Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Floyd County, Va.

We bought a house in Floyd County Virginia at auction a few weeks ago and are finishing up all the paperwork to finance the place and get the keys! Closing is Friday, and I am so excited! It is 18 acres of mountain heaven, with a log house, barn, workshop, stream, and lots of gorgeous trees! The driveway is almost 1/4 mile. I have always wanted a long, winding, scenic driveway, and now it appears that I will have it.

I am so pleased about the 18 acres. I want to be able to roam without running into houses, fences, or other human-made impediments. I cannot wait to get up there and hike around!

The house is very interesting, with big logs, hardwood floors, and lots of character. It needs some paint, some trim, and a little hard work, and it will be a wonderful retreat!

Floyd is a wonderful county full of farmers, artists and musicians. There are jamborees every Friday at the Country Store, lots of galleries and events (including FloydFest, a yearly music festival that brings thousands of visitors to the area) to keep me busy. The region is beautiful, with the Blue Ridge Mountains running right through it. So there is plenty to do and see!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Fall is Fabulous

Fall is almost over, and I have not had the time to totally enjoy it yet again. The trees put on their best clothes just before they get naked for the winter, and my allergies quiet down to give me a short respite from the more unattractive symptoms that come with my immune system's affliction, so I have no good excuse not to get outside and take it all in.

Oscar has dug dozens of holes in the yard so that I may have a wide variety of trees to provide shade, oxygen, neighbor & road blockage, windbreaks and beautiful foliage. I have tried to make sure we have trees that have good looks in the summer and fall. I love evergreens for their year-round green (which is very good if you are one of those folks who gets sad in the winter months. A little green goes a long way then), but getting a good mix of color for fall can be a challenge that provides enormous reward.
I love the maple trees because they can provide such bright colors, and they have the best yellows and reds in the yard. Their colors seem to last the longest, too. The tall Poplars provide big yellow leaves, the oaks a nice brown, rust or even wine, sassafras gives a great orange, the junipers have green branches with blue-gray berries, and the holly keep their green, shiny leaves to give the bright deciduous trees' color some contrast. I love a very mixed color palette...

Claris like the fall, too. I hide her Kong toys in the yard and we have a good time shnuffling through the leaves and finding them. I do have to remember to collect them all before Oscar runs the mulching mower over the fallen leaves to clean the yard up, or else it gives him quite a startle. Running over a Kong toy with the lawn mower makes a real loud noise, a big thump, and is good neither for Kong nor mower. Those Kongs are extremely tough and survive the experience, but the mower blades get more bent up every time...

Morty the cat seems to have mixed feelings about the fall. The fallen leaves provide him less cover, but the field mice are trying to get into the house and garage more, so his hunting improves exponentially. It becomes "Wild Kingdom" in our home, and he is the star predator. Living in a rural area surrounded by fields and farms makes the appearance of the mice inevitable, and Morty makes sure we are not troubled by them too much...
Thankfully he is not as interested in the birds as some cats I know. It might be that he is a bit lazy, and catching the mice is easier for him and involves less climbing. He reserves climbing for escaping the dogs when he is tired of them trying to chase and bother him.

So again I am attempting to enjoy the fall before the winter starts. I am not one of those strange people who enjoys the winter. I might like it more if it were not for the fact that I live near Richmond. Here we might get an ice storm or two, some cold and blustery days, but snowfall is rare and does not seem to accumulate into those beautiful clean white drifts that appear on Christmas cards and ads for ski vacations. Richmonders cannot drive in any precipitation, and snow brings them into fits of apoplexy. They become obsessed with going to Ukrops to buy up massive food supplies and huddle by the space heater until the white terror has passed... So I am going outside to take in some of the color, get a little sun and play with the hairy beasts I live with. You should get out there, too!

All the pretty things...

I love playing around with my digital camera. I am in no way saying I have any real talent, or even a basic knowledge of the camera. I just enjoy looking at things and taking pictures. It is almost like meditation for me. I look around for something that I think is interesting to look at, study it closely, and try to capture it as I see it.

I have no ability for gardening either, and like my little patch of earth to come out as it wants to. I seem to be lucky that it wants to have flowers, and they seem to come up every year, so I have lots of things to catch my eye and photograph. The meadow I let grow wild in the back produces all sorts of wild flowers, the vines and wild roses that grow on the fence give me a myriad of different blooms, and the bushes in the back have great quantities of white and yellow beauties!

Every year new things appear, probably coming in on the wind or on animals that tromp or fly through. It is exciting to hunt down the new things and capture them as a record of the changes that happen in the yard. I also think I benefit from what the neighbors plant, as many of their more manicured flower beds and plants propagate my yard with their offspring!

It amazes me that there is so much diversity in one small area (if you let it happen). One day I should try and count what is here, but I am sure I would under-count the number of different kinds of plants as I have zero knowledge of botany. I am just an audience to this show, and try my best to be as observant as possible and enjoy what is displayed.

I think leaving some things to go wild can really help out the local ecosystem as well. There are so many creatures that take advantage of the plants that grow, and I am sure that the plants use the wildlife for their own welfare, too. I love the balance and synergy that I am so lucky to be a witness too. It makes all the stress just drain away when you are in the middle of this...
Even the most "humble" of the flora can amaze you if you look closely. There is as much beauty in a dandelion as there is in the most cultivated of roses if you care to see it. And the dandelion has an admirable tenacity, too...

The cat

We have a cat, and his name is Morty. I think he thinks we are calling him "Muerte" (which means "Death"). He is quite the hunter, but has little respect for scale, and considers Oscar (the human male in this domicile) to be in the prey category. Oscar is not a cat person, and tolerates Morty due to the fact that Morty is an excellent mouser and has done a pretty good job of keeping the house free of pests.
Morty gets along well with the dogs, but occasionally gets chased around the yard by Claris. He feigns fear and jumps up into a tree or on the fence to tease her until he gets bored and then struts away.
Morty enjoys eating the dogs' food more than his, and follows me around the house just like they do. His favorite place to nap is on Oscar's clothes in the closet, which leaves copious quantities of cat hair all over the shirts and sweaters (Oscar just LOVES that...). He also likes to roost above the cabinets in the kitchen or on the fridge for optimum hunting views (and an occasional paw-smack to your head if you pass by and do not notice him). He is a bit of a rogue...
I do not have a whole lot of experience with cats, but people tell me his behavior is pretty normal. I am not so sure of this, though. He likes to wait until Oscar has fallen asleep and runs onto the bed and starts gnawing on the back of Oscar's legs (which are under the covers-thankfully, bare skin seems to be off-limits) until he is tired of it, or until Oscar pushes him off. Morty never does this to me... I guess because I am the "feeder", which makes me indispensable to him. He seems to have his priorities well set.

The only trouble he gives me is when I have to take him to the Vet. I have completely given up trying to get him into a cat-carrier (I ended up donating it to a local rescue organization as it was impossible to get him in it, and even taking it out of the garage caused him to disappear for hours). I think his hatred of the carrier stems from a bad experience in his past. The Richmond SPCA says he was left in a small carrier in their front lobby by his previous caretakers (who creeped in and left him there without ever notifying anyone or doing the proper intake paperwork), and they did not notice that he was there for some time; that must have been quite traumatic for him. So, on the advice of my wonderful Animal Hospital, I now get two laundry baskets that I twist-tie together, and with some patience and a pair of welding gloves, I get him in for his shots.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wowie Cake

Ahhh, cake. I love cake. I love the celebrating that comes with cake. I love baking cakes, eating cakes, and checking out the cake recipes and designs other people make...

Lately I have been been moved to go back to "scratch recipes" because of recent bad experiences with the mixes in the little boxes. They just do not taste like what I remember, and have a strange, unpleasant aftertaste that makes them very unappealing!

My mom has this weird, awesome recipe for a cake she calls "Wowie Cake". It tastes like Devil's Food, is vegan, is great for kids with milk allergies, and has ingredients that will stump even the most experienced foodie if you ask them what the "secret ingredient" is. It really tastes wonderful, is moist and rich, and takes no time at all to make. If you replace the oil with applesauce, it is even low-fat. It is a culinary wonder and a family tradition, so I just have to share it with everyone!

My mom likes to frost it with regular white frosting when it cools, and drizzle melted dark chocolate over the cooled icing for even more rich taste. Enjoy!

Wowie Cake

Mix all ingredients together and pour into cake pan

1 cup sugar
1 & 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 TABLESPOON apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil (can be replaced with apple sauce, but cake will be heavier)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cold water

Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 35 minutes

Claris: Miss-behavin'

The youngest canine in this pack is Claris, named after the first software company I ever bought software from (TOLD you I was a nerd). She is almost three, and a little devil incarnate. She started her ride on the naughty road by chewing the drywall to protest us leaving her at home while we went to work. Her favorite snack is my hair scrunchies. She goes by the two main dog tenants: Everything good goes in the mouth, and it is all about the stink. She thinks she is the alpha dog in this house and tries to push us all around to get her way, and her way usually involves a taking up a large section of the couch or bed, a stolen snack from the pantry when my back is turned, hiding at least three pairs of my socks in the yard, and hoarding things by the window in the upstairs bedroom (usually things that really belong outside for very good reasons).

Grommit: Basically, a Twinkie with legs sticking out

The next dog in the age lineup in our house is Grommit, who is 8 years old and morbidly obese. He really does look like a Twinkie with legs, and I suspect he is cream-filled as well. He has three loves which are, in order: food, me, food. He is on a perpetual diet, refuses to exercise, and finds food whenever and wherever he can. He ate all my blueberries off the bush in the front yard, he eats the apples and pears that fall off the trees, steals the other dogs' food, and consumes things that I fail to consider edible. He is also a big love-bug that needs tons of attention and is a professional at snuggling.

My first Blog... better late than never...

This is it, my very first Blog. I know I should have done this ages ago, but every excuse under the sun has kept me from putting fingers to keys. This is embarrassing when you consider yourself to be a nerd; someone who should have a large net-presence, but who is so busy fixing other people's computers and issues that her own are put on the proverbial back-burner... I suspect if you are reading this you know exactly what I mean!

Where do you start when you can write about anything you wish? I think I will start with my dogs, who are pretty much the topic of any conversation I begin...

I currently am owned by three labs; one black and two yellow. All three are terribly spoiled and have odd behaviors which I know are somehow my fault...

The black one is an ancient male, who is about 15 years old and truly showing his age. I call him "Timex" as he keeps having new problems, but just keeps hobbling along. He is also bad-tempered and is known to bite unprovoked (I am sure he has his reasons, but they are a mystery to me and his intended victims). Luckily, since he has gotten a bit blind and slow his aim and speed are greatly diminished and he rarely makes contact anymore. It still gives people pause, though, which I am sure pleases him. He still manages to patrol his acre of fenced-in yard, which he does several times a day, but it is at a much slower pace that includes a few tumbles and a short nap on the way around. His mortal enemies are bees, spiders, all manner of delivery people, and pretty much anything or anyone whom he decides might be a threat to his domicile or dominance. He loves us and nachos; all else is just dross to him. The vet keeps telling us that we should be prepared for him to pass away, but he holds on with a heart murmur, near-deaf-and-blindness, hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy (that is causing him to lose control of his feet). He seems happy enough, even when he topples over, so we just "keep on keeping on" until he gives us any sign that he has had enough and his time has come... Here is a picture of him, checking out an enemy combatant, AKA a spider...

I will write about the other two beasties in the next entry, as it is time to make some dinner, check my email, and take a look at the loan documents for the house we are about to purchase in Floyd County, Virginia (which deserves its own entries to be made soon...). Later...