Thursday, February 23, 2012

Miss Elizabeth Is 91 Today...

Miss Elizabeth, our friend and the grande dame of our city block, is 91 today. Originally from Oklahoma, she took a circuitous route to St. Louis, and her stories about her life are always interesting. She's still active in her church, involved in her charities and clubs, and thriving in her oversized Victorian home. Her large flower garden often contributes new starts for mine at Le Rustique.

Yesterday Big Daddy and I took her to lunch on The Hill - noted for the best Italian markets and restaurants west of the Mississippi, as well as being the childhood home of baseball stars Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra.

Since Big Daddy and I are listening to Timothy Egan's audio book The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl and since Miss Elizabeth lived through it in Oklahoma, we asked her to tell us a little about growing up then. 


As you can see from the picture, we laughed some in spite of the rough life she had then and the harshness of the times she was talking about. I think she had just remembered the time she failed to kill the chicken for Sunday dinner, because she just couldn't get the hang of it.

Still laughing after all these years.
Miss Elizabeth, Here's to many more years of listening to your stories about rural living at a different time. We love having you in our lives. Happy Birthday!!

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Monday, February 20, 2012

A Walk In The Park: Early Bloomers...

When we're not walking in the woods at Le Rustique, we live on a typical city lot with just a postage stamp for a backyard. Years ago we converted what little grass we had back there into an all-brick courtyard reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans. (That project is a story in itself, and maybe someday I can share it with you here.)

When we crave a little more terra than firma, we head to historic Tower Grove Park - this country's most beautiful wooded Victorian walking park, just a block away from our city house

Just like most places this winter, the weather has been unseasonably mild in St. Louis. My magnolia tree in our back yard is in full bud, but some of the magnolia trees in Tower Grove Park are even farther along - way too early.
Though this was taken early last spring, this same tree is already showing its colors - way too early for this
part of the country. It will surely get nipped and deprive us of a full season of beautiful big flowers.
Chances are pretty good that we'll have another frost, and maybe even a hard freeze. If that happens, I sure hope these early bloomers can regroup and become late bloomers for a showy encore.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Walk In The Woods: Mozarkite...

Some people drag home stray animals. I don't have to do that, because they always seem to find us. Instead, I'm always dragging home stray rocks - even the ones Big Daddy calls leverites, which in case you missed it here before are rocks about which he says, "leave 'er right there." After washing off the dirt and grime, I usually toss them into the front garden or into one of several baskets of rocks worked into the "decor" (term used very loosely)...
One of the smaller baskets of rocks lying around the house - already much fuller than when this was taken.
Or they get crammed carefully and thoughtfully added  ;-) to the built-in shelves at Le Rustique where the previous owners displayed precious fragile antique heirlooms...
Built-in shelves at Le Rustique (glass doors permanently removed) - also already much fuller than when
this was taken. I know, I really need to paint the old wood panel in the back, but there's always
something else higher on the priority list.
On our last walk in the woods, Big Daddy found the rock on the right and gave it to me to bring back. He wasn't sure what it was, but he knew it wasn't a leverite. After a little poking around the web, I think it (and the other two in the picture found on previous walks) are mozarkite.
I'm no geologist, but I think all three of these are mozarkite. I wish the big one weren't cracked, as I'm
afraid it won't hold together forever. And I have no idea why the one is so polished already.
Aside: I've just finished staining the new wood window and sill (which you can see in the photo above) in the kitchen, and I'm ready to seal it. One smaller window down, ten bigger ones to go. Who knew wood windows come with unfinished interiors - presumably so you can choose whether to paint or stain? Just one more thing on my to-do list. I'll report back in about a year.

If you're a rock hound, you probably know more than I do about these rocks. I'm open to hearing whatever you have to add. Following are the primary sites I used to make my guess.



Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Rural Toy Store...

THE SETUP:
Normally in early February we spend a week to ten days in Key West. By that time, we're weary of the drudgery of winter, the gray days and lack of color, and we're more than ready for sun, sand and ocean waves. Here are a few shots of what it was like last year.
Mornings can be a little chilly, but the flora is still tropical.
Everywhere you look you find something, often exotic, in bloom.
Every morning we start our day with a bicycle ride around the island, choosing a new place for
breakfast each time, then head to the beach for the rest of the day. 
Once Big Daddy returns from another bike ride to our favorite Cuban restaurant to pick up grouper sandwiches for
our lunch, the wildlife gathers on the beach to wait patiently for the bread pieces we toss them.
NOW THE REST OF THE STORY:
This year we decided to forego Key West and take a "stay-cation" at Le Rustique. There were a whole lot of reasons it made sense:

  • Our winter has been mild and not as miserably cold as usual. 
  • We've had more sunny days than normal for this time of year, and we planned to sit on the deck and get a Rocky Mountain tan. (In case you're wondering, I made up that term when I lived in Colorado and Wyoming. It's where you put on your bathing suit and warm boots, recline in the sun on a lounge chair and cover yourself with a couple down comforters. Then you peel back the comforters as the heat of the sun allows. When you get too cold, you cover up again until you're warm, and you repeat the process. It works better in the Rockies, because you're at least a mile closer to the sun and the air is dry. But hey, we're game.)
  • We added insulated siding to the farm house, replaced an old wood stove, added energy-efficient wood windows throughout - and it seemed like a good time to test how much cozier those things would make the old house.
  • And most importantly, it would give us a chance to see how we'll manage living there together full-time.

Well, you know what they say about best-laid plans. 

While all those vacationers in Key West were enjoying beautiful warm days and calm waters, mid-Missouri was getting rain, snow, and more rain. I gotta tell ya, the weather was miserable, but we had no trouble co-existing or finding ways to stay entertained. 

And how do you keep a man entertained? No, you're wrong. I'm talking about a man our age. You take him to as many toy stores as you can. We started out at this one.
You can't tell it's raining, but I assure you I'm using my backside to dry off this seat.

Big Daddy opts to forego the seat I dried off in order to try out the fit of a bigger one. Naturally.
From here we were off to the Kubota store, because we're not just kicking tires. We're in the market for a tractor so we can get more jobs done at Le Rustique. We decided to skip the John Deere store once we found out that you pay a considerable premium for all that pretty green paint.

We've been hiring local experts to do our brush hogging, food plot planting and mowing, but they have full-time jobs or their own farm obligations before they can come help us out. If we have our own tractor, we can get most of our chores done in a timely manner as weather permits. And we can still hire the experts for the bigger jobs. This video shows our go-to guy for the big jobs the first time he came to help us expand the size of our back yard. He's got the big-boy toy and is a green-paint guy all the way.
video

Do you have a favorite brand of tractor? Do you want to give us any advice? We're listening!

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Barn Scrapping...

We've been wanting to clean out the old homestead barn at Le Rustique since we bought the place nearly two years ago. And when better to get started than on a cold, damp winter day with the ground too wet to do much else? And today is that day.
The scrappers only brought a pickup truck, but they got the job done.
We were a little surprised to see the scrappers show up in a pickup truck, because we had told them ahead of time the volume of stuff we expected to get out of the old barn. But they know their business, and a pickup is more efficient for the way they work. They are an older husband & wife team who have been doing this for thirty years. He's got a hurt back, unable to lift a lot, but she's got the energy of a teenager - and they brought their young neighbor along to help them.

The previous owner of our property used to raise feeder calves, and he had installed what seemed like miles and miles of 5-strand barbed wire cross fencing, some with added sheep fence for good measure, throughout the woods. Big Daddy spent a good deal of the last two years taking it down. Here is just some of what he has to show for his efforts.
Rolls and rolls of barbed wire from the fences Big Daddy took down.
The ones leaning against the wall are what he's keeping.
The scrappers told us that not too long ago the scrap yards wouldn't even take barbed wire because it ate up their steel grinders. But now, with newer grinding technology and the weakened economy, they are happy to have it. But probably not as happy as we are that they are taking it.

Here's the first load ready to head out. Don't worry - that galvanized steel tub is
split down one side with several holes in the bottom.
One load was mostly fencing and went to the steel scrap yard. The next load was heavier steel items destined for another area of the same scrap yard, as well as old paint cans that went to a third area for specialized waste disposal. The final load consisted of aluminum and glass heading to an aluminum scrap yard in the other direction on their way home, plus all the things they were going to take to their own barn for special sorting and possible resale.

Here is a sampling of items they take home with them for sorting when they aren't working. They also took an old TV, and they'll separate out the electronics and any other usable components. They took several 100-ft or more extension cords that were cracked and taped, and they'll strip those for the various wires inside them.
The scrappers will look at each of these small items and sort out any copper, steel or aluminum,
and she'll be looking for items that  might interest any collectors she knows. 
Once they had their final load and were ready to head out, we helped hoist the old pickup truck shell on top. It's the one from the dump cleanup I wrote about earlier:
And I'm tellin' ya, were we ever glad to finally see it go. They promised not to let it fall off until they were long gone from Le Rustique!
Finally, we bid adieu to the pickup truck shell that used to mark the location of  The Old Dump.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Willie And Waylon - Reunited...

"Where are we going, Big Daddy? Want me to sniff out a trail for us? "
Willie, the Walker Coonhound that found his way to our house Sunday morning in the chilly rain, had been wandering far from his home since 11 p.m. Saturday night. Only 13 months old, he and his litter mate Waylon took a little adventure vacation when they were let out to burn off some energy and use the "facilities" before being locked in their run for the night. In their youthful exuberance, they took after the scent of a skunk, following it quite a distance before getting themselves sprayed for their ignorance.

Maybe it was because of the skunk spray, but the two pups couldn't agree on which way to turn to head back home. They parted ways, vowing to send a search party for the one who was wrong. Willie headed north for several miles, and Waylon headed south even farther. And then the rains came, and the only good to come of that was that some of the skunk stench was washed away.

You already know the part of the story where Willie ends up at Le Rustique, and I won't bore you with all the details of trying to find his rightful owner, but last night Willie and Waylon were reunited with Zach.
I can't tell whether that's his thank-you look toward Big Daddy, or whether he's trying to say, "Man, I'm gonna miss  working your woods with you, and I appreciate all the love and freedom you gave me during my short stay."
You just know it broke my heart to snap this photo after he was loaded in his crate in the back of Zach's pickup truck to head back to his home.

Something good usually comes of most experiences, and the good of this one is that we were introduced to an amazing breed of country dog. When we're at Le Rustique full-time, a Walker Coonhound might be just the kind of dog we want as a companion in the woods. If you don't hunt them, they're not as likely to run off and get lost, but you have to have a means to exercise them. The way Willie would wander off from Big Daddy while he was taking down old barbed wire fence, then come right back to make sure he wasn't going to be left behind is a good sign. Even after he treed some critter and started his trademark howl while jumping and biting at the tree, he came right back to Big Daddy when called off. All's well that ends well, I'm thinking.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Sound of a Hound...

This morning our neighbor let her dogs out before light, and apparently they both headed into our woods. They have their own woods, but they like the facilities better in ours. After a while, as I was looking out the window at all the standing water in the low spots of the yard, I heard a loud (and I do mean loud) bark that trailed off to an even louder howl. Since neither of the neighbor's dogs is a hound, I figured one must be hurt pretty badly. But then I saw her protector dog in our side yard between the house and the barn, and she was looking like she was ready to charge at something in our back yard. And then the howling started again.

I hurried out to the deck and discovered the source of the howls. There was a fully intact male hound pacing back and forth on the sidewalk that runs alongside the house. He was soaking wet, shivering and trying to stay out of the rain under our deep overhang. His tail started wagging as soon as he spotted me, and he had that look on his face that said, "Finally! Couldn't you hear me howling at your sliding door?"

Big Daddy went outside to see if his expensive suede collar had a tag on it - no luck. But the dog followed him right into the garage and let BD dry him off with a towel. He smelled like he had been sprayed by a skunk, but probably not last night. You couldn't smell it from any distance - thankfully. I couldn't get him to hold still long enough to get a good picture of him, as he was way more interested in the wood that was being split than in posing for me.
Not such a good shot of the stray hound. He was in continual motion,
and my camera battery needed a charge.

Once the hound was dried off, his tail never stopped wagging. He ate some of our dog food like he hadn't had a meal in a while, he appreciated the meat scraps Big Daddy hand-fed him, and he drank a fair amount of water.  Once those needs were met, he was more than ready to lie down on the old comforter I dragged out for him. Right after this shot was snapped, he went to sleep for a few hours. Obviously he had been a busy boy last night.
Stray hound looking not nearly as happy and energetic as when we first  let him into the garage.
He didn't mind the messy digs (hey, this is Big Daddy's space, and I don't interfere),
and he slept soundly right there.

A poll of the closest neighbors that I know how to reach proved fruitless. Our small town doesn't have its own Humane Society or no-kill shelter, so I'll have to wait until tomorrow to have the local vet check to see if he's got a chip. Why do the strays always drop in on us on rainy Sundays?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Walk In The Woods: Color...

Even though our winter has been incredibly mild, things are gray, brown and browner. In search of any other color, Big Daddy and I headed down Forest Avenue for a walk in the woods.
No, we didn't steal the street sign. Big Daddy grew  up on this street, and when his hometown updated the street signs, GmaGlo got one to give to her #1Son. We had the perfect spot for it - the head of the path leading into our woods.
Colors were hard to come by, but we managed to find a few.

Black
Not the finest photo, but this old dug out log that had fallen across the
intermittent creek was a dramatic change from brown.
White
This poor old Missouri Box Turtle became someone's supper, but at least the diner
left it pretty much intact for Mother Nature to bleach it out.
Green
WooHoo! Two shades of green - and no, the lighter moss is definitely not gray.
Red
Okay, so you have to look very closely to see the little tiny red buds on this invasive floribunda.
I'm pretty chagrined that this stuff is already starting to come back to life. It's a big pain in the rear
to get tangled up in it while walking through the woods.
Butterscotch
I thought this rock was beautiful, though not really very colorful. It's a stretch to call it butterscotch, but it reminds me of brittle. Big Daddy says its a leverite.
You know, as in "leave 'er right there!" 
Purple - or maybe Mardi Gras Green-Gold-Purple
As we circled back to the house, we walked through the food plot to see if we could spot any deer or
turkey tracks. There were some, but the big surprise is that there were baby turnips heaving out of the
ground. By this time of year, these would normally have been frozen and beginning to rot.
Instead, we'll have a little snack later, and the house will smell of glorious garlic.
If this weather holds out much longer, there will be a lot more color in the woods soon. But then, when the inevitable storm comes along, things will get nipped and may not recover this season. Only time will tell. I hope your winter, no matter how weird, is colorful.

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