Thursday, December 13, 2012

Checking It Twice


I'm so excited! Today I get to go to town. My van has been having grave problems, and I've been forbidden by the powers that be (the ones that would have to tow me if I broke down) to drive it more than into Westby and back. Now, Westby is great and all, but it doesn't quite do it for someone as urbane and cosmopolitan as myself---sometimes I need to break loose and go to Plentywood. Thankfully, today I can hitch a ride with my sister (who has no idea what she's getting into).

After such a long drouth of town shopping, I have quite a little list built up of errands I need to run. And since I can't just run back if I forget something, it's important that I get everything down on the list that I need.

Let's review, shall we?

Tina's To-do List:

Buy water: The water out here isn't very tasty, besides which my well hasn't been tested lately, so I don't care to drink from it. I get all my water from the machine in Plentywood, hauling it home in two big, blue plastic water jugs.

Return library books: I'm pretty sure that after 5 months the library is ready for their book back. And I still haven't even read it!

Pick up Angel Tree tag: Getting the Angel Tree gifts has been one of my favorite---and longest-running---Christmas traditions. I began doing it because I wanted to give the kids an opportunity to discover how good it feels to give something back. THAT didn't go so well, so for years I've snuck off by myself and indulged in an afternoon of buying for a needy child. Who, if not grateful for my gifts, will still be ungrateful far away from me!

Canning jars: These I need for a special Christmas cooking project, but I need to find straight-sided jelly jars or it won't work. So far Walmart, the grocery store, and the local hardware have all been busts, so if the Plentywood hardware doesn't have it, I'll be forced to make another Amazon order. Noooooooooooo!

Ornament hooks: Under my tree is littered with a rubble of hookless ornaments, cruelly torn from their cozy branches by marauding felines. The hooks are somewhere on the tree, but I have better ways to spend my December than searching for needles in a tree-stack.

Blackberries: I need some for my Little House blog, and I fully expect to pay an arm and a leg for them. I may have to go with frozen ones if they don't have fresh. I wish Walmart weren't an hour away.

An old book: Sunday is my annual children's ornament exchange party. Tradition requires that we make an ornament craft, and the old book is needed for the craft. Thrift store, here I come!

Refreshments for the party: Keeping it low-sugar, I'm planning for fresh fruit kabobs (with the points taken off---this is a children's party, after all!), a vegetable platter made to look like a Christmas tree, and some delicious popcorn made on the stove. 

Deposit my checks: I've been working all week so I could spend it today. Good-bye, happy little dollars. It's been nice knowing you....

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Cup of Christmas Cheer


Every year at Christmas I have the ambition to be a little more organized than the year before. At this rate, I will reach perfection by the year 2897. Sigh. I just don't think I was cut out to be one of those super-organized, Type-A Martha Stewarts with all their gifts purchased, wrapped, and filed under the Dewey decimal system---and all by Jan. 31st.

But I still try to shop ahead, take advantage of sales and clearances throughout the year. And I do end up with quite a little collection of odds and ends by Christmas. My problem is that once December gets here and it's actually the Christmas season, the gift-giving lobe of my brain kicks into high gear.

Not only do I think of gobs of people I want to give gifts to, but I come up with so many great ideas for the gifts. So I keep planning and scheming, plotting to fill my ever-lengthening gift list. Help---somebody stop me before I place another Amazon order!

And for the first time since the move, I have enough mental wherewithal to plan and execute some home-made gifts. I'd tell you what they are, but then I'd have to kill you. Actually, I'd tell you what they are, but since a good share of the recipients read this blog, it would take some of the surprise off, ya' know.

But tonight,...ah, yes...tonight belongs to me.

 My annual treat is getting the latest edition of "Christmas in My Heart" (if you like Christmas, warm-fuzzies, and nostalgia, GET THEM!). "Christmas in My Heart" is a series of books filled with heart-warming short stories, some new, some old, and all of them enjoyable.

And today Volume 21 arrived in the mail. So instead of scrabbling to finish "just a little more", I'm going to curl up with a good book and a cup of hot cocoa.

Don't forget to take your break today!


Monday, December 10, 2012

The Sledding Party

The last few days have been cold. We're talking 50-layers-aren't-enough cold. Huddle-under-a-blanket-and-don't-come-out-until-spring cold. Fantasize-about-burning-furniture cold. You know, Hollywood-blockbuster-disaster-movie-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it cold.

It's been cold.

I like winter. I like having snow. I like having fun in the snow. But when it's so cold your boogers freeze if you're out for longer than 10 seconds, there's not much fun you can safely have. That leaves you stuck indoors with a teenage boy and an unnamed number of cats, all of whom have cabin fever. But at least the cats handle it with some grace.

And sure, I could scrub my bathrooms or organize something, but it's much more enjoyable to sit around and blog about the fun we had last week when it was still warm. We'd had a stretch of decent weather, culminating in one glorious day where the temperature got almost to 40. I knew the cold weather was coming right after, so I planned a sledding party as one last hurrah before our forced incarceration.

I like to surprise people, so I kept the party a secret from my niece and nephews. This time my surprise backfired on me a little bit---when I showed up at the school to whisk them away for an afternoon of fun and frolic I discovered Tiggy had to stay for a concert and Damon was home sick. Fine. I didn't want them in my party anyway. You can have a perfectly happening party with 3 people and 3 dogs (because of course I invited out Jaquiline Hyde the Beautiful Border Collie, and Clancy-doesn't-get-out-much Gibbs.

The sun sets so early in winter that by the time school lets out there's hardly any daylight left. Devon and I tried to hurry, but by the time we made it out to the house, the sun was already setting. I called ahead and Caleb had our snow gear all ready for us. We had a couple of sleds, a snowboard, and for the first time, a pair of skis with boots that actually locked in.

My mom had gotten them last year, but we'd never had enough snow to try it out before now. We had been using a  pair of skis that we just stood on until we fell off. I kind of liked the emergency-eject option, personally, but now we could be just like real skiers. Just like them.

Our sledding hill was located some distance behind the house. I have no hills right by the house, a source of disappointment to me; to be fair, hills are rather scarce around here in general. But last week Caleb and I scouted out one out back in the neighbor's field. It drifted with quite a bit of snow, so the slope was still covered and smooth.


Too bad we had to hike 50 miles to get there, but we hardly minded the distance because of the beautiful sunset.

We...puff, puff....hardly.....wheeze...minded it....gasp...at all. Collapse.

The dogs were having a great time. No lack of energy on their part. We seriously need to train those slackers to be sled dogs!

Clancy's right there in the center. White dogs don't show up well in the snow!

Caleb and Devon started having fun right away while I stood at the bottom of the hill and tried to figure out ski boots while hopping on one foot. Ski boots are interesting, to say the least. They're very...supportive (read immobilizing) and one gets the feeling that the ankles are pretty safe. I understand, though, why people are always breaking their knees while skiing. I felt like a flamingo just trying to walk in them----I can't imagine trying to fall. I could feel my kneecaps crumbling!

I made one slow, VERY careful trip down the side of the hill before deciding Devon could have a turn. I wouldn't want to be selfish, you know.



Devon did very well on skis, but he's something of a monkey anyway. Only my passion for accurate journalism compels me to report that he fell down his first time down the hill. One leg---with ski still attached---ended up about five feet uphill from the body, but after a "speedy" rescue, he reassembled his limbs and continued on his way. Do real-life rescue squads stop to laugh first?




All too soon, the sky darkened and the wind started to pick up. Fun is fun, but nothing says "wet blanket" like getting frozen to death, so we had to say good-bye to our play-time and head back to shelter. It had been a wonderful, fun afternoon of memory-making.






But the party wasn't quite over yet. It's against sledding party rules to end an evening without curling up with a nice glass of hot cocoa and a good movie. "It's a Wonderful Life" is still one of the greatest Christmas films ever made. And how will Hollywood ever surpass it---when faith, family, and fidelity are considered so old-fashioned and out-of-date now?




Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Wild, Passionate Nature is Leaking Again


I've spent many years living a pastel life. My house was mint-chip green and every interior room was decorated in soothing shades of muted colors. The art I aspired to create was romantic, dreamy, and---well---pastel. I liked watercolors of lilacs and bunnies and gardens and tulips. Wicker chairs, vintage china, and lace curtains in the windows.

But when I actually painted, something very awkward happened. I would sit down to bring my pastel vision to life and out would pour forth vibrant colors of reds, blues, yellows, and every other primary color. No matter how hard I tried, I could not make pastel art. My artistic career was hit and miss anyway, since I would get to paint a picture every 5 years or so, but eventually I began to suspect that I might have a colorful nature somewhere buried deep inside.

Ancient artwork...



As I've aged, and hopefully matured, I've come to accept---and even embrace---the bright colors of my soul. That's why in my new home, there are almost no pastels. Almost every room incorporates red in some way. And that's why I'm seriously contemplating painting the exterior of my house bright blue next summer. If I can't keep my inner colors down, why not join 'em?

Maybe I'll eventually stop trying to make delicate art, either, but for now, I keep trying. Last week I wanted to make a little felt owl kitty toy. Something cute and colorful. I didn't have a clear design in mind---more like a mental tickle---but I knew I'd recognize it when I saw it. So I made the owl.

I'll show you a picture of it in a minute, but first let me show you another picture. In my ego's defense, I did not see these owls until after finishing my own creation. I wasn't trying to copy them because I hadn't seen them yet, OK!? But as soon as I saw them, I realized that these owls were what my mind wanted me to create.

Needle felting Owl kit

Aren't they cute?

http://www.etsy.com/listing/96418998/needle-felting-owl-kit

But this is what sprung out of my own tortured artistic mists...


I call him "Attitude Owl".

I wonder what this says about my subconscious?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Window Dressing

The last few days I've been working on something a little different. Our local hardware store has been owned by Dennis Kittleson for I-don't-know-how-many-years, but lately he's gotten some crazy ideas about having a life to call his own, travel, and a fun retirement. So he's decided to sell the store.

Nothing is finalized yet, but Jack and Noni are in talks to buy it. They've been spending some time at the shop getting the feel of the business and helping out during the holidays. The last couple of days I've been called into help with some of the work, especially getting the front of the store looking more festive.


I've never worked in stores much before---my 3-month stint as a Walmart cashier has been it so far---but my family can attest that I showed an early aptitude for retail. Way back when I was 4 or 5 I started a little store behind my dad's Lazy-boy recliner. Business was bad, mostly because my stock consisted of little rocks, leaves, and seed pods collected from the yard.

Never one to let petty details like that stop me, I instinctively honed in on one of retail's primary truths. "Give the customer what he wants." What could my brothers want more than their own toys? So I would go into their rooms, "borrow" little things like Hot Wheels and toy dinosaurs, and stock my store with them.

Oh, sure....the boys complained a bit, but I had one very important parental dictate on my side. "Play nicely with your sister." Sometimes being the youngest is a good thing.

After such a sterling beginning,  it was only natural that I be consulted as part Jack and Noni's retail venture. And their store-to-be is already stocked, so I won't even have to worry about that part! Bet my brothers are relieved...

The entrance area of the store.

.
The front window

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Morning Blessings

The sunrise was so pretty this morning I just had to take a picture. Sunrise colors don't last long, so I had to grab my camera and run out there in my sock feet and pajamas. The driveway was still covered in a layer of snowy ice, and the temperature was hovering around 8 degrees----not the best environment for inadequately-clothed landscape photographers.

My blood has thickened enough that I can last about a minute at that temp, but I got pretty chilly there by the end. The trick is to admire winter scenery quickly and then make a mad dash for the warmth of the good ol' indoors. It helps to go "Hoo, hee, hoo, hee," like you're in labor.

You'll sound---and look---ridiculous, but a photographer's got to do what a photographer's got to do.

The sun was rising in the east


while the moon was setting in the west.
See, it was worth it...

Hope you have a beautiful day!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cabin-fevered Cats

Now that it's winter, the cats are spending more and more of their time outdoors. I still serve as their doorman on any nice days, but if the weather displeases them, they will go stand in the door for several years before deciding it doesn't meet their standards. At which time they will sniff snootily, stalk back inside, and meow at me as if I was the cause of  it all.

You have no idea how much fun this all is.

But now and again there are occasional bright spots in their noble suffering. Bright spots such as catnip. A few nights ago I took all the cat nip I'd dried, stripped it from the stems, and stored it in a container. The entire house was billowing with heady fumes, and it seemed to affect the cats somewhat.

Most of them contented themselves with rolling around in the stems on the floor, or fighting with the other cats trying to roll around in the stems. Catnip makes them scrappy. Snickers wanted to get closer to the Basket-o-Happiness, so he would jump on the counter every time my back was turned.



Boopsie is notorious for his inability to hold his catnip, and this time was no exception. He spent the evening staggering around, hiccuping softly, before trying to go to bed in the now-empty Basket-o-Happiness. But the Basket-o-Happiness has a rounded bottom and kept tipping over. Finally Boops just gave up and passed out on the floor, half in and half out.





But getting extremely "relaxed" isn't the only entertainment available to cabin-fevered kitties. No, they also have Indoor Tree Climbing. And now, the tree comes complete with sparkly, glittery, entrancing toys dangling from every branch.

It's...so...so...magical...

video

They're actually being surprisingly good about the tree. It hasn't fallen over even once yet, which is pretty impressive if you ask me. I do have to re-decorate the same branches several times a day, but I love Christmas anyway, so what's the difference.

I'm sure I'll still be just as excited about trimming the tree for the 1,347th time as I am now.

Sure.

Dashing Through the Snow

The Christmas season is upon us once more. Of course, around here it's been upon us since mid-October. I believe Christmas is much to big of a holiday to do justice merely from Thanksgiving to December 25. So as soon as the weather cools past a mild inferno I start in with the Christmas music.


But out of a sense of propriety, I still don't put the tree up or decorate until after Thanksgiving. This will be our first Christmas having the festivities out at my house, so our preparations are especially important this year. Where goes the Grandpa, so goes the celebrations.




Friday, as soon as we'd tidied up from Thanksgiving, Caleb and I hauled out the Christmas tree. Last year I put it up in my room for safety's sake, but I really want to have it out in the living room this year where Grandpa can see it. We'll see how it goes.


After we assembled the tree, we left it up over the weekend to let the cats get used to it for a while in the hopes that they'd soon tire of it and we could put the decorations up in peace. So far it is not looking really good for living room trees. The cats seem to think it is a special gift to them to make up for the annoyance of winter.

How happy they are to be able to climb and frolic again, even if the needles are plastic and the branches are wire. 


Our once-proud tree now lists rather alarmingly to the side and the branches droop downward, reminiscent of a weeping willow. And we haven't even tried to hang the ornaments on yet. I fear we won't be able to keep very many on the tree, but I have an idea for the ornaments if the cats prove too much for them. I'm just not telling you yet so I can surprise you...and so if it doesn't work out, you'll never know what it was.

Meanwhile, Caleb and I have discovered yet another amusement to while away our rural hours with---

Driveway Ice-skating

After several snows and as many episodes of freezing rain, our driveway is getting pretty slick. Sunday was a beautiful day of nearly 30 degrees, with bright sun and mild wind. Just right for getting outdoors and enjoying a bit of skating. I wouldn't let Caleb on the pond because the last few days had been warm, but there was no falling through the driveway.


Falling ON the driveway, maybe....

Somehow, by the time I got the camera outside Caleb had decided his ankles hurt too much to skate. Sissy. I'm not ashamed post my pictures, even though I looked approximately like an over-weight dill pickle, with no grace to speak of----on stilts.

video

Skating on the driveway is not a very  elegant proposition. The ice is very bumpy and is dotted with little gravelly patches waiting to seize you and hurl you to the ground. Pretty soon even my ankles had to cry "uncle", but we managed to extend our play a bit more by doing some arm sledding.

What's arm sledding, you ask? Arm sledding is what you do when you have no hills to sled on. Simply lie down on the sled and scoot along the slick snow using your arms. It's possible to go quite quickly using this method, but be aware you will not even be able to shut a door without pain for almost a week.

Oh, winter is wonderful. Filled with fun and delight.

I wish it were over.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Giddyup!

Well, we've lived in the Wild West for over 2 years now. It was bound to start rubbing off on us eventually. Last week, us girls got to let our hair down and have some fun being cowgirls. In name only, of course. No actual cows or horses were harmed in the making of our rough-and-tumble personas. Except possibly the cow that was involved with the creation of my leather cowboy boots. That cow may have experienced some negative effects.

I needed to do something for my Little House blog, something involving cowboys, since that's what the chapter was about. I decided to get some nice boots and have my picture taken in a Western-style outfit. Since my mom is working on a Super Secret Project that involved needing Western wear, I decided she had to be part of it, too.

And then when we got back from our Mommy-daughter shopping date (you've never HEARD such whining!), we were both so doggone cute that I had to get Noni in on it, too. So that is how we came to be standing out in a field, in the snow, trading the beaut-i-moose cowboy boots back and forth so we could each have a turn in them.

We did the group pictures and Noni's portraits first, since she had to do a U-haul rental at 1:30. We didn't start until 1:00, so we were a tad rushed. It didn't help when, after running back and forth from starting the timer for all of our group shots, I discovered I hadn't put a memory chip in the camera. That's OK, we liked doing them all twice.


Noni barely made it to the finish line before she got the call for her U-haul. In fact, she was standing on one foot, with one boot on and one boot off when her cell phone rang. "Westby U-haul Rental....," she answered so professionally---while my mom and I snickered in the background.




Then it was my turn for a couple---or 500--beauty shots. My mom was the lucky photographer who got to retake each one that didn't meet my standards of flatteringness. What---you thought I looked like this naturally!?




And of course, my mom got her turn. Photographing her is nearly as thankless as photographing me. I can't blame her....I'm already whiny enough about the aging I've done, and she's had a 30 year head start. But I think she looks great.







 It was a very fun afternoon, but let me tell you, those boots may have been made for walkin', but they weren't made for walkin' in the snow. We had some chilly feet, especially my mom, who brought slipper socks for warmth---only to discover she couldn't fit the boots over them and she had to go sockless.

 We had a great time, though. Even if we did have frostbite by the end.



The End



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It's a Beautiful Morning

Just a quick freebie to make all you Californians jealous.


THIS is what we woke up to this morning.






Oh yes, be jealous, you flip-flopped, shorts-wearing winter wannabes.

Dead Men Don't Itch


The sun set Sunday night on a sub-zero landscape. When we woke up in the morning, it was -9 degrees---inside.

Just kidding. It had only dropped to about 60 degrees indoors, but that was after throwing nearly everything I had at it, heat-wise. Obviously some improvements were in order. Over the last two years, quite a bit has already been done. Just this fall, my wonderful dad built a better door over the underneath part of the house. Now I don't have to drape carpet, insulation, and boards over the opening. But there are still two main heat drains in this rundown wonderful antique house.

My two doors don't have good seals---hint, hint, Dad, but the biggest drain of all is my attic space. They say you're supposed to have 12 inches of insulation, and for a good share of my roof space I'm about, oh, 12 inches short of that. Last fall, I got Laura's room insulated and half of the roof in the other part of the house. Sadly, the ceiling space of the two rooms is unreachable, but I was determined that I would get the accessible parts done this year. After all, my bales of insulation weren't doing me much good leaning against the wall of the store room.

The super-exciting day of insulating got off to a late start due to some Very Important Things that needed doing first. Caleb had always wanted to try the trick of throwing boiling water in the air when it's really, REALLY cold.  If the temperature is cold enough, the water will freeze into a crystalized mist before it hits the ground. Well, Monday morning was really, REALLY cold enough, sooooo..........

Science is Very Important.

video


The other thing that delayed progress was me messing around with Picmonkey, a photo editing website. I spent quite a while happily turning pictures of me into mutant, plastic, 18 year-old Barbie dolls. The politically correct thing to do would be to say how the experience showed me my inner beauty and the shallow and ridiculous cultural obsession with youth. Love your wrinkles. Embrace your flab.

pooh.

I love me some photo editing!

Art is Very Important, too.

At last, even I had to admit that it was time to face the fiberglass. I couldn't find the package of masks, but a nice, Western themed bandana worked very well, too. I looked like a snowman bandit. With safety goggles.



Working with insulation hasn't gotten any more enjoyable since last year. Caleb did the cutting, and I installed the pieces. We got both walls done in the storage room and the other roof done---with the exception of one area I had to leave until some very creative wiring gets fixed. I don't want to shock you (Get it? SHOCK you....snort), but it involved duct tape.


Have you ever insulated an attic? It rivals the most demanding workout video. It was in the low 30's in the attic, but I was working up a sweat. You do lots of squats while standing/crouching/standing/crouching/standing/crouching to staple the insulation on. Then there are the lunges---stepping carefully from beam to beam, trying not to come crashing through the ceiling on Grandpa's head. And of course, no workout video is complete without an ab-burner. Your abs will be fit and toned after hours of laying on your back doing crunches to put the staples in. At one point I had my toes tucked under a beam for stability, and was lying back, balancing along the narrow length of a 2x6 board. And would you believe it? By that time, it even felt comfortable!

Yes, I had quite a workout. And lucky Caleb got to figure out one more career that he doesn't like. If it had been up to him, we would have quit back at the very beginning. This was his first experience with the deceptive softness of fiberglass, but he quickly figured out that it was itchy. And even though he claimed to be near death from itchiness, we pressed on. As I told him, dead men don't itch.

.But it was worth it to get some insulation covering our thin roof boards. Before we started, you could see daylight all along the edges of the roof where the flashing was rotting away. Now you can't see it anymore! Much better.

It's such a good feeling to have that done. Insulating is of those  few things (unlike dishes or laundry) where once you get it done, it stays done. There are still a few details to finish once I get some more insulation, but we're almost done, and at least the next blizzard won't be able to whistle through my attic quite so easily.

Now if I could just get those doors fixed....

The Pee-pee Blizzard of 2012


This weekend marked the first blizzard of the season. As blizzards go, it didn't turn out to be much, but it was still a very nice winter storm that dumped a lot of snow on the area. It even rated a name---Winter Storm Brutus. But to me, it will always be remembered as the Pee-pee Blizzard.

It all started when my mom befriended a stray cat we named Fulton Montmorency III. He was a tough, scrappy little thing, surviving on his own for at least a couple winters. Independent. Resourceful. Unfazed. Ruggedly at-home in the great outdoors. Right up until he found out what was in the large, strange box his people lived in. Once he discovered things like warmth and ease, the palatial igloo and warm, cozy quilt we'd provided for him the previous winter were no longer good enough. He would sit, shivering by the door rather than demean himself to enter That Slum.

Well, that couldn't continue, so when temperatures dropped this year, poor Fulton came out to stay at my house for a couple weeks while his parents pimped his 'gloo. An electric bed was ordered, and my dad put in carpet and constructed a doorway that kept out the weather.

So far, so good, but unfortunately, some of my cats chose to take offense at the interloper. It wasn't so bad until the storm hit and they couldn't go outside at all. At that point, a random, anonymous cat we shall call Plazarus-You're-Gonna-Find-Your-Fluffy-Entitled-Butt-Cooling-It-Outside-All-Winter-If-You-Don't-Knock-It-Off-And-I-Mean-It-Ploopsie developed a distressing habit of taking out his deep emotional issues by spraying various corners.

Somehow, I just couldn't get behind the new decorating scheme of Ew de Urine, so I spent the blizzard following him around with vinegar and Febreeze. Boy, was it a happy day when the sun peeped out again! Fulton's bed was finished, the weather was warming, and Someone felt a little better about the world.



Blizzards are fun as long as you're inside and the power stays on. There's such a coziness about being safe and warm while the wind howls angrily outside. I count my blessings even more than the average person because of how bad things used to be. Two winters ago, when I first moved in, I used my living room as a refrigerator and my entry as a freezer because it stayed cold enough out there. Now I was sitting in the same room, snug and warm. What a difference!


 After the storm dies down a bit, it's time to suit up and head out to play. This storm had a large amount of light, fluffy snow. It was like wading through cattail fluff everywhere. Caleb spent a great deal of time jumping into snow drifts, but at my mature age, I can't get that excited about wet snow-melt trickling down my neck, so I stayed out of the deep snow in favor of more demure pursuits.




By Sunday night, the storm was spent, and we went to bed with temperatures falling into the minuses. My house is built along the architectural lines of a colander, so it was getting a little chilly inside. Not that it was SO bad, but it wasn't SO cold yet either. However, sub-zero temperatures bring their own activities, as the morrow would show.