Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Winter Walk

Saturday was such a mild day---almost 30 degrees---that Caleb and I took a nice nature walk after church. I am getting a little tired of the same scenery day after day, but at least we were outside in the fresh air. 

And it really was beautiful.

I need to plant more trees!

Shut the Barn Door....

 the horse just got out!!!!!!!!!!

Somehow, that old homily seems appropriate right now.

We've been enjoying another warm spell the last few days. I would feel pampered from all this nice weather if it weren't interspersed regularly with periods of extreme (according to me, anyway) cold.  Early last week we had another cold spell move through with temperatures in the minuses, but with windchills of minus 30 or more.

Sadly, it was then that my propane ran out.

See, "we" (by which I mean my dad) weren't able to finish piping the house for propane and get it all hooked up to the big tank sitting like an aircraft carrier in my front yard. So I have a bunch of little tanks scattered around to run the various necessities. And without so much as the courtesy of a warning, the propane tank that runs the well house furnace ran out. To make matters worse, the electric heater I keep out there for a supplement had come unplugged.

The well house was down to 20 degrees and the pipes were freezing by the time I found it. But this was only the beginning of sorrows, as it turned out. I had to move around a couple propane tanks, hook them up, and get the extra propane heater up and running. The well house quickly warmed up to around 80 degrees (the extra heater is VERY effective), but the water did not start to run.

The next step was to check to well, so I hauled Caleb out there and opened it up. I always make sure there are two people out there for well work because my well is an open pipe about 2 1/2 feet across---plenty of space to fall into. We immediately saw two problems. One was that the water level had fallen below the pipe, leaving it exposed to the cold and allowing the pipe to freeze. The other was that there were at least 3 bloated, soggy, dead rodents floating on top.

Excuse me while I pause to be ill.

We got a heat lamp down there and left it for a respectable length of time. Still no water. (And yes, we did remove the rodents. I shall draw a veil over the process, except to state that it involved disintegration) Next I plugged in some heat tape that ran along the pipe. Still no water. That pretty much leaves only one possiblility.

I have burned up my THIRD pump since moving to this house.

In my defense, the other two pump deaths were a direct result of an extremely stupid water tank system and this one was because of a totally different issue. That's some small comfort.

Very small.

So now I have no running water in the house. Not to worry, this hardy---yet whiny---pioneer girl can handle it!  We already get our drinking water bottled from town (a fact for which I am very grateful every time I find more dead rodents in the well). Now I am hauling all the washing water from my parents' house and "we" are pulling up buckets of water from the well to be used for what I shall delicately call "flushes".

I say "we" because I just stand there to make sure Caleb doesn't fall in. I tried to help, I really did, but I wasn't strong enough. Evidently my arms haven't gotten the news about women's lib yet, so they think they don't have equal upper body strength.....Caleb wanted bigger muscles anyway.

I'm sure I'll get a new pump eventually, but I'm guessing it won't be until the weather is a bit warmer. We're expecting a high of minus 15 and a low of minus 30 tomorrow---Not ideal well-fixing temperatures! In the meantime, I'll be hauling water and implementing my new policy of checking my heating systems twice a day during cold spells.

 I guess you CAN teach on old dog new tricks.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Winter Optimism

It's January now, the heart (or armpit, depending on your mood) of winter. Weather that just flirted with ferocity before now stops kidding around and gets down to business freezing the bejeepers out of you. But in this land of contradictions, not every day is bad. In fact, there can be stretches of very tolerable weather (note to California readers: "tolerable" means "colder than you thought humanly possible").

So you can expect to spend quite a bit of your time hunkered down inside trying to stuff a heater up your shirt. But then there will be days when the sun shines, the temperature rises above zero, the wind slackens, and you venture forth for some winter sports.

It was just one of those days a couple weeks ago that we were invited to a sledding party out at the Walikonis farm. There was quite a group of us; we brought some friends and a family came from church. Part of the adventure was driving out there, since I hadn't been there in almost two years and then I was only following someone else. This time I was the fearless leader, since the other family members had never been out there.

We made it OK, but not without a bit of second-guessing on my part. Thankfully, the group behind me couldn't hear my low-level panicking, so they thought I actually knew where I was going. And everyone in MY car was sworn to secrecy.

The Walikonis farm nestled next to some very nice hills; they are a very good windbreak, but they also make some nice sledding runs. We were lazy bums and stuck with the hill right by the house, but there were plenty of more exciting options to choose from. However, one trek up the "easy" hill was enough to convince me that I didn't actually need more excitement---not when more excitement meant steeper hills and longer hikes!

Our adventurers took a moment for a group shot before commencing to sled. It was a good thing, because some of our sledders were not long for the hill. Poor little Asia got to make one run down the hill, but wiped out on the second one. Her leg hurt too much to sled anymore, and later we found out that she had a fracture on her right leg. So now she is wearing a hot pink cast instead of a snow suit.

The rest of us had lots of fun sledding down the hill while Asia languished inside. I know, we're just mean that way. Devon was borrowing a snowboard and had lots of fun whizzing down the slope like Shaun White. If Shaun White were snowboarding in a farmyard. I got plenty of runs in on my royal sled---still the fastest beast around.

Of course it's impossible combine a group of juveniles and snow without having a snow fight at some point!

After everyone got cold and tired, we had a lovely meal inside, cooked by the wonderful Jeanne Walikonis herself. Everyone stuffed themselves and had a great time before we reluctantly headed back to town. I know, eat and run, but there was no way I was trying to find my way back in the dark!

So that is how we can spend a good day in the winter. But for every good day, it seems there are about 10 bad ones. Days when you look back with longing nostalgia for the balmy temperatures of 10-15 degrees. Days when the wind blows so fiercely that your flesh feels like it's freezing within seconds of walking outside and it hurts to breathe the air. Days that look like this...

My house during the blizzard two weeks ago. It's there. Really.

Up to my hips after the storm.

But no matter how cold or miserable it gets, there's one thing you can always count on....Spring is coming and no storm or cold snap or blizzard can get in its way.

Time to start ordering from the seed catalogs!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tina and the Temptation

We grew up reading Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories and having them read to us. They were truly a treasure trove of material. There wasn't a situation in life that you couldn't find an Uncle Arthur story to give you guidance.

Billy and the Bees
Horace and the Hogs
Dennis and the Doorhandle
Fred and the Firecrackers
Pearlie's Pennys
Disappearing  Donald

Classics, all of them. Oddly enough, the stories that were most often read to us had to do with disobedience. Strange, that...

But there was one story that stood out to both Noni and me. One we have remembered through the years and occasionally bring up to each other, always ruefully.

It involved two happy little girls, left home by Mother for the afternoon, with special permission to make a batch of penuche. They worked together happily (at least that's what the story claims) and were just drooling over the batch of cooling fudge when they happened to look out the window.

There, coming up the walk was one of their little friends and her mother.

"Oh, what shall we do. They are coming to call and Mother isn't here! We have all this lovely fudge and you know how Sally eats!"

"I know, we'll hide it until they leave. Then we won't have to share any of our treat."

So they quickly hid the candy under the bed just as the doorbell rang. And as soon as the door closed on the backsides of their company, they dashed back to the bedroom to get their treat.

But alas, while they'd been visiting the family dog had crawled under the bed and eaten all the treats. So, because they were greedy and didn't want to share some, they didn't get any.

Noni and I have been caught out on this many times through the years. In fact, it seems that whenever we get a little greedy, we can expect God to send us a lesson to go along with it. This evening it happened to me again.

I made fruit toast for supper, a wonderful gloppy dish made by heating and thickening canned fruit then serving it over toast. I usually add canned pineapple, and since I buy the kind canned in pineapple juice, I also usually get the juice.

Tonight, as I was about to pour it into my cup I thought---just for a millisecond---about sharing with Caleb. "Nah," my greedy little heart said. And I even hurried to pour it out and drink from the glass before he could get into the kitchen and ask for some.

But something was wrong. It didn't taste very good. In fact, after a few swigs, it really just tasted of tangy sugar. After a couple more taste-tests I was pretty sure that is was in fact...yes, a trip to double-check the can confirmed it.....HEAVY SYRUP. And Caleb was there to laugh at me when I sourly dumped my "treat" down the sink.

Oh, if only I HAD shared with him.

Fulton Fights to Survive

Winter Storm Gandolf?

I used to feel jealous that the East Coast got important-sounding named hurricanes and all we ever got were anonymous storms. Now I'm not so sure.

Who names these things, anyway?

We are in the middle of a Not-Blizzard. It looks like a blizzard, feels like a blizzard, and sounds like a blizzard, but it's Not. Not unless the meteorological powers-that-be decide to call it one. So we're stuck referring to "Gandolf, the Not-Blizzard".  Sounds real intimidating, doesn't it?


But this is what it looks like....

On my way into work this morning....

 On my way home an hour and a half later...

 On my way down to get Caleb in the afternoon....

Ha-ha. Just kidding. That last one is a photo of a white sheet of paper, but it was practically the same thing. Which brings us to Fulton....

Fulton Montmorency III is my mother's formerly feral cat. He came to visit us for a week so he wouldn't starve to death while she was in California. Fulton already believed he was a house cat, and his visit to our kitty paradise only served to confirm what he already knew. Why shiver out in the cold when you can be snuggling up in someone's bed? Sadly, my dad and he differ in their opinions. My dad made him a palace outside, complete with heated bed and water dish. Fulton said, "Peh."

He tried to fit back in to his natural lot in life---he really did. He went home for one whole afternoon, but his toes got cold. Unable to endure the hardship, Fulton returned to us.

Now he is struggling to survive another harsh winter storm...from the easy chair.

"I'm cold. Throw another cat on, will ya'?"

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Out With the Old...

Yes, it's January. The month of the year that people dedicate to hauling out the detritus of their lives. In the spirit of the season, I am finally getting to a bit of organizing, myself. One thing I'm starting today is taking down the Christmas decorations. I know it's shocking that I still have them up, but I'm normally much better about it. My pinnacle year was when I took them down and put them away on Christmas Day. But usually I have them all done in the first few days after Christmas.

This year has been a little slower-paced, in part because of my Grandpa's stroke, in part because there was the tiniest chance Laura might have been able to come for a short visit and I wanted the decorations still up if she could make it (but alas, it was not to be), and in part because my mother, not content with giving my only a few gifts at Christmas, saw fit to pass on to me her flu.

Thank you , Mother. I will remember this on your upcoming birthday.

Does anyone know where I can buy some nice, fresh typhoid?

The other project I tackled today was changing out the litter in all the litter boxes. And as long as I was changing them, it was seriously time to give all the boxes a scrubbing out. Since this morning's temperature was already 27 degrees, it would have been a shame to waste such mild weather.

The cats were somewhat offended at the implications, especially when I used the toilet brush to do the scrubbing. But they approve of the clean, cushy litter.

I approve of the new and improved odor!

Litter boxes by moonlight. My life is full of romance.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Miser is Born

I have managed to survive long enough as a mother of teens to see my first chick reach adulthood. "Adulthood" I should say, because there is no way that an 18 year old is really an adult. But I digress. John has been an adult for one year now, and has done his duty as the eldest by blazing a trail that leaves many lessons for those that follow him.

Yes, John has been a lesson to us all. One particular lesson I have taken to heart is the importance of being well-prepared to step into adulthood. And I have become even more determined to see Laura and Caleb be as ready as possible to assume the role of Responsibility. Sadly, John would never allow any help along those lines, so he was a little less than prepared for all the fun little tricks of adulthood---tricks like Bills.

And Paying For Things Yourself.

And Unexpected Expenses.

And Spending Wisely.

Laura isn't here right now, so I can only counsel her from afar. That leaves Caleb to bear the full brunt of the burden---I mean, opportunity---of my determination to send him into adulthood as equipped as I possibly can.

So he gets fun little programs like our Summer Spending Plan. This summer, Caleb got to have a certain amount of money each month that was his to spend  (Exciting! Thrilling! Wonderful!), but he was also responsible for ALL personal expenses beyond the basics of food and shelter (Unfair! Cruel! Heartless!). I feel that it was a very eye-opening and educational experience.

 We learned that Caleb has no self-control.

 Each payday, he immediately spent all his money on impulse (and largely edible) purchases, leaving himself penniless for the rest of the month. And he basically finished the summer in rags because he spent no money on clothes.

Yes, Caleb is learning things. And at the end of the summer, he waited confidently for a maternal bailout, but I was loathe to teach him lessons of a cycle of irresponsibility coupled with dependence. I made him earn some money and buy himself some needed items before I would kick in any "economic stimulus," if you know what I mean!

Well, today was another learning experience.

This month Caleb got the rare privilege of buying the groceries with his own money. Being the kind mother that I am, I'm giving the money back to him at the end of the month, but I wanted him to experience what it's like to watch his bank account shrink just so he can eat. And something besides Gatorade and Doritos!

To make the experience more exciting, he was given a budget and then told he got to keep whatever was left at the end of the month. Of course, I made sure that he had a decent list, because I don't expect to be fed on crackers and dry beans all month!

And off we went to Walmart!

I swear, it was like shopping with Ebeneezer Scrooge. He was scrutinizing prices, checking cost-per-ounce, and buying the cheapest (and the least amount) possible. I told him to get 3 boxes of cereal. He picked them out (generic, of course), then I spotted another kind that I liked.

"Get some of the strawberry cereal, please."

"If you want that kind of cereal you have to put one of the other boxes back, Mom!"

"Get some of the strawberry cereal, Caleb."

Caleb gets to pick out 3 treats for himself per month. Suddenly, gone were the rich, decadent brand-name treats he usually craved. It was a package of $1 sawdust cookies, a huge bag of colored-water popsicles  for under $2, and a large tub of bargain bin ice cream.

"Get a bag of frozen strawberries, please."

"Those are TEN DOLLARS!"....This from the guy who wants smoothies every day.

Oh, yes. It was a very educational experience.

I fully intend to continue these programs for the next two years and four months. By the time he "graduates" from childhood I want him to have, not only basic functional skills like balancing checkbooks, but an inner awareness of how much things cost. So he can look forward to more shopping months, another Summer Spending Plan, and months where he is responsible for seeing that all the bills are paid (with my money---see, I'm training him for Congress!).

Lots of opportunities for learning how to spend money wisely. Now if I could just figure out how to get him to SAVE money. But then he couldn't go into politics.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy Slightly-used Year!

I know, I know. It's the 3rd. But everyone else got to post pictures of the first sunrise in 2013. I took mine on the 1st just like everybody else, but haven't been able to post them til now. I refuse to let a busy schedule and a couple days' procrastination rob me of the pleasure! So here, with all the bloom rubbed off, are my New Year's photos.

As you can see, I wasn't quite up at sunrise, but that's only because I was the human sacrifice that accompanied our juveniles to a New Year's Eve party the night before. Zombies are not expected to greet the sun.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Christmas Resolutions

I know, I know. It's after Christmas. It's even after New Year's, but ya' get what ya' get! I was busy before this. Plus it was hard to roll my rotund body, with its Christmas cookie stuffing, to the computer. And hard to type with a cookie in each hand.

But in the spirit of a new year, I offer up my resolutions for next Christmas season....

#1. Congratulations on making progress on your goal of having shopping and present-wrapping done early. Remember, you will be very busy in December and having family shopping done and packaged will help cut the last-minute stresses of the season. Keep up the good work, but do try to keep better track of your wrapping. This will avoid accusing someone of present piracy because you already wrapped the gift and forgot about it. Sorry, Caleb.

#2. Mail your packages early! This means you have to get your act together in the beginning days of December. Plan for it and you can avoid paying $45 to send a giant box of gifts priority in the hopes that it won't get there too many days after Christmas.

#3. Have a cookie exchange party. That's it! You are throwing off the yoke of Christmas cookie servitude once and for all! Why should you spend hours making hoards of different kinds of Christmas cookies when you could spend hours making hoards of ONE kind of Christmas cookie? You are so SICK of Christmas cookies by the time Christmas gets here with the current system. Maybe if you got the baking out of the way early (so you can send those packages out early, remember!) you wouldn't get so tired of goodies. Plus it will be way easier to share the labor of having a stunning cookie assortment with others.

#4. Do not plan anything in the last few days before Christmas. You will be tired and will lose all of the season's peace and meaning if you are rushing about preparing for the Next Big Thing until the last possible minute. Schedule all parties and other occasions for the beginning of the month. Then you can get exhausted earlier!

#5. Get your Angel Tree cards from the Crosby courthouse right after Thanksgiving. Then you can shop for the kids when you go at the beginning of December. Try to have family gifts purchased  already so you can have afford to have more fun with Angel Tree.

#6. Have a tree decorated with hand-made, old-fashioned ornaments. Paper chains, snowflakes, the whole enchilada. You've always wanted to do this, but haven't been able to bear parting with all the old ornaments that have adorned your trees for years. But you have two trees, and it won't hurt anything to put the more ornate tree in protective custody in your bedroom. Of course, the paper ornaments won't last long in the Roman Colosseum that is your living room, so plan on decorating that tree closer to Christmas. Like 11:59 on the 24th.

#7. Reinvent the traditional ornament exchange party. You've had one every year for a decade, but it's time to mix things up a bit. Next year, instead of inviting a few children over to your house (and let's face it, after a decade, most of them are getting pretty old and used up), you will have a community party in town. That way no one will be left out and you can share a little Christmas fun with lots of little ones.

#8. Get your Christmas pictures taken early! Waiting until the last week before Christmas and the last 10 minutes before sundown is NOT a good way to go. You need to get the shots done in November as soon as there's snow so they are available for Christmas card procrastination in December. And you might avoid having the photos taken in your old rags from the waist down.

What they saw.....

What the photographer saw...

#9. Don't be afraid to try something new. Traditions were made to be...well...made. If you want to attempt a Journey to Bethlehem, then go for it. But don't be afraid to let things go if it turns out you've bitten off more than you can chew. No one likes a frenzied, rabid Chihuahua-woman, especially at Christmas. If you can't do it with some small measure of peace, than it's time to say goodbye.

#10: Either plan for your church family gifts for earlier in the month or plan for them to be New Year's gifts, 'cause ya' ain't gonna get 'em done the last Friday before Christmas.

#11. Prices on photo books go up as it gets closer to Christmas. Any books should be finished by October, which means starting them---let's see---14 months ago.

#12. Don't try to make a bunch of different edible gifts for different people. Yes, there are a ton of wonderful ideas out there, and yes, your Facebook page will be clogged with exciting new things to try, but it's silly---and impractical---to try to make them all. Or even part of them! Pick one and stick with it. That way you can devote your efforts into creating a charmingly-presented, well-made, timely gift. Just don't even GO near Pintrest the whole month of December!

#13. Keep your eyes open for divine appointments. Sometimes you can be so busy "getting things done" that you miss the chance to be an answer to somebody's prayer. And remember to share your heart, not just your accomplishments. A gift that's given just so you can show off isn't really worth much.

#14. Remember how hard you have to work to present a splendid picture of competent womanhood to the world? Do you actually go around spending hours decorating cookies so your "little" one can have pretty goodies in the cookie jar? Do you hand-make stunning and creative things on a daily basis? Weekly? Monthly? OK, maybe every one or two years? Guess what? All those super-moms in the blog-o-sphere probably don't either. And if they do, their kids get a lot of lovely things from an over-worked and too-busy mom. If you can't be nice and present while you do it, DON'T DO IT. Less frou-frou and more fun will make a happier home in the long run.

#15. Cultivate an attitude of gratefulness in your home during the holidays. It's too easy to focus on what we don't have and what we want. Look for ways to engage the kids in helping others and focusing on something besides themselves. Your life is filled with blessings both large and small; see how much you can be a blessing to others. And remember to thank the Giver of all---every one appreciates a thank-you note!