Brought to you live, from our woodland cabin home...

Saturday, January 31, 2015

How Heidi came to Nimblecat

We had been living here for a couple of years, my animals and I.  There was proper hardwood flooring in the living room and a quaint set of stairs to the loft.  The fall had turned cold earlier that year.  It was toward the end of October and I was already in the habit of bringing the dogs in to sleep inside.

 One cold Friday night, as I was getting ready for bed, I heard an eerie, mournful whine.  At first I thought it was an animal outside.  Then it seemed so near that I thought it was one of the cats.  I brought the dogs in--the moan continued.  The cats crawled onto my bed--the moan continued.  It seemed to be coming from under the house.  I stomped on the floor several times to try to make it stop.  (That's how I made the flying squirrels stop chewing when I heard them in the attic.)  That mournful whine didn't seem to care.

Oddly, Kajsa and Jasper weren't perturbed.  Over the past couple of years Kajsa had become fiercely protective of her territory.  She rounded up snakes and held them at bay until I could determine whether they were poisonous, and, if so, shoot them.  She ousted the armadillo that were invading from the west.  She howled at the coyotes and had been known to take off after them to protect her boundaries in person.  She had even been known to jump into a pond after a feisty coon--and win. (Here, for example, for those of you who don't know about dogs and coons.)  But this strange moaning and whining under the house?  Unconcerned.

I tried to ignore it and go to bed, but that eerie moan worried me.   Finally I got up and let the dogs out.  They sat there waiting for me to come play.  I pulled back the underpinning and sent Kajsa under the house to check out the sound.  She went willingly, but was perfectly silent.  She was gone a long time, and I heard nothing.  I feared the aliens had gotten her, but she came immediately when I called, her tail wagging cheerfully.

At that point it was near midnight.  The Sound was disturbing, but I decided that if it was small enough to fit through the underpinning, then it was too small to hurt me as long as I stayed inside.  I expected it to have moved on by morning.

The next morning was bright and chilly. And the Sound was still there.  I called my uncle to help me investigate.

He held a flashlight while I inched along on my belly in the dirt, ducking under water pipes, way back under the house where he wouldn't fit..  There, beside a cement block footing, was a tiny, brown--something.  As I inched closer it moved its head.

A puppy.

Skin and bones with a head too heavy to hold up.  A skeleton covered in velvet fur.

I offered it a bit of chopped hot dog I'd brought with me, but it was to weak to do anything more than lick it.  I wrapped a towel around it and carefully brought it from the little dirt nest.

It was a female, older than it looked at first.  Some kind of smallish dog in the gangley puppy stage. She kept her legs folded under her and couldn't seem to stand.  My heart sank; I was pretty sure she wouldn't live.  I offered her some warm milk with egg and she lapped it up.  I gave her a warm bath to remove the fleas--she was crawling with them--and made her a bed by the fire.

She slept there all day, eating chopped hotdogs, milk, and water whenever she woke.  In the afternoon she stood on wobbly legs and tried exploring a little.  She made a puddle on my floor, and after that I took her outside every few hours.  I gave her a second flea bath.  Cleaned her ears, clipped her claws, and pulled fleas off her as she slept.

By the next day she was following me around the house and crawling onto my lap to sleep.  I named her Heidi because she was hiding under the house, and because she had an adorable way of climbing onto my feet and attempting to hide under my long housecoat.

She is still with us today.  She has her quirks--still a bit skittish, doesn't like surprises, doesn't trust strangers or any men at all.  While Kajsa and Jasper loved to play with sticks--throwing and chasing and tug-of-war--Heidi darted away if you raised your hand to throw one.  She still eats like there won't be enough food, and is a homebody through and through.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sweet Muffins

Several mornings a week I make muffins for our breakfast.  They somehow soften the transition from sleep to waking.  It's an easy breakfast for Tyne to feed himself, and, while not the pinnacle of healthy eating, they're no worse than cold cereal. I use the recipe that my mom always used, which is the one her mom always used.  I don't know where it originated.

The best part (besides the taste) is the simple versatility.  For Tyne and me, I usually add fruit--blueberries, bananas, peaches, or anything else that seems good.  When my husband is home for breakfast, I put chocolate chips in them.

Basic Sweet Muffins
2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1Tb. baking powder
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. butter, softened
1 egg
1 c. buttermilk
1 c. fruit or chocolate chips
Mix dry ingredients.  Cut in butter.  Mix wet ingredients (egg, milk).  Add wet ingredients to dry & stir to moisten. Fold in fruit or other additions.  Spoon into greased muffin pan.  Bake at 400 for 18-20 minutes or until done.

Other ways to adapt the recipe:  
* substitute oil instead of butter & mix it in with the egg and milk.
* omit butter/oil entirely (still tasty, but will dry out more quickly if not eaten right away)
* use sweetmilk (regular milk) instead of buttermilk & omit the soda
* add a second egg if you like it somewhat richer
* decrease sugar and/or substitute whole wheat flour for half of regular flour

When my kitchen is running smoothly, I keep several jars of the dry ingredients already mixed for those mornings when I'm too clumsy to use measuring spoons.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Meanwhile, back in the present

Fall comes slowly to the Alabama woods.  Up north, the leaves seemed to change overnight, then fall off a week later.  Around here, autumn meanders in while Jasper watches down the driveway.

Our forest is only just now beginning to show color.  My brave little hydrangea is testing her fall blooms.  There are still two small tomatoes and one green pepper hanging on the vine; I'm hoping they'll ripen before the frost gets them.

Tyne and I play outside every day. He collects sticks and acorns and hickory nuts like he's on a mission. He loves the outdoors and makes detailed investigations of all he finds.  His is very busy, and his work is very serious.

  Some days he demands a ride in the wagon.  Other days he fills the bottom with collected treasures and stumbles through the leaves, straining to pull it behind him.

When I moved up here nearly a decade ago, I never dreamed my life would turn into this.  Hoped and prayed that I might have a family some day, but it seemed impossible that it could come to me here, on this hill, in the woods that I love.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Moving In

I had been here for nearly three years when I finally moved into my little cabin on the hill.  Planning, saving money, making progress--it all took time.  We all had regular everyday jobs, and only occasional weekends to put toward cabin-making.

I was working at a small NGO which focused on humanitarian efforts abroad.  It was what had brought me here in the first place.  Many of the staff were volunteers, and the rest of us were paid a small stipend.  I worked with some of the most interesting and caring people I've ever met.  It's difficult, however, to build a house on an income about half of minimum wage.

Meantime, I was living in my aunt's basement.  Which was wonderfully kind and generous of her, but--centipedes.  And camel back crickets.  And mold growing on my clean clothes hanging in the closet.  And--oh, for a place of my own!

Friends helped me insulate, hang sheetrock, mud, sand, and paint.  I couldn't afford proper flooring, so I painted the plywood decking and covered the living area with used carpet squares.  My kitchen cabinets came from an old house being remodeled.  When we cut them to fit, we discovered they were solid heart pine.  Fridge, stove, washer, and dryer all came second (or third, or fourth) hand from various people remodeling or upgrading.  Found an old armchair in the basement of a building where I worked; they considered it rubbish and let me have it.  The upholstery was shot, but it had good bones and was wonderfully soft.

Before I came, I had wandered some.  (All that searching for love, career, adventure, & romance.)  Lived in Russia, then Kentucky, then Israel, then Texas.  Along the way I acquired a sweet little grey kitten.  I know now that she was a nebelung.  At the time, I only knew she was the prettiest, smartest, dearest little thing I'd ever seen.  She kept me company in my wandering.  I would stroke her and promise that we'd find a place to put down roots, a place where she could be clean and warm and comfortable.  That she wouldn't have to keep changing homes forever.

My sweet Sihn cat.

In my cabin, I left the original ceiling joists exposed.  I made a loft over part of them, but the other part was kept open.  My little grey cat danced across them as though they were solid flooring.  In a fit of happiness and whimsy, I named the place Nimblecat, after her.

I also had two dogs, Kajsa (kysa) and Jasper.  Kajsa was a German Shepherd, acquired from a cousin's sister's neighbor.  I adopted her the first year I was in the basement.  When she was three, she had a litter of half-chow puppies; Jasper was from that litter.  Kajsa was everything you dream of in a dog.  The kind books are written about.  Brilliant, funny, loyal, curious, focused, intrepid, fearless.  Jasper was a fierce-looking teddy bear.

With my puppy, Kajsa.

Always ready for adventure.

With Jasper--always ready for a hug.
 After the main structure was finished, I kept thinking the cabin would be done in a few more weeks. That stretched out into months.  At last I decided that three years was enough and I'd rather live in an unfinished cabin than none at all.  Sihn, Kajsa, Jasper, and I moved into Nimblecat on March 12, 2005.

I'll tell you now: it's still not finished.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Start Here

I went to the woods because I wanted to live quietly.

I was twenty-eight and very weary.  I had tried to find love, and failed.  I had tried to find a career, and got stuck.  I had tried to find adventure and romance, and got bored.  I had tried to save the world, and developed an ulcer.  I had tried to do all the things I thought I ought, but I only succeeded in exhausting myself.

The woods seemed safe.  So peaceful.  So soft and gentle and welcoming and undemanding.  I watched the sun set over the treetops and a sudden prayer welled up within me.  God, please let me stay here; let me rest.

The cabin came about because it was all I had.  Not I, really--my dad.  When I was a kid he built it of rough-cut lumber and salvaged materials, on a pretty little ridge beyond the other homes on our family land.  He had dreams of family camping trips but that turned out to be more trouble than it was worth.  Some friends had used it as a hunting cabin for a while, but it had mostly been a haven for mice and flying squirrels.

I loved that cabin.  I had camped out in it a few times.  It was so sturdy and hopeful in spite of never quite fulfilling its purpose.  It seemed such good friends with the trees.  I had thought I would live in it more or less as it stood.  Finish the inside; add electricity, a bath house of some kind, and a wood burning stove; drill a well.

But my family encouraged me not to waste time and money doing things half-way.  They suggested we bulldoze the current cabin and start from scratch.  My dad said it wasn't square or plumb enough for a proper house. (He was right.)  But I couldn't bear the thought.  In my own weariness, I identified with the little cabin.  I wanted it to be properly lived in and cared for.  I wanted it to have a happy ending, not just a useless life and then be demolished.

We agreed to build an addition for a bedroom, bath, and back porch.  My family supplied the funding and most of the labor for the basic structure.  I agreed to take care of finishing the inside--walls, flooring, furnishings, etc.  My dear cousin worked with my dad on the framing, and headed up the roofing.  New windows for the original part of the cabin were salvaged from an auto parts store.  I scraped off the decals advertising tires and fuel pumps.  The front door had been the former back door of a friend's parents' home.

And I had thought I couldn't find love.  I was surrounded by people who loved me and offered what they could to help make my cabin-dream come true.

My dad splurged and put on cedar siding.  It made the whole place look a bit like a wooden trailer, but I was thrilled.  It smelled heavenly.  In time, it would grey like the old siding had.  And, anyway, I had already drawn up plans for a front porch.