattress over!

"In the days before electric lights, farmers depended on bright moonlight to extend the workday beyond sunset. It was the only way they could gather their ripening crops in time for market. Not since Sept. 23, 1991 has a full moon occurred on the same night as the fall equinox, and it won't happen again until 2029", wrote astronomer Tony Phillips in a NASA announcement. That's 38 years from now and I wonder how many of us will be alive to see this again?

The end of September signals the beginning of Autumn. The days grow shorter, the nights lengthen and the weather cools perceptively. We start the day wearing warmer clothing, perhaps even socks! Kitty curls up against us in the night seeking warmth from our sleeping bodies. We must take care not to squish her.....and we are grateful for the warmth that she imparts as well.

We change over our wardrobes. Sweaters and long pants are moved to the front of the closets while shorts, T's and sandals are pushed to the rear. Even the foods we crave are warmer, more filling and sustaining. The oven is more often in use now, filling the kitchen with warmth and wonderful aromas once again. We also flip the mattresses on our beds, wash all the mattress pads, covers, blankets and spreads, vacuum underneath and replace everything all freshly laundered and sun-dried. This is my favorite Autumn ritual and such a gratifying feeling!!

The summer of 2010 had a long run, being perhaps the longest summer I can remember since I was a kid, when every summer was long and languid. Hot and dry as dust too, the earth cracked and the water in the lake evaporated a good 6 inches, exposing bare shoreline from which the snails retreated into deeper coolness, where the migrating herons had farther to reach to pluck them. Our county is in a drought emergency. The weather people tell us we are 12% below average in precipitation levels. It is up here in the mountains that water is born from rain and snowfall. Springs, creeks and streams from thousands of small watersheds fill ponds and lakes and eventually form rivers that flow, providing hydration, recreation, moisture.....without which survival of everything on Earth would be impossible. Today it is raining softly and steadily and we are grateful.

Autumn marks the beginning of our six-month heating season. We heat our 3000 square foot 1870's farmhouse with an HS-Tarm wood-fired boiler that we installed in 1995, in conjunction with a backup Burnham oil-fired boiler. The Tarm, with its downdraft gasification technology, burns dry hardwood at 92% efficiency. This translates into the smoke equivalent of 1 cigarette (1 gram) per hour. Our Tarm also provides all of our domestic hot water produced during the heating season via a thermal loop to our hot water tank. We usually burn 5-6 cords of firewood each heating season. We are gratified to see that our 40-foot tall chimney, when cleaned in the spring, yields only about 1 gallon of ash.

These potatoes weigh about a pound.....each!!

Our garlic crop was amazing this year.....onions were small but tasty.

The tomatoes were fabulous and yielded gallons of frozen juice and lots of sauce, too.

.....plenty of roasted sweet peppers made it into jars, as well as frozen peppers for the freezer.

Visitors in September included Connie, Martha and Mike;



Brother Hank.........

Niece Rachel........

The blog wouldn't be complete without Moses hamming it up for the camera!

 Panoramic shot of Jolico Farm taken by our nephew Ben with his iPhone. I think he pieced together 8 shots to make this one photo.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy 41st Anniversary. Max speaks to Art........

Excerpt from Paradise Lost

By John Milton

(Eve speaks to Adam)

With thee conversing I forget all time,
All seasons and their change, all please alike.
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest birds; pleasant the sun
When first on this delightful land he spreads
His orient beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flower,
Glistering with dew; fragrant the fertile earth
After soft showers; and sweet the coming on
Of grateful evening mild, then silent night
With this her solemn bird and this fair moon,
And these the gems of heav'n, her starry train:
But neither breath of morn when she ascends
With charm of earliest birds, nor rising sun
On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, flower,
Glistring with dew, nor fragrance after showers,
Nor grateful evening mild, nor silent night
With this her solemn bird, nor walk by moon,
Or glittering starlight without thee is sweet.

Excerpt from "Paradise Lost" by John Milton. (Public domain)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Family, Friends, French Fries, Feeding Fish and Food for Thought. . . .

Groucho's kittens were one year old on August 1st. True Leo's, they are very Leonine, even Little Girl, the only surviving female. She isn't around much, as she seems to be constantly in heat, though seemingly never pregnant. The boys, however, are visible like lightning bugs, every evening and all night long, making sure there isn't a chipmunk, or "Grinny" as my neighbor Floy calls them, darting around the gardens of Jolico Farm. This picture is of Tommy Tip (on the right) and Tom Boy (on the left) enjoying some catnip. (Unavailable for this photo is Brother #3, named Little Tom, the runt when he was born, but the 2nd largest now, just in case you were wondering!) Tom Boy is my favorite, as he is friendly and allows me to pet him through the open kitchen window. He reminds me the most of his mother Groucho. If you have been following this blog, you will remember that my beloved Groucho found a wonderful Forever Home last fall. She lives with Lonnie, who renamed her "Peppermint Patty".

Sadly, on July 23rd we lost a good and faithful friend, Freddie Oakes, who passed away in Pittsburgh at the too-young age of 65. Fred and Art were friends since the days of their misspent youth and we will sorely miss him always.

Weeping willow trees are gracefully beautiful. We had two towering willows on our property. The older one was planted by a young girl named Joni, the granddaughter of Alfred Barron, the farmer from whom we bought Jolico Farm. The willow tree that Joni planted in her youth grew very big, its trunk measuring 200 inches in circumference after 40+ years of growth. Art planted the second willow tree in 1975 above the bank barn, far enough away (he thought) so that the branches and leaves would never overhang the barn roof. Wrong! This tree grew over 40 feet tall and clogged the gutters and downspouts so thickly with fallen leaves each autumn that the gutters were literally rendered useless. Joni's tree was badly damaged a few years ago in an ice storm, so we had the tree-trimmers out to cut it back and clean up the fallen limbs. This was a job too big for Max and Art and our little toy tractors! The willow continued to grow and thrive, but this spring a terrifying thunderstorm twisted a huge limb off the upper half of the tree, leaving the tree split and badly injured. Sadly, we decided that euthanasia was the best decision, as Joni's tree had become too big and unwieldy and was beginning to rot as well. We called Phil Read, Tree Surgeon Extraordinaire, who not only removed both willows, but a 100+ year old rotten apple tree, as well as trimming the tops of our dwarf pear trees in the orchard.
 The willow tree above the barn is about to come down!

The stump of Joni's willow tree measures 200" around the base and 66" in diameter!

Phil Read, our hero!

Our newly trimmed pear trees. Now the fruit is reachable!

This is the tree Art thought he and I could handle by ourselves.....NOT!

Willow and apple wood is not suitable for burning in the Tarm to heat our home, so Phil hauled it all away.

On August 1st we had the honor of a visit from our Atlanta GA cousins, Linda, Julie, Terry, Sam and Jake. Art's sisters Sheila and Arlene, brother-in-law Robert and dog Charlie came up from Pittsburgh to enjoy the day with us. As a picture is worth a thousand words, and I have so many pictures.... please enjoy!
From left: Terry, Sheila, Sam, Julie, Robert, Arlene, Linda and Art.

Sam holding his brother Jacob!

Lunch! As usual, there was plenty to eat!!

Sam fed the fish while Mo cleaned up the pellets that didn't make it into the water!

The garden, planted so early this year due to the warm early spring, seems to be ripening early as well.  Art harvested potatoes one day recently, digging them out of the ground with a small camping shovel while kneeling in the soft dirt. He finds this the easiest and most back-saving method to tackle an age-old job.

As usual, we planted red, white and blue potatoes, an all-American tradition!

Digging potatoes is hungry work so.......

.....let's go make some homemade fries! Pomme frites!!

These peppers are the size of Bocce Balls, each of the red ones yielding 3 cups of diced peppers! The white eggplant is 8" long and gives some perspective as to the size of the red bell peppers.

We are ecstatic over this years' tomato crop! After a devastating year in 2009 fighting the late blight, we could not be happier with the yields, the taste, the size, the GLORY of our 2010 crop!!!

In memory of Fred..........

With you a part of me hath passed away;
For in the peopled forest of my mind
A tree made leafless by this wintry wind
Shall never don again its green array.
Chapel and fireside, country road and bay,
Have something of their friendliness resigned;
Another, if I would, I could not find,
And I am grown much older in a day.
But yet I treasure in my memory
Your gift of charity, and young hearts ease,
And the dear honour of your amity;
For these once mine, my life is rich with these.
And I scarce know which part may greater be,–
What I keep of you, or you rob from me.
(By George Santayana)