Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fa La La (Paint the Walls)

We have been Christmas-ing and Birthday-ing and hanging out together and having a grand old time for the past week.



Christmas weekend was spent in the company of JP's sister and family, including a niece recently off the plane from Bulgaria, and a nephew soon headed to Japan. The girls, as always, enjoyed the company of their older cousins. L's favorite activity is to play with the Nativity figures



We arrived back home late on Christmas night. After a bit of a sleep in, the girls were ready to attack the pile of gifts under the tree. Mom and Dad invited us over for a Post-Christmas dinner, complete with flaming Plum Pudding with Rum Sauce.



For her 6th birthday, L wanted to visit the "Dino Museum". We spent the day at the Natural History Museum, checking out the Dinos and other exhibits, then came home for Chinese at her favorite restaurant, cake, and more gifts.





This morning, J & L helped me paint the last half of the garage. They were good helpers, and enjoyed the chance to make an enormous mess.



I have to head back to work tomorrow. I didn't get very far on the list of things to "catch up on" during break, but you know what? I don't care. It was wonderful to sleep in mornings, and spend time doing nothing more significant than being with my family. It was rejuvenating...perhaps I'll be a more well adjusted teacher in 2012!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ready For Santa

J still believes in Santa. We have never told her that he exists, but do not deny it either. Instead, we try to open her young mind by asking her questions like: "How many children do you think live in the entire world? How long do you think it might take to go down one chimney to put presents under a tree and fill, say, 2 stockings? How long did it take us to fly from Pittsburgh to Tampa, Florida last year?" And leave her to draw her own conclusions. She has. Santa, she declares, puts presents in the stockings, but Mommy and Daddy put the presents under the tree.

JP is incredulous. At the tender age of nine, he had long before discounted the jolly old elf. I think she is teetering on the edge of fantasy and reality; unwilling to let go of the Fairy Tale for the harshness of the real world.

So, ok, we're not really ready for "Santa", just for the transformation he represents. The tree has become a glittering showcase for years of Christmas memories, each ornament with its own story. Gradually, gifts from friends are appearing under the tree, parties are attended, gifts exchanged, Merry-Merry's tossed across the counter at the bank, the post office, the grocery store. All the shopping is done, all the gifts wrapped, all the Christmas cards mailed, and as of this afternoon, all of the cookies baked.

This year, I have been telling the girls, "Christmas is for children." But that's not really true. Their anticipation is building and they are nearly crawling out of their skins with excitement of the festivities yet to come. I am almost as excited to see their smiling faces as they shred the paper off all of the carefully wrapped gifts.

I love it all: the lights, the Christmas music, the Santa neck-tie my boss wears, the jingle bells. I love snuggling up with L on my lap to watch "It's a Wonderful Life". I love the excuse to eat more cookies and chocolate, the extravagance, the decadence.

All too soon, the girls will want to be somewhere else for Christmas, so I'm soaking it all up now. I'm breathing deeply, and inhaling the joy of Christmas, and hoping that it will warm me through dreary February.

And now, my dears, much bustling awaits. Travel ensues, as does Christmas-ing and Birthday celebrating, so I am unlikely to tap out my musings again for a while. So Merry-Merry to all of you, and may you enjoy the lights of the season with the joy of a child. "God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

Have Yourself a Scarey Little Christmas

I just happened to catch the end of the "Michael Buble Christmas Special" last night on NBC. In fact, I tuned in just as he was introducing the tween heart-throb, Justin Bieber. The camera panned across the audience and zoomed in on girls with tears running down their cheeks, so thrilled were they to see Mr. Bieber himself. It seemed that he was walking somewhat oddly, as he came on stage, and he kept his right hand in his pants during the entire song. It became clear soon enough what the problem was, the first time that he bent down to tenderly caress the hands of several young ladies in the front row: his jeans were belted just below his buttocks, and exposed his gray underpants every time he leaned over. What? What?

I too, became nearly speechless and teary eyed at this spectacle. I had to switch the channel after about 90 seconds because I just couldn't watch any longer. The vision of Justin's grey undies is now permanently tatooed on my brain.

Go ahead, watch the clip...IF YOU DARE!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Miracle of the Milk

The strangest thing happened last week! The girls and I did our regular Wednesday morning thing: went to violin lessons, the library and grocery shopping. Of course, all that was interrupted by the accident that L & I witnessed outside of the Post Office, that just happened to (very minorly) involve our parked van. The waiting around in the cold and rain for an hour to give my report to the police sort of put us behind for the day. Apparently I was in such a hurry to unload the groceries once we got home, that I neglected to remove the gallon of milk from the back of the van.

Fast forward to our regular Saturday morning pancake breakfast, during which we finished the gallon of milk that had been in the refrigerator. I assured JP that I had purchased another gallon that week, so we were good. That afternoon, however, while loading up the van to head to J's violin recital, guess what I found in the back of the van? Right...the extra milk I had referred to!

I left it in the garage to deal with upon our return. Miraculously, when I checked it that evening, the milk was still good. This morning we finished up that gallon. Serendipitously (is that even a word?) the weather was cool enough for those 72 hours, that the van acted like a refrigerator and preserved it.

Pretty wild, no?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Merry, Merry

Well, the deer are safe for another year - regular rifle season is over. I sat out again on Friday night, and saw the back end of a doe about 5 minutes before quitting time, waaaaay off down the hill. Now Kali and I can resume our morning walks...thank goodness! I took this picture of the garden and chickens from up in my parent's gazebo while I was hunting on Friday.



It was nippy last night, low of 15*! I worry about the chickens out there in the cold. They are so stupid, I'm certain they will forget how to get back into their coop and turn into hen-cicles. Their water was frozen, but they were fine...stupid as ever...couldn't figure out how to get out of their coop to where I temporarily put their food. We got a second waterer for them a month or so ago, so I can put fresh water out every day while the other one thaws.

The kitties, though, are staying toasty in their Kitty Kastle.



The girls finally wore me down with their begging for the Christmas tree, so we finally got it up and decorated this weekend. I already had the super glue out to fix a record number of 8 ornaments this morning. I'm hoping the casualties slow down in a couple of days after the novelty wears off a bit! The girls were busy downstairs with scissors, paper, glue and tape, and decorated the family room and their rooms with paper snowflakes and colorful paper chains. Now it is looking festive up here on the hill.



J's violin recital went without a hitch yesterday, and there was a good turnout to hear the 7 kids play. They all did great! The piece she played is called "Gavotte", written by J. B. Lully.


video

JP and I snuggled on the couch to watch "Love Actually" last night...one of our favorite movies with a Holiday theme...LOVE the beginning and ending footage of people hugging at an airport, it's lovely! That about sums up our weekend!

JP is currently out at the store, the girls are exploring in the woods, and I'm going to take this quiet opportunity to wrap a few gifts. I hope you all are starting to get into the Christmas Spirit too!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Back in 1937...

Last winter, a huge old oak tree fell down in our woods. It toppled over, pulling roots and all out of the ground, but no one noticed until I found it some days later while taking my morning walk with the dog.



JP and my Dad marveled at the potentials for this wood for woodworking, etc. JP would like a table made of a cross section of it. This summer, they cut it into managable lengths, and moved it out of the woods to where we can keep an eye on it while it cures and dries.

I have been wondering how long this tree had been growing in our woods. This morning, J had a science lesson entitled "Methods of Studying Ecosystems of the Past." We talked about tree rings, and did a little activity trying to find the oldest tree from a group of tree ring sections. I decided that the time had come to find out exactly how old the oak tree was! We stuck a pin in every 10 rings, and counted 74 rings in all.



Back in 1937, this enormous tree was just a tiny sapling in our woods. Today, a piece of it served as a lesson in Science for my girls. Next year, part of it may be a small table in our house.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Morning Has Broken

I went out at Dawn to hunt on Saturday morning...the first time I've ever done that. I sat with my Dad up in the cupola above his house, watching for deer as the sun rose. It was beautiful to watch!

I had a completely open view of the entire Southern sky, which slowly became swathed in peach, rose and plum. The black sillouttes of the skeletal trees against the bright sky was unbelievably beautiful, especially with the foreground of white frosted meadow.

Once the sun was almost up, the birds began to arrive. Chickadees, Tufted Titmice (Titmouses?), tiny Finches, and Red Bellied Woodpeckers flew to and from the bird feeders and suet to the trees. A flock of crested Blue Jays arrived, chatted awhile, then moved on. It always amuses me to see the little Nuthatches scamper up and down the tree trunks head first!

Later on, we saw a flock of 25 or 26 turkeys meander out of the woods behind our barn, make their way, scratching and pecking, below the orchard, and disappear into the woods behind the compost bin.

I sat for almost 3 hours, scanning the tree line with binoculars periodically, and saw not a single deer. Dad saw the tail end of one through the trees, but we could not identify gender or size, and didn't want to shoot that end anyway, so it made it's way further into the brambles and out of our sight.

It wasn't a completely wasted morning, though. I was able to spend the time with my Dad, and see the beauty of the sun warming up the day, which is not something that I usually get to do. I hope to go out again this week in the evening, to look again for deer.

The rest of the day, we spent building this winter Kitty Kastle for Bert and Ernie on the back porch. Last year they had a temporary sort of shanty made of packing pallets and plywood...resembles some of the housing further down our road!



I also took down a section of the deer fence around the garden and wrangled the chicken coop inside. Now the hens are free to come and go out of their coop for the winter, and I'm hoping that their scratching will help till the beds and fertilize them a bit...get them ready for Spring planting!

Today we refilled the wood stashes near the house, and grilled burgers and dogs for dinner while it was still warm enough to do so. Grilling in December...who would have guessed?

The girls decided that they didn't want to go to the Christmas Parade this year. It made me a teeny bit sad, since it's the first year since we've been here that we didn't go. The sorrow was short lived, but flashed on and off several times this weekend.

The girls have been begging to put the Christmas tree up. I am not ready to give up that space yet! I did break down and put up their tiny tree downstairs, and got out my snowmen, with which I decorate the bookshelves every year.

As we move so swiftly into the Christmas season this year, I am desperately trying to not be so overwhelmingly busy that I can not enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thankfulness XVI

This will be my last daily "Thankfulness" post, since it is the last day of November. Just in time for December, the weather turned cold, and it's been snowing on and off since I got up this morning. It is nice and warm inside, however, since I have fires crackling in BOTH wood stoves. It is lovely to have the temperature inside hovering around 70, when outside it plunged to 34. I am very thankful for the "free heat" that the wood stoves provide.

December is turning out to be an extremely busy month. I'm trying to prepare myself, but I'm still not ready to drag out the holiday ornaments and put up the tree. I will put up the girls' Playmobile advent calendar tonight though.

The girls are begging for me to read Christmas books with them, so I must run. I hope that you all took the time to think about those things that you were grateful for this month. It definitely kept me in a better frame of mind...most of the time!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thankfulness XV

After another treadmill workout this morning, the girls and I buckled down and worked hard. We got all our school work done before lunch, and I actually got to work this afternoon with a few minutes to spare!

After a busy day at the office, it was wonderful to come home to my family! We worked together to get dinner on the table, then watched a movie together in front of a crackling fire in the family room.

Tonight I am thankful for harmony at home. It doesn't happen all the time that all the pieces fall into place like this, but it is blissful when it does.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kali's Big Day

Both JP and Dad were out hunting this morning. JP had his walkie talkies turned on in the house, so I got to hear about the experiences of the group hunting with our neighbors. One of them got a 4 point buck, only legal because of 3 tines on one side, and one an 8 point. One of them cut his forehead because his scope was too close when he fired (I have the greatest of sympathy for him, having had a similar experience in the past.) One guy suggested that they give up and go golfing. Personally, I decided not to go out today. This first week is for antlered deer only, and I very rarely see bucks up here. I'll try to slip out next week when I can work on decreasing the female population.

Poor Kali is sound asleep on the couch. She had quite a day today! I confused her right off the bat by not letting her go on a walk this morning, but hurried her out to pee in the backyard, then rushed her right back in. I walked on the treadmill this morning, which was only recently moved from the garage into the house. (I need to photo document the garage project at some point...)

Kali, instead, played with these 3 cuties today.



She got a complete make-over!



After dinner this evening, L went out with Kali and I to empty the compost bucket. It was pitch black, but I had my head light on, the bucket in one hand, and L's hand in the other. Kali went tearing off, completely thrilled to be able to run around outside. On our way back the the house, we suddenly heard a CRASH as Kali ran head first into the metal fencing around my flower bed. She fell down and rolled down the hill in the mud. The poor thing came limping up to us, muddy and embarrassed.

After we sponged her off with warm water, and checked her for boo-boos, Kali seemed to be feeling pretty much back to normal. It wasn't long afterwards, however, that I finished her coat that I had been working on all day. I meant to get this done BEFORE hunting season started, but I am thankful that it is finally done, after sitting on my desk for about 3 months, for the SECOND day of rifle season. Of course, I made her model it, which seemed to cause even more embarrassment. In fact, she felt so awkward in it that she tried to walk as little as possible while wearing it, and then did so in a stiff legged gait.



That wasn't the end of the torture for poor Kali,she got her hair brushed and her teeth brushed as well! As you can see in the picture above, we know it is time to get her trimmed when we can no longer identify her eyes. It's time.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thankfulness XII & XIII

It is one month exactly until L's birthday. A lot is going on in that 4 weeks...J's violin recital, hunting season, the Christmas Parade, at least 5 Doctor appointments, decorating for Christmas, sending Christmas cards, Christmas, and hopefully somewhere, a birthday party for L. Poor thing, her birthday is during the busiest time of the year, and often overlooked. The problem this year is trying to find time for a party when all of her friends will actually be around and before the driveway is impassable by those without 4WD.

Kali and I took our walks yesterday and today. Now we will be stuck inside for a few weeks except for the necessary stuff. SIGH.

This is what I was thankful for yesterday. Can you see it back there?



One last, lonely zinnia smiling out of my otherwise sleeping flower bed.



Today I am thankful for these ladies.



Even though we are only getting one or two eggs a day now, look at the results of a season's worth of chicken poo on the yard. You can tell that the grass is thicker and darker green in the places that I've been pulling the coop up and down for the past several months.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thankfulness XI

Black Friday was a brilliantly sunny day. The hens got a chance to scratch in the garden. I found an egg out there when I rounded them up to herd them back to their coop, the first time that has ever happened!

Kali and I need to get our morning walks in. We only have 2 days left until we can't walk for a while due to hunting season.

The girls bundled their baby dolls up into the red wagon and took them out for some fresh air.

I shredded about 8 pounds of pork and seasoned it for tamales, we are planning to make them tomorrow.

Today I am thankful for blue skies and mild weather. I'm sure that these days are numbered before the cold of winter sets in and grey skies prevail. I am saving the sunshine up in my pocket. I'll let a little bit out every day in February so that I won't shrivel up and implode in the grey-ness.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Count Your Blessings

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm feeling full, warm and loved this evening. We watched "White Christmas" this afternoon. Now I have the song running through my mind: "...If you're worried, and you can't sleep, try counting your blessings instead of sheep. Then you'll fall asleep counting your blessings!"

Today I am thankful for many things. I'm thankful for the delicious meal we enjoyed this afternoon. I enjoyed cooking it, running out to my garden bed several times for fresh thyme. I'm thankful that the girls played nicely together all day. I'm thankful that we sat together this morning to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for awhile.

Most of all, I am thankful for my friends and family. Several friends and several family members took the time today to send messages to me, wishing us a wonderful day, and expressing thankfulness for our friendships and family ties. I sent nothing to anyone. This doesn't mean that I didn't think about how much I appreciate all those special people in my life, I did, many times.

So this is it! This is the message to tell all of you out there whom I love so much (and you know who you are) that I am thankful for each of you more than I can express in words. Some of you are my family by birth or marriage, and some of you became my family when I had none close to me. All of you are dear, appreciated and loved.




I hope you all are also feeling warm, full and loved this evening. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Moooooove Over!

We only had a half day of school today, the first time in the 4 years we've been doing cyber school that we ever had a half day scheduled! I was extremely glad to knock off early and defrost my deep freeze downstairs.

I have been working over the past 2 weeks to clean out this deep freeze a bit. The upstairs one is chock full of fruit and veggies: black raspberries, strawberries, peaches, applesauce, freezer jam, corn, beans and pumpkin. I had several 7 pound chickens that ended up too dry when I roasted them, so over the past several days, I cooked 2 of them in the crock pot, picked out the bones, and currently 8 pints worth of chicken meat and broth are pressure canning on the stove.

This morning, I removed the remaining items to ice chests, and defrosted and wiped down the freezer. All this was in preparation of the arrival today of a quarter of a steer, raised by a friend of mine in Greene County. Now my downstairs freezer is jam-packed with beef! I took inventory of my shelves of canned goods and the full freezers, and felt my chest swell with pride and satisfaction. I am thankful today for this ample supply of food that my family will enjoy for the next year.

In addition, I can't express how thankful I am for a break from Cyber School for the next 5 days! It is much needed and was much anticipated.

Now it is time to bake some pies. Have a wonderful holiday with your loved ones this week!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Do-Over

Yesterday was not a stellar day, as you might have surmised from my post last night. I am not feeling well, and consequently have less tolerance for things that don't go the way I'd like. Both girls, especially L, apparently woke up on the "wrong side of the bed" (J tells me that L always gets out of bed on the same side every day!) They were both quarrelsome and short tempered as well. J had several episodes where she stomped off to grumble about how unfair Mommy's rules are. I texted JP several times, urging him to come home quickly before I ran away or did something else equally irresponsible.

This morning, I awoke to another grey, chilly, rainy day, but this time I was thankful for the chance to start over. Each day gives me another opportunity to either make up for the day before, finish what I've started, or make beautiful memories. I'm aiming for the latter.

I had meant to write a post about the barn cats, Bert and Ernie, yesterday before everything went terribly awry. Every morning I find a rodent or two on the veranda, gifts from the kitties, I believe. I am extremely thankful that the kitties are keeping our home rodent free. Yesterday I found gifts of a tiny shrew and a frog, so they are apparently keeping the amphibians at bay as well.

Over

I am thankful that this day is over.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thankfulness V & VI

I want to quickly post the things I was thankful for over the weekend before I fall asleep. I didn't sleep well this weekend because I have a cold and sinus congestion that makes it difficult to breathe easily. I pulled muscles in my back yesterday while moving the chicken coop...I think it weighs somewhere around 400 pounds. This evening, JP and I watched "Sense and Sensibility" while I leaned against a heating pad. I got so comfy that I started nodding off toward the end of the movie.

Yesterday, I was thankful for continuing good weather. It was very blustery up on the ridge, but sunny enough to allow me to let the chickens into the garden and clean out their coop while they were busy scratching in the dirt. There wasn't any way for them to get out of the wind in the garden, however, and all the Sisters were eager to return to their clean coop in a few hours. I'm not sure how much longer I will be able to hose down the hen house without risking frostbite and icicles.

This morning I was thankful for the opportunity to sleep in a bit. Miss J had woken early (she does this every day that she does not have school...school days are a different matter!) and drawn a picture that she was very proud of. She crawled into bed beside me at 8:30 and fidgeted until I got up so she could show it off. Even so, I still got an extra hour to slumber than I do during the week.

Tomorrow is my extra clinic day for the month, and I am not looking forward to the crazy morning. I am no longer thinking clearly, and need to reclaim that skill before I head to the office, so I am calling it a day!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Little Bird!

Today I am thankful for my oldest child, a 9 year old who is the most trying, sweetest, brightest, most beautiful child ever...with the exception of my youngest child. She was SO excited for her birthday party tonight, that she was up at first daylight, ready to start.

She invited 4 of her friends for dinner and a sleepover, all of whom are lovely young ladies. They started by painting each other's toenails, and ended in a pile on the floor of the family room downstairs, completely exhausted from dancing to ABBA and chattering for the past 5 hours!

J wanted a treasure map cake this year, after seeing an example in one of my Family Fun magazines, so I gave it a try. I used an excellent recipe that I tried a few weeks back for Chocolate Peanut Butter cupcakes.



I thought it turned out well, especially the tiny treasure chest and parrots.



At this very moment, I am thankful that all 6 beautiful girls in our house tonight are sleeping peacefully, with ABBA songs dancing through their dreams.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thankfulness III

I'm having a hard time feeling thankful for anything this morning. It's been one of those mornings. You know, the kind where the kids are grouchy and slouching around, you are running way behind schedule and haven't even had a shower, and the coffee is taking way TOO long to be ready. Oh wait, is that every morning?

I couldn't get a fire started in the chilly house this morning. For some reason, it is next to impossible to light a fire in the woodstove when the stove is cold. JP tells me that it has something to do with the flue and how it doesn't draw, but blow when it's cold. Having passed Physics in college, I feel like I have some sort of idea that it's all related somehow, but it's a bit foggy. I surprised myself by lighting a fire right up yesterday afternoon in front of my friend, no doubt I appeared incredibly adept at homesteading at that moment.

Twenty minutes after trying to get the blasted thing going this morning, I gave up. JP took over and finally got it blazing. (I'm sure that I set the stage for his great success.) In any case, my morning walk was cut short by 15 minutes, and I didn't get a shower because I spent so long kneeling on the cold, glass hearth this morning.

Today, I am thankful for this little woodstove that is a pain in the &*^%$ sometimes. I think back to that long, cold, dark February week 2 years ago when this stove was the only thing that allowed us to remain in our home when the power was out for 8 days. I remember L scurrying up the stairs with her clothes in her arms to get dressed for Preschool in front of the fire last winter. I relish the heat radiating out of it's little iron sides to take the chill off an Autumn night. I am looking forward to having another little stove warming up the school room downstairs!

It worked! I am already feeling warmer in my heart as well as my toes. Here's hoping the rest of the day goes more as planned!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thankfulness II

It was foggy this morning when Kali and I headed off on our morning walk. Because it is hunting season, and we are surrounded by avid hunters, we stick to a tried and true route that keeps us on our property for the entire 20 minute walk. This means that I take a narrow path between the trees that descends almost vertically for 50 feet, then takes an abrupt left at the bottom of the hill and widens into an almost flat road through the woods.

When I reached the bottom of the hill this morning, I could hardly recognize my surroundings! Kali knew by her nose that we were in the right place, as well as the number of deer that wandered along the path overnight. With the background of white fog, I could have thought that I had stepped into a black and white photograph if it weren't for the blanket of rust colored leaves covering the ground.

It looked completely different on my walk 2 days ago. At that time, the trees still clung to a few amber leaves, and emerald patches of grass peeked through the debris on the ground.

Today, I am thankful that I live in this place. On Poplar Ridge, every path holds a different surprise every day, and the beauty of all 4 seasons is on display just outside my window. Even though I complain about it, I enjoy working on our "farm". I love the fact that you can see the stars during the clear, quiet nights, and that we have found ways to co-exist with the deer who love this ridge top as much as I do.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thankfulness

Someone mentioned to me today that they were posting "30 Days of Thankfulness" on their Facebook page: one thing a day, all month long that they were thankful for. I don't do Facebook, but I am thankful for many, many things. Even though I'm starting late, I can still list something every day for the remainder of the month that I am thankful for...it could be a good exercise now that the sunshine disappears so early every evening.

Tonight I am thankful that I had nothing to do! This is big stuff here. Yesterday I completed every thing on my list, and was able to lounge in bed and read for fun for a while before getting to bed on time (another thing that doesn't happen very often.) This evening, the girls and I had to rush to a meeting, but after they went to bed, it was all free time...nothing pressing. It's a wonderful feeling!

Before I jinx it, I'm going to bed.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wooly Worms in the Woodpile

Another weekend has come and gone! We worked hard, and we took time for fun, too!

JP and I got the hearth and stove board that I tiled installed in the family room downstairs, brought the woodstove out of storage, and re-arranged in the storage area to keep cardboard boxes away from the area of the chimney pipes. Dad helped JP get the stove pipes installed.



We celebrated my Mom's birthday with a big ham dinner, cake and ice cream at our house.



The girls helped JP and I fill up the wood stack on the back veranda, and made a new stack in the covered window well near the main door. This will be for the stove downstairs, with easy access from the storage room.

I uncovered several rust and black striped Wooly Worms curled up in the wood pile. Supposedly the width of their stripes has some bearing on the coldness of the winter to come.

We met some friends to watch the movie, "Puss in Boots".

We also fit in our yearly Fall Family Photo shoot for "school" pictures for the girls, and a family pic for our yearly Christmas cards.



The next round of school and work is about to roll around once again in a few hours. And so it goes!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Twigs

I acquired a book of Haiku this Fall, that are translated from Japanese. I think a few of them may have lost some beauty in the translation, but I enjoyed these couple:

Of what use are twigs

but to sweep up a litter

of fallen petals?

-Buson

Poor crying cricket,

perhaps your little husband

was caught by our cat.

-Kikaku

I must go begging

for water...morning glories

have captured my well.

-Chiyo


This one is mine...


The Hunter's Moon gleams

white in the eyes of a herd

of cows in my yard.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bad Idea

We have a number of balding chickens at the moment. Every morning when I move the Chicken coop around, they leave behind a pile of feathers. (This picture isn't of my hen, by the way, mine don't look QUITE that bad!)



Apparently they are moulting, and apparently that is a sign of good layers. (I've been googling "bald chickens".) I can't really complain about their laying...all Spring and Summer we have averaged 7 egg/day from the 9 Sisters. What I read mentions "egg laying cycles" and when the hens reach the end of these cycles, all their feathers fall out, and they grow new ones.

J is quite concerned that they chose a cool-ish time of the year to go nekked. It is a bit disconcerting to see their pale, pimpled chicken skin out and about when I'm in my fleece in the mornings! This, like the reduction in their egg laying, is evidently linked to the decreasing daylight. They don't feed for as many hours daily, consequently have poorer nutrition, and loose their feathers. It all seems very sad, but moulting is apparently a natural phenomenon with birds.

I must say, the decreasing daylight is making me want to pull my own feathers out! The sky was getting dim-ish by the time I left work at 10 to 5 last evening, and pitch black by the time we arrived at the High School pool for some swimming time at 6:15. I'm hoping that I adjust to Daylight Savings Time before I'm tempted to start parading around with my pink, pimply bum hanging out!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Do You Read Me?

Where do the weekends go? I had much more on my to-do list that never actually happened!

I hadn't planned on cleaning out the garage, but my Dad asked us to clear out one half of it so that he can work on walls and ceiling this coming week. He has completed the insulation in the ceiling, and added on to the gas line over the past week. Today, JP and I moved the 10 foot workbench and 3 sets of shelving over toward one wall. In the process, we moved some things up to storage in the attic above the garage, and pitched a few things...definitely a profitable task overall! We were able to arrange things so that we can still fit both vehicles in, so no scraping of windows for us in the mornings! The bicycles have all moved to the barn for the time being, until we can hang them from the garage walls.

We got some target practice in, and JP and I both sighted in our rifles for hunting. I still need lots and lots of practice! I hold my breath when I aim and shoot, which JP tells me is a big no-no. The good news is that I no longer have a fear of getting slammed in the face and requiring sutures. The bad news is that I am still not too good of a shot. This makes me concerned about actually hunting. Will my conscience allow me to kill an animal when it comes right down to it? Ok...well, I know I can kill a mouse in cold blood, but haven't actually tried something bigger than a rodent. If I do attempt to shoot a deer, what it I hurt it, but don't kill it? So many issues to worry about! It will give me something to do since I'm no longer worrying about making it to soccer practice 3 nights a week!

The chickens had the run of the garden for most of the day yesterday. They had such a good time, that they tried to sneak out today while I was feeding them...the little rascals! They had a special treat this morning that they evidently enjoyed: cornmeal mush. I started making a pot full last night so that we could have fried mush for breakfast today, but half way through, I thought it smelled sort of stale. I put it in a pan for the chickens, and made another batch for us with new cornmeal. Those ladies gobbled it up as fast as I could toss it in their pen this morning!

The girls spent most of the weekend outdoors, and have slept wonderfully as a consequence. As another consequence, I have had piles of filthy clothes to wash! JP gave them an old set of walkie-talkies yesterday morning (thus the reference in the title today.) The girls set out with walkie talkies and back packs to roam all over the property, looking for "mysteries". I lowered them lunch in a bucket from the deck, which they carried along with them and snacked on all afternoon. I found them at one point climbing all over the pile of logs we have curing for next winter's fire wood.



Today they road their bikes in circles and figure 8's in front of the garage while JP and I worked. We had to break for a couple of bike wrecks. At one point I brought out a tray of crackers, cheeses and pineapple. We all descended on this like a flock of birds and picked the tray clean.

I have dried 3 loads of laundry on the line this weekend. I enjoy holding the clothes up to my face to inhale the smell of wild and free Poplar Ridge in the midst of folding. There is another load running now, to be ready to hang out in the morning. This one includes the back packs that went adventuring this weekend!

I need to go finish my last piece of mending and put the sewing machine away. The house cleaning will have to wait, as I'm too tired at the moment, and I still need to prep materials for school in the AM. Another weekend has come and gone. Even if we had nothing to show for it, we were able to spend time in the Fall sunshine, which will be just a delicious memory come dreary February.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

One Fine Day (In which the van finally gets fixed, I am a bad farmer, J finishes a novel, and school continues to last forever)

There. That about says it all!

We also have tried to take advantage of the beautiful weather the past couple of days. Yesterday afternoon I drained all the water hoses, coiled them up and stored them in the barn for the winter. I covered the air conditioner. J and I found all the pigs in the flower gardens, cleaned them up, and stored them in the attic. I searched all around under both lean-to's with the giant magnet for stray nails and screws from construction. I blew all the leaves out from in front of the door and garage. It was all very satisfying.

This afternoon, I managed to grout the wall board that I tiled about 3 weeks ago. This will be afixed to the wall downstairs behind the woodstove that we will install in the family room. We also sat for an hour at the mechanics while they FINALLY finished fixing my van. I drove it away with no more screeching brakes or knocking struts. That too was satisfying.

Monday night I neglected to cover the peas. Tonight it is still in the 50's, so I will skip. they still have perky looking blossoms, although the greenery is somewhat wilted. I bought 2 - 50 pound bags of chicken feed at Agway this evening. When I took some out to the hens, they hopped off their perches, where they had settled for the night, and began gobbling. They had been down to mere dregs. I still don't completely have the hang of this farming thing!

J finished reading "Caddie Woodlawn" this week. She is finally beginning to read books that I consider to be of more substance. This summer she read "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", "The Magician's Nephew", and "The Boy Who Ate Stars", by Kochka (translated from French, about a boy with autism). She spent last school year reading all 45 Magic Tree House books, so this is definitely a step up! I'm proud of her!

I am definitely enjoying the freedom from soccer this week, although we are still eating our dinner late, due to staying outside until dark and glitches in schedules that are beyond my control. At least I am feeling MUCH less stressed. The four of us laughed at dinner tonight, with Billy Joel playing in the background. The kids were acting goofy, and for a change, I laughed at them instead of grumbling...much more pleasant!

Schoolwork never seems to get finished, which is unchanged. I do feel, however, that we are finally getting "into a groove". Perhaps when we are grooving, it will go faster! We did have a good time dancing to Tchaikovsky with the dog during music class. At least we don't have any stupid pet pictures like these.

That's about it from Poplar Ridge this week.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Extracurricular Liberation Day

It is finally here! Starting tonight, I have no pressing evening activities to run to on a weekly basis. Well...until I start taking the girls to the pool once a week. Tonight, however, we plan to celebrate by having a Girls' Night. The girls and I will watch girlie princess movies and give each other pedicures and eat junk food while JP works late.

Our last scheduled activity of October was trick-or-treat. I very nearly cancelled, as it began sprinkling on our way to the small town we are invited to every year. The sprinkling occurred, on and off, for most of the night. It got heavier as we completed our 2 block circuit, which is when we usually head back anyway.



The girls picked out their costumes last year, and we bought them at Target for 80% off after Halloween 2010.



J was a Snow Princess, complete with luminescent skin and white eye make up.



L was a Southern Belle, with a beauty spot for good measure.

We got cold and damp, so hurried home to warm up by the fire afterward. As the girls were digging into their candy, I told them to slow down, "Only two pieces each!", I said.

"What?" JP countered, "It's Halloween!"

"Oh all right, 3 pieces." I conceded, while I tossed the remainder of last year's Halloween candy.

I'm such a softy!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Best Soccer Game of the Season!

We had SNOW this weekend, believe it or not. About 2 inches up here on the hill. The peas and peppers were snug and warm under their blankets, and are still going strong. It was supposed to warm up to 60 today, and be sunny and bright, shows you how much meteorologists know!

L's game was at 1:00 today at a field we had never been to. We got lost on the way, JP made a couple of 3 point turns in the middle of the road, so we arrived a few minutes late. Part of the field appeared to be under water, so they had moved the goals down a bit. There were still several big puddles on the field, which the kiddos were sure to hit several times each. It was cold and gray for most of the game, but the sun came out toward the end and brightened every one's mood.



J's game was 30 min after L's ended, but back in town. We booked it and got there with time to spare (that doesn't happen often with us!) Her team has been undefeated so far this season, with all of the kids showing incredible improvement in the game. They got one goal early on in the game. After a lot of back-and-forth action, the other team got several goals. J's team came from behind at the end of the second half, and scored 3 goals, ended the season undefeated. It was a great game, with all of the kids showing how hard they could work and how well they could work together as a team. It did my heart good after a long a trying season. Good job GREEN TEAM!



This afternoon, after repairing the fence around the orchard that the deer knocked down (they managed to nibble tiny branches off most of them...GRRR! Their time is coming...on Nov. 28th I plan to execute revenge!), I emptied out the back of my van. Two soccer balls, and three folding chairs went back to their post-soccer homes.

Ahhh...now I can breathe easier and have my evenings free. Oh wait! Tomorrow night is trick-or-treat and we haven't even carved our pumpkins yet!

Friday, October 28, 2011

BTW

I forgot to mention the 10 2 pound jars of peanut butter in our pantry. After being forewarned that the price of PB was going up due to the demise of the Georgia peanut crop this year, JP dashed to Sam's club and stocked up on creamy Jif.

The van passed inspection. The cheapest bill I've paid all month!

Last soccer practice is over and done.

Snow accumulation of 1 1/2 inches due tonight.

Good times.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sanity Update

I just came in from covering the peas and peppers with my Mom. It was snowing a bit by the time I came in. Most of the years I've been in this area, we have had a light snow before Halloween, so this is right on time. Hope the peas make it though!

All three pets, both kids and I made it to and from the vet without incident, although we were quite a bit poorer afterward.

All four of us have gotten our flu vaccine.

JP's truck is repaired, inspected and has new tires. My van is still waiting on new parts, I'll try the inspection thing tomorrow.

School today went well enough that we had time to "bake" pre-made cookies before dinner.

There is still a bin of winter clothes sitting downstairs for the girls to try on, and I found some more of their clothes hanging in an extra closet downstairs.

It is almost the weekend!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Comparative Anatomy

My Dad got two deer during the Jr/Sr rifle season Thursday through Saturday last week. Despite this, JP still caught 2 deer jumping OUT of our orchard last night. He and I plan to hunt in November when the regular rifle season opens. My Dad has big plans for my first kill...he wants me to get the hide tanned, and then he will make gloves for our entire family. I already own a pair of doe-skin gloves that he made for me, they are amazingly soft, supple and warm, and beautiful to boot!

We decided to give the girls some supplemental science education today, since my Dad invited us over to help process the meat. Both my girls watched my Dad skin the last doe, and J helped to cut off the limbs to prepare them for processing. L and I worked on grinding meat for burger.

Never once, in the hour and a half that we were there, did I hear an "ewww" or a "gross" from my girls. They appeared interested, asked good questions, and seemed to actually enjoy what they were doing. J in fact, is back over there, because she wanted to help process the meat from the ribs and spine.

L would probably be back too, but she is sleeping. The poor thing was up Friday night/Saturday morning crying with earaches, and has been on antibiotics for over 48 hours. She is still not feeling well, and did not protest when I sent her to bed for a nap.

JP and my Dad finished the lean-to behind the garage. Here's what it looks like in the rain today:



And here's a pic of the tether ball set-up that I finally got around to taking:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ready For Winter

There was a frost advisory last night, so it was time to finish up the garden for winter. I never got around to planting any cover crops, so the beds will just have to be bare this winter. The Fall peas are still going strong. In fact, I picked them for the first time, and we ate them for dinner last night. (They were delicious!) There are dozens and dozens of peppers on the plants that haven't turned red (or yellow) yet.



I dug all the onions, then searched and found a few more taters. I came in yesterday evening with those, plus Brussels sprouts, chard, and armfuls of herbs: parsley, oregano, dill and basil. I dried the oregano, and made a bunch of pesto with the basil.

Now the garden is looking sad and lonely. The only things left are the asparagus, strawberries and blueberries which will over winter, some marigolds that will look cheerful until they freeze, and the peas and peppers, which we will cover and nurse along until they are finished (or we get tired of covering them).


click on the picture to enlarge it



Even Lazy Laura, the scarecrow, is in the barn for the winter. She will need a make over before she goes back to work in the Spring: new clothes and a replacement head. J tells me that she will still have the same personality, even if we give her a head transplant!

I think we will be moving the chickens into the garden this winter. They can work on tilling the left over mulch into the beds, and fertilizing everything. It helps me, and makes them happy too. They always seem to lay better after they have been in the garden for a day.

It is very satisfying to put the garden to bed each year. We got hundreds of pounds of produce from the garden this year, and it was a LOT of hard work. When I told JP how relieved I felt to finish the garden for the year, he reminded me that I will be so eager to go out and plant peas in March, that it will be hard to keep me in! He is right, of course. I'll be perusing seed catalogs in February and dreaming of digging in the dirt. For now, I'm glad to clean my tools and bring them in. My diggers are ready for a break.

This afternoon, I pulled out the plastic bins of clothes from the tiny storage space under the stairs, and the girls tried on their winter clothes. Friday, JP and I moved the sofa away from the wood stove, so that we could light our first fire of the season. Now, I'm going to sleep on the fresh, clean, flannel sheets on my bed. Mmmm...snugly! As much as I dislike winter in general, I look forward to the change in seasons. We're ready now!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Feel Lucky!

Yee-Ha! I checked my last post this evening, and found a comment informing that I won a drawing for 3 lovely, vintage Louisa May Alcott tomes over on Forgotten Bookmarks . While I was jumping up and down, J came to find out what was going on...she probably thought I finally snapped! I stumbled over my own words trying to tell her how much I was looking forward to her reading Little Women. Ah well, she will discover it, along with Miss Jane Austen all in good time.

Kali went to college again tonight. Her last session is next week, and then I will find out if I was lucky enough to win the PetSmart gift certificate. I feel lucky.

We are down to 3 soccer practices and 4 games. I'm starting to feel the freedom, leaking in around my toes. Oh, I'm so ready!

In bits and pieces, I've been noticing the lovely Fall up here on the Ridge. For some reason, the colors have not been quite as brilliant as in the past, and many of the trees are bare after our slew of rain and wind storms. The blue skies, however, are something to rejoice in, and the crisp air that feels somehow cleaner is so refreshing.

Pictures of my gardens this Fall:







JP and my Dad have been making great progress on building the lean-to's on the barn and the garage. They finished the barn one this afternoon before the rain started.

Garage:



Barn:





Monday, October 17, 2011

Beautiful Day

It is amazing how clear and deep blue the sky can get on these crisp Fall days. Unfortunately, I spent the better part of this lovely day inside at work or doing school with the girls until soccer time. I've been having delicious day dreams lately of life without Cyber School, where my time with the girls would be pleasant without wheedling, coaxing, or threatening for lessons to be done, and the sky is blue and breezy all the time. It will be better once the soccer craze is over with, right? Then I'll be able to stop popping the Zantac and Advil and breath deeply once again...right?

In the meantime, we've managed to squeeze in a few fun activities, and presently JP and my Dad are busy building the long awaited lean-to's on our garage and barn. JP poured concrete into an old tire as a base for the tether-ball set that has been stored in our garage for over a year. It is extremely stable now, but a bit too heavy to move around. By the way, it's no fun to play tether-ball with JP...he simply smacks the ball up so that it wraps around the pole about 2 feet above my head. He needs to play with someone his own size!

Several of our friends made a spur of the moment trip to Pittsburgh to attend the U2 concert this summer. JP was a bit sad, learning that he had missed his (possibly) last opportunity to see them. So, we did the next best thing...bought a live U2 concert DVD from Amazon, and played it on the big screen downstairs with surround sound. It was an incredible concert: Sept. 1, 2001 at Slane Castle, Ireland, and a great pseudo-concert experience. The last concert I attended (before Suzuki Violin recitals became part of my life) was Jimmy Buffet, so avoiding the crowds, the backpack margarita machines and vomiting was quite pleasant as well! The only down side is that the girls now sing "Sunday bloody Sunday" over and over again...just. that. one. line.

I was overly proud of myself last night for finishing up the last of 2 bushels of apples into sauce. JP brought me down a notch when he told me that his mother canned 110 quarts of applesauce yearly. I'm still apparently not quite Mennonite enough!

I passed up the opportunity this past weekend of taking a road trip BY MYSELF. Yep! It's official: I'm nuts. My 20th college reunion was held last weekend down in VA, and JP was willing to let me go, while he stayed home with the girls. I bailed though, because the van has been making odd clunking and squealing noises of late, and I was a bit nervous to drive it 5 hours South by myself. I would rather stay home and make applesauce and tend to feverish children than sit by the highway somewhere in West Virginia, waiting for a tow truck.

That's the story of my life lately: blue skies to balance the black holes where I think I can't possibly make it through this school year, U2 concerts in the privacy of my own home against the auto repair issues and missed parties, tether-ball inadequacies and applesauce abundance. Through it all, I have a good man by my side, and 2 lovely girls who look a bit like me. Life couldn't be more beautiful.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Amphibians

J had a Science test today on the 5 categories of vertebrates. She got a little grin on her face every time we talked about frogs and toads. I've never been squeamish about wiggly things (it comes from growing up in the country, I suppose), and the girls are growing up the same way.

I drove home in the rain after dark the past 2 nights, and both times I had to swerve to miss little frogs hopping across the road. These tiny things, no bigger than match box cars, seemed to pop up around every bend. After the first 2 or 3, blowing leaves and shiny patches in the road tricked my eyes.

I was out tonight at a literary reading, where my good friend drew me right out of our little town and into her short work of fiction. This is the second time in the past 2 weeks that I was so completely absorbed in a story. The first was while reading the novel, "What Alice Forgot" by Liane Moriarty last week. It is almost like taking a vacation: living vicariously through someone else's life, a break from my own harried and monotonous life.

My life is not dull, just in a rut this month. (How can tiny amphibian sitings, and relocating for cyber school due to power outages be dull?) Yesterday I realized that I can now count on both hands the number of remaining soccer practices and games this month. Kali only goes to her research training 2 more times. Both vehicles need to be inspected in October, the dog and both kitties have vet appointments, and we all need to get our Flu shots.

I'm breaking out the champagne on November 1st, Extracurricular Liberation Day. Who's with me?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lovely Day for Soccer

We had a full, but enjoyable week in Mennonite Land, aka Lancaster, PA. We did school in the mornings, and visited friends and family in the afternoons. The girls enjoyed playing with their second cousins on the dairy farm, and playing games with their great aunt and great grandfather at the retirement community. They also loved swimming every evening in the Hotel pool, and playing mini golf just outside.

On our way home, we stopped to visit my brother and his family, newly returned to the Commonwealth after a 12 year stint in New York. We enjoyed seeing their new home, and realizing that it's just a few hours away (vs 7 or 8)!

Yesterday, I did 4 loads of laundry while JP mowed the grass. We went to Outback Steakhouse for dinner with Mom & Dad to celebrate JP's birthday, then returned for 5 Flavor Pound Cake and Strawberry ice cream.

Today JP has been sifting through the 3 inch stack of paperwork from the office, while I worked in the garden and took the girls to soccer. It was a glorious day for both activities!







Thursday, October 6, 2011

Theme in Blue

Butterflies and bees drink from me.
I am called a Bluebell.

I wave in the wind.
I smell nice in the summer breeze.

People pick me to make bouquets
and weave my stems together to make
beautiful crowns and necklaces.
A fairy makes a tiny house in my bell.

I sleep all Winter long under the snow.
I wake up again in the glorious, good Spring.

- LAM, age 5

Monday, October 3, 2011

Musings From My Hotel Room

We are joining JP at his conference this week, so are doing cyber school from our Hotel Room. It's amazing how much easier it is to accomplish a significant amount of school work when:

-L has only a limited amount of clothing to pick from
-no one has to make their beds
-I don't have to unload the dishwasher
-there are no dogs to walk, cats to feed, or chickens to tend to
-no violin practice to get through first, and
-I have a week's worth of lessons and materials prepared and on hand

So this morning we breezed through lessons, and made it to the restaurant mere seconds before one of my dear college friends and her 2 boys. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch of Mennonite food, before exploring the Wilbur Chocolate Factory, then the Sturgis Pretzel Factory with them.

This evening, we met JP's sister and brother-in-law, recent empty-nesters, for another Mennonite meal and lovely conversation. This was followed by a brief dip in the Hotel pool before showers and bed.

The girls are sleeping soundly, completely worn out from our very full day. Tomorrow we hope to visit my cousin and her children at their dairy farm, and the following day to eat lunch at the retirement center with my Grandpa.

If only I could leave the beds unmade and the dishwasher unemptied at home, we would be in a much happier place as far as school work goes. SIGH. If only...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Going Pink

I've gone pink on Poplar Ridge this month in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness. Did you know that Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, second only to skin cancer? In addition, Breast Cancer is the second leading cause of death in women, the first being lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates somewhere around 200,000 women will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer in the next 12 months. Since I have several friends who are Breast Cancer survivors, as well as one who recently succumbed to the disease, and I work with patients who are getting a new diagnosis several times a month, I want to do my part and spread the word about PREVENTION.

The three best ways to diagnose Breast Cancer early, while it is usually more treatable are:

-MONTHLY BREAST SELF EXAMS - if you notice anything different while examining your own breasts, make an appointment to have it evaluated right away.

-YEARLY CLINICAL BREAST EXAMS - have your health care provider examine your breasts yearly, or sooner if you notice something has changed

-YEARLY MAMMOGRAMS STARTING AT AGE 40 - it's not a lot of fun to have a mammogram, but it only takes about 20 minutes of your life. Do it.

Ok, I'm done preaching. Enjoy your October!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Root Crops

I spent several hours the past two weekends in the garden, getting it ready for the winter. We are planning to over-winter the chickens in the garden as well...they can till in the mulch and cover crops for us (if I ever get them planted).

In the late Spring this year, I cut up about 3 sprouting red potatoes that my Mom found in her pantry, and planted them in a garden bed. I have been most anxious to see what they did, if anything. By this weekend, the foliage from all of the potato plants had all died back, so I got out my shovel. I ended up with 9 pounds of beautiful red potatoes!



I also pulled most of the carrots, all of the turnips, and a couple of the onions. I pulled the red beets last weekend, and just finished taking my jars of lovely magenta pickled beets out of the canner.



The peppers, both hot and sweet, are still going strong. There are now 19 asparagus plants ferning. The tomato plants are limping along, but are fighting their second wave of hornworms. The chickens got most of them that we picked off yesterday, but we left about 5 of them on the plants. These were covered with the pupae of Braconid wasps: beneficial, harmless wasps, which parasitize the hornworm.



(This photo, and more info can be found here.)

I love my garden, and am very proud of it, but I am never sad to see it go to sleep in the Fall. It is a lot of work, and I have many other cold weather projects to turn to in which to spend my copious free time!