Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ghost Cat

Last year for Halloween I wrote about a strange occurrence in an old cabin down in Rafter, Tennessee. This year I think I'll tell you about something that happened to me in Poquoson, Virginia, sometime around 1986 or 1987.

We once had a short-haired ginger tom cat ingeniously named Tom. Tom was the sweetest, most loving cat I've ever encountered. Dad brought Tom home from the junkyard as a kitten when I was just a baby and he was our beloved cat for about 17 years. Towards the end of Tom's long life, he had lost some of his hearing and vision and tended to snooze most of the day. He would move stiffly when he got up, a result of arthritis in his joints, I'm sure.

I honestly can't remember what time of the year this took place, but one Saturday night my boyfriend and I watched a movie on the sofa in the den of my parents' house. I would have been about 15 or 16. My parents had gone to bed already and I shooed my boyfriend out the door after the movie ended, maybe around 11:30 pm. I remember shutting the front door behind him, turning off the lights in the foyer and den before walking around the corner into the kitchen to make sure the door to the back porch was shut.

As I came around the corner into the kitchen I flipped on the kitchen light and was startled to see a cat eating food from Tom's bowl beside the pantry door. I wasn't expecting to find Tom there and I hadn't even known he was downstairs at the time.

The food bowl was maybe 7 or 8 feet away from where I stood. The cat looked up at me and then rushed past me towards the foyer. I remember thinking that Tom's fur had looked very white and much longer than it usually did. I shrugged the oddity off, checked the back porch door, turned off the kitchen light, and then went back around the corner to the foyer and up the stairs to my bedroom. This took maybe 1-2 minutes and certainly no longer than that.

Tom was sitting at the top of the stairs with his front feet tucked underneath him. In fact, he looked like he'd been there for a while, which made me rethink about that cat I saw downstairs in the kitchen. That cat had definitely looked like it had white fur with none of Tom's dark orange striping, the fur had looked longer than Tom's, and it had moved much more quickly than I had seen Tom move in quite some time. And Tom sitting in front of me was calm and didn't look like an elderly cat that had just run up the stairs after being frightened only a few minutes earlier.

However, the idea of there being another cat in the house didn't seem very likely so I chalked all this up to being tired. I scratched Tom behind the ears and went to bed. I'm sure I told my mom about all of it the next day. She may have suggested that I had seen a neighbors' cat that sometimes stole inside to eat Tom's food as we would leave the screen door on the porch cracked open so Tom could come and go as he needed to use the bathroom outside. But I had locked up the house that night so any cat trapped inside would have been discovered the next day, and there wasn't any sign of a trapped cat in the house. And we didn't know anyone with a white cat with long hair.

At some point we learned from the neighbors that the previous owners of our house had owned a Persian with fluffy white hair. Some time later Dad was up in the attic to do something or other and he mentioned seeing cat footprints in the dust up there.

Even now it's hard to tell this story without getting a goosebump or two.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ally the Herpetologist

Ally seems to have a fondness for snakes. Her car seat has a long strap that's used to tighten the harness and she's been calling this strap Willy for almost a year now. Willy is apparently her pretend pet snake. Sometimes Willy is a boy snake and sometimes she's a girl snake. Even though the strap is black, Ally tells me Willy is pink. Willy seems to have some mobility problems as Ally tells me she holds Willy so he won't fall down, even though "he just lies on the ground and wiggles." Willy also comes up to people to lick the peanut butter off of them. I'm not sure how these people get peanut butter all over them, but Willy is there to rescue them when they need it.

We also have a giant pink hedgehog with red eyes that sometimes lives in the woods. I'm not sure how it fits in with the rest of the menagerie that lives around our house, but Ally insists, "I show you!" if I ask her about it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

There are a number of things in my life that seemed like a good idea at the time, but later reflection suggests that I occasionally exhibit a serious lack of good judgement. Examples of this include using hydrogen peroxide to bleach my hair. Poking at that long, darting snaky thing in the tide pools on St. Thomas. Trying to drive a Saturn through sand at the Outer Banks. Using a stick blender to mix up cake batter in a too small bowl. Grad school. You get the idea.

But when I saw the advertisement on a gardening website for a "pumpkin animal" that vaguely resembled a dachshund, I couldn't resist. The description for this decoration was worded along these lines, "Turn a pumpkin or gourd into a whimsical animal without carving or mess. Iron silhouette pieces include head, legs, and tail. Just push pieces into a pumpkin or overgrown zucchini." I'm a sucker for dachshunds and pumpkin art, plus the kit was on clearance, so now I own this pumpkin animal set:


Just as advertised, here is an iron head, two sets of legs, and a tail to insert into my pumpkin:


In case I'm confused where everything should go, here is a helpful set of instructions:


I decided that a butternut squash would provide an appropriate dachshund body, so I picked up one from the pumpkin festival this weekend:


Unfortunately, the description on the gardener's website didn't mention that you'll need a rubber mallet to insert those iron suckers into a butternut squash. Maybe an actual pumpkin or overgrown zucchini would be easier to use, but butternut squash have a fairly dense texture somewhat resistant to iron silhouette pieces. Inserting the legs and head took some time as one piece would fall out just as I got another one embedded in the squash. And maybe you haven't noticed, but butternut squash have a weird shape. I had to tuck the "head" under my arm and hold a rear leg on the "butt" end with my left hand while using the mallet in my right hand, thereby ensuring that 1) I'd get a bruise on my left hip and 2) the head would fall out behind me during this process. Then I'd reverse the squash and tap in the head, only to hear a leg fall out. Pound, pound, POUND, metallic *CLUNK*. Pound, pound, POUND, *CLUNK*. After several minutes of this, Steve called up from the basement to ask if he should be concerned. Still optimistic, I told him everything was okay despite the noise.

There was also no mention on how you should space those legs on your pumpkin animal. When I finally got all four legs tapped into the squash, I realized that my pumpkin dog was going to look a little odd as its legs are splayed out to the side. Plus, one of the rear legs doesn't touch the ground, so either it has hip dysplasia or it's a boy dog in the process of cocking his hind leg.


But I was almost done except for inserting the tail piece, so I decided to ignore the legs. But I had forgotten to remove the squash stem before starting the whole assembly process. There's no squash stem on the picture of the pumpkin animal on the package, but my butternut definitely has a "tail" on it. Thankfully the stem is more anatomically correct for a dachshund than the curly iron tail silhouette that came with the package, although it's a little short as if it's been docked. And the stem tail points directly down at the ground; perhaps my male pumpkin dog is ashamed to be caught in the act of cocking its leg.



So there you have it, a lopsided male butternut dachshund with hip problems marking his territory. Alternatively you could consider it a curcubit hellhound for Halloween, although I don't think this one can be considered an ominous harbinger of doom as Ally dissolved into giggles as soon as she saw it on the table last night.


And I noticed that the gardener's website is no longer carrying this product this year.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Plum Creek, October 2010

One of the things that attracted us to our new house is the view off the back deck. Our house is situated on the top of a hill with wide views of the Plum Creek valley (just a hollow, really, or make that a holler if you're from around here) behind us.

The trees have been gorgeous this fall. There are beeches, oaks, pines, yellow buckeyes, sumacs, and a few maples spread over the hills. Golds, russets, dark greens, yellows, and a smattering of reds. Alas, we're to get some gusty winds today and tomorrow, so much of this color will be stripped from the trees by the weekend. Beauty never lasts forever.








Monday, October 18, 2010

The Witches' Garden

One of the things I like the most about the Halloween season is how the perfectly ordinary can seem just a little bit spooky and fantastical if you let yourself see it in a different light. Over the past couple of weeks I've been taking pictures of some late season pictures in the garden and the woods. These are plants at the end of their cycles, either slowly dying down or finally producing their fruits. There isn't anything particularly spooky about any of them, but together they belong in the witches' garden.


The toxic leaves...


The mysterious mushrooms...


The spooky dead tree with who knows what inside those holes....


The blackened heart...


The poisonous berries....


The bloodshot eyes on stalks...


The weird, dark foliage...


The candy-colored berries guaranteed to give you a stomach ache...


And the very dark and dead flowers.


You'll have to use your imagination to hear the wind rustle the dead leaves and the crows calling in the trees, and to smell the wet leaves and wood smoke.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Purple Fairy Rides Forth

This, um, striking tableau was composed by Ally, our three year old, before she left for daycare one morning this week. You see here Purple Fairy, who no longer has her purple butterfly wings due to an unfortunate accident last month. Purple Fairy is wearing a bracelet around her hips in a Warrior Goddess fashion and she is riding Thomas, the Scotty Dog. Apparently Purple Fairy uses a strand of pearls to rein Thomas. Beside them is their faithful companion, Jack O'Lantern, who won't light up right now because Ally left him on too long and ran down his batteries. Overall the arrangement gives me the impression of something along the lines of a Boris Vallejo painting, only one more suitable for the toddler set. (I briefly thought of googling "Boris Vallejo bear woman" to see if I could actually find an image of one of his paintings with a woman riding a bear, but 1) he may not have painted such an image and 2) I'm not sure I really want to explain his artwork to my parents when they saw it.)

Barbie, Warrior Queen

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Spooky Wordless Wednesday, Oct 13, 2010


I know this may be a disturbing image for some, but 1) this is exactly how I found the head of this female ruby-throated humming bird, 2) I don't know how it had been beheaded, and 3) it's just too striking and macabre to not post it for the Halloween season.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

September Morning

With all the craziness of trying to get ready for the Floyd Co. Arts and Crafts show the first weekend of October, I missed writing about my last quilt, which I finished right before the craft show.

Originally the top of this quilt was intended to be a pieced backing for "Driftwood Cove." When I got the backing done I realized that it really wanted to be a quilt top all of its own, so I set it aside for a second project. By the end of summer I had cut a flannel sheet to use as batting and found a good quality tan bed sheet to use as the backing for this quilt, but other projects yelled louder and this one was left undone. Then suddenly it was the end of September and I hadn't finished it even though I was intending on taking it to the craft show. I set aside a couple of days to finish it up, which I did the Tuesday before the show. It was morning, and still September, so this one's named "September Morning."


The colors in this quilt are much the same as "Driftwood Cove," but I used more of the silvery-grayish-tan material (upcycled material from a duvet cover by Martha Stewart) as sashing between my rows of charm squares. The perpendicular rows of squares give this quilt a little more of a modern feel.


The backing is a 100% cotton bed sheet with a square tile pattern woven into the fabric. I like how it paired with the material on the quilt top in terms of color and pattern. However, I had trouble quilting this piece and I suspect it was because of the "slicker" fabric of the bed sheet. Even though I had thoroughly pinned the piece before quilting to limit the tiny pleats that occur when the fabric shifts and bunches, I still had trouble and needed to pull out some stitches and re-stitch some areas. The backing still looks a little rough in a couple of places. I'll have to keep this in mind the next time I use a similar type of sheet as backing material. Maybe it won't be as problematic if I'm quilting a smaller piece.

Initially I thought I would quilt this piece by stitching parallel rows along side the columns of squares, but I didn't want to stitch across those three shorter columns. I figured that would only accentuate the fact that my columns were not spaced evenly and I didn't want to quilt between some of the squares but through the middle of the othersa. In the end I stitched in the ditch along each of the columns of squares and then in between the long horizontal columns as well. Between the shorter columns I quilted a cross-hatch pattern to create some large diamond shapes for more interest. To finish the quilt I bound it using a tan floral fabric and then attached a quilt label. My Sharpie pen didn't write smoothly on the material I used for the label, so I need to practice making labels a little more, but I'm pleased that my pieces are now "signed."


I must admit that while I like this quilt, it's not really a favorite of mine. Maybe I had gotten tired of the neutral colors by the time I finished this one up. Maybe it's residual annoyance at the pleating that occurred on the back while I quilted it. I dunno. I'll certainly try the "parallel rows with cross hatching in another area" quilting again...I definitely like that aspect of "September Morning" and may use it on my next piece.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oscar's Big Morning

This is Oscar. For the most part, Oscar is a very mellow and laid back dog...unless there's a critter around that does not have her approval. (Yes, Oscar is a girl doggie. You can read about how she got her name here.) When she was a puppy, Oscar kept my mom up most of one night while desperately trying to get to a cricket under the TV armoire. Lots of whining, scratching, pacing, and barking. Not much will distract her when she's on the trail of something.


The other morning Oscar took a keen interest in the stonework around the fireplace on the main floor of our house. Then she started barking and trying to get at something behind the stonework.


Maybe it's just another stinkbug.


Or a wolf spider.


Oh dear, not a good sign at all.


No, this isn't looking like she's after a stinkbug or a wolf spider. This is looking more along the lines of something in the rodent category.


Her tail is practically vibrating.


Yep, she's absolutely convinced there's something in there. Incidentally, dachshunds are hounds and this is about the closest Oscar's ever going to get to actually treeing something so I shouldn't make too much fun of her here.


Closer inspection revealed that something along the lines of a house mouse or a deer mouse had visited our fireplace, probably very recently given Oscar's behavior. Our fireplace is essentially a box covered with faux stonework and there's a void behind the electrical outlet and between the box and the log wall. Plenty of room for a mouse (but hopefully not mice). The weather has been dropping into the 40s at night and I'm sure there are lots of critters looking for a warm place to spend the winter. We'll be setting a trap or two to discourage this behavior, followed by a long bout of caulking and filling up any voids we find with insulating foam. Mice can squeeze through holes about the size of a dime, so needless to say, we may be making a couple of trips to Lowe's this weekend.

Random Crafts

Here are a few items that I've done in the past year, but haven't written about them yet.

This is a vintage crocheted wool rug done in alternating squares of cream and light taupe. I reinforced some of the corners where the squares had begun to separate, then upcycled it by appliqueing a red wool felt heart sewn with random buttons in one corner of the rug. I think this would make a beautiful tree skirt for a skinny, alpine Christmas tree, or maybe just a nice warm winter mat for a kitty.


Sometimes I find wool sweaters that have hoods on them. After I felt up the sweater, I cut the hood off at the seam where it joins the neckline of the sweater. I add ties to the hood so it can be worn again, along with some applique or embroidery to dress it up. While I can wear these myself, I think the size would be more comfortable for an older girl or a young teenager.

I made the pompom for this blue hood from strips of felted wool. The light blue ties are from another sweater, and I think the flower shapes were cut from two different scarves. The blue wool felted up nicely and is still very soft and supple.


For this orange hood I added a chocolate brown silk ribbon and embroidered stars all over the hood in brown and silver gray. This orange wool felted into a very thick, substantial fabric.


And this is just a giant acorn I created on a whim. The bottom is a wool hat turned upside down and covered with a big circle of wool tweed to make the cap. I created the stem from a strip of felted wool rolled up and stitched into a cylinder. The acorn is stuffed with bits of wool scraps leftover from other projects. I like using up all of my material to the best I can.


Somewhere out there is a three foot tall squirrel looking for this acorn.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Sixth Anniversary

I'm pretty sure the traditional gift for the sixth wedding anniversary is a box of donuts.