Thursday, December 31, 2009

By the Light of the Blue Moon

Tonight that spouse o' mine and I were driving home from an afternoon doing one of our favorite things: car shopping.  (Not really. Neither of us enjoy it any more than we enjoy grocery shopping.)  But what capped the afternoon's "enjoyment" was the beautiful pink sky and sun setting past the prairie, viewed from our front windshield, and the big ol' full moonrise seen from our back window!  And a blue moon, too.  (This only means it was the second full moon in this month, and by the skin of the moon's teeth, at that!) 

By the time we got home it was dark, and I made my way out to the barn to feed ponies.  It was so pretty out by the barn!  Clear sky (13º - a Brrr factor) and the full moon cast shadows of the ponies and me on the snow.  Snowy full moons are by far the best.

So here I am, looking at the New Year looming in a few hours.  Unless you are my inlaws, and then you are already waking from a night of Aussie reveling.  I enjoy reading a blog called All & Sundry and here is a partial New Year's quiz she posted today.  (My answers, of course.  And I skipped a few...)

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?  I started taking cello lessons! 

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

 I did not make NY resolutions last year.  I think I will this year, though. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

  My niece Amy!  I have a beautiful grand-niece, 6 weeks old! 

4. Did anyone close to you die?

 My dog, Bear. 

5. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?  Better self-discipline! 

6. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?  The day I kissed our son goodbye as he left for college.  We had three kids in college this semester, and I had an empty nest.

7. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

  It's not my biggest achievement, but I did take a refresher Arabic course in the spring, and I was actually not so bad in the conversational part.

8. What was your biggest failure? I really thought I would show this house who was boss this year, but, no, it's still not neat and tidy, it looks camped-in lived-in, we STILL don't have the trim work done, I suspect there are giant dust bunny monsters lying in wait in some of the darker corners.  Well, now, there's always the new decade to think about... 

9. Did you suffer illness or injury?  I had a headache one day in October.  I had a cold this last week of the year.  That's all! 

10. Whose behavior merited celebration? My kids!  One graduated from college last week and has a spring internship, one is graduating from college in May, and one is on a collegiate XC and track team!


11. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
 Why dwell on negative? 


12. Where did most of your money go?  To various learning institutions around the country.


13. What did you get really excited about?  Daughters #1 & 2 and their bike races.  The Boy and his XC races.  And Christmas.  As always.


14. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder?  Happier!
– thinner or fatter?  the same!  Room for improvement, though.
– richer or poorer? That's hard to tell.  Money in, money right back out again.

15. What do you wish you’d done more of?

  I wish I had spent more time reading.  And exercising.  And learning about things.   


16. How did you spend Christmas?

  In Oklahoma, with 38 relatives!



17. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

  don't hate.  It's bad for one's system.

18. What was the best book you read?  Hmmm...The Book Thief or Pillars of the Earth. 

19. What was your greatest musical discovery?
  The cello sitting in my living room!  It's been there for 3.5 years, since Daughter #2 left for college.  And this year, instead of dusting around it, I dusted it off and called our local music store for an instructor.  I am on the fast-track to Yo Yo Ma-hood.  Sort of.


20. What was your favorite film of this year?  Julie & Julia.  Love Julia Child, love Meryl Streep.

21. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?  I was 49.  I contemplated things.
 

22. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?  I should have been more physically active.
 

23. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?  Ouch.  Rural casual?

24. What kept you sane?

  Not one thing.
 


25. What political issue stirred you the most?

  Terrorism. 



26. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.

  I enjoyed seeing my three kids as adults.  It's a life lesson to learn to let them go.  But it is really a wonderful thing to see them as capable and smart adults.  That, I suppose, was the gift I wanted and received this year.



27. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.


'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
So now it is New Year's somewhere off the East Coast in the ocean.  I suppose the marine life has gone to The Codfish Ball tonight.

Happy 2010.
(Oh, yeah - we bought the car.)

More holiday...tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snow! Pretty Snow!

December 30, with Y2K.01 looming.  Where did the decade go, I ask you?


It snowed again during the night, pretty, pretty snow.  The new snow has overcoated the week-old, crusty snow, and it looks like an arctic tabula rasa once again.


I have received a few suggestions for Y2K.01 book titles.  So here is my reading list, thus far:
  • The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood) {This is the Wabaunsee Book Club's January title, so I will commence reading it first.  It is not something I would normally choose to read, so, yes, this year will be a year of literary growth for me.} 
  • Picture of Dorian Grey {I took this off Margaret Reese's book list.}
  •  The Accidental Connoisseur: An irreverent journey through the wine world (Lawrence Osborne)  {yes, Leann, there was a pattern in your picks!}
  •  A Woman's Book of Strength (Karen Andes)
  • Bell Canto (Ann Patchett)
  •  Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
  •  East of Eden (John Steinbeck) {I can't believe I have never read this!}
  •  O Pioneers!  (Willa Cather) 


And I'm still taking suggestions!  Can you recommend a good title to me?


Conversely, let me recommend the following books, from my 2009 books read:
  • The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
  • Saving Fish from Drowning (Amy Tan)
  • My Life in France (Julia Child)
  • Call the Briefing (Marlin Fitzwater)
  • The Opposite of Fate (Amy Tan)
  • The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
Those are in no particular order, and as I typed each one, I thought, "Oh!  I really enjoyed that one!"  

Maybe you will, too.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

December 29th: On Stupids:

December 29: 2 days left in the old year.
I was awake for 3 hours in the middle of the night last night, thanks to a cold.  And I began thinking of stupid things and stupid people.  Here is a partial list of (in my opinion) stupid things and stupid people:


The Associated Press named Tiger Woods "Athlete of the Decade" in December '09.


Also in December 2009, Michael Vick received the Ed Block Courage Award, an award voted by Philadelphia Eagle teammates. This award "honors players who exemplify commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage."

Bravo TV's "Real Housewives" series.


Those insipid television weight-loss ads and those insipid spokesmen/women they use in them.  I DON'T CARE about Marie Osmond, Valerie Bertinelli, and all those former football players and coaches.


Those insipid television weight-loss ads stating that they will ship food right to your door. Learn about nutrition and go get your own  #!@%!  food.


Something about the press, itself.  It seems like there are too many writers and journalists and not enough REAL stories out there.  We've become saturated with "teen stars" (who don't have an ounce of talent, it seems, who don't know right from wrong), politicians who don't know right from wrong, too many public affairs and divorces.

More sad than stupid, it seems like too many athletes resort to drugs to enhance their performances.  Sad, because that's just not fair.  Stupid, because I have seen pics of what steroids do to an athlete's liver.  Ugly, ugly consequences.


I might add to this list, but suffice to say that after a 3-hour decrease in my sleep pattern last night, added to the 7:45 am call I received from a Chilean businessman (who spoke as much English as I do Spanish, but he had the advantage of +3 hours, and I had the disadvantage of no sleep/coffee/presence of mind...) and the fact that I can barely breathe out of one nostril, let alone two, which presents a temporary (it is hoped) oxygen debt to my brain, plus the 2.5 hour Skype call I made BACK to the Chilean businessman this evening...

I am calling it a day.  But!

More holiday...tomorrow!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What to Read? What to Read?


Time to mull the New Year's resolution list.  In addition to the annual "I will be a better person in mind, body, and deeds" outline, I have decided to make a reading list.  Books that I should have read eons ago, but never did.

This is where you come in:  I need some read-worthy titles - classics, if you may.  I don't want recommendations of the NYT bestsellers list or B & N's top 10.  Something you have read and really enjoyed, or something that you have read which really stuck with you.

Parameters:
I do not like violence of any sort.  (See: Wicked Monkeys, a few posts ago.)
No Dickens, please.
I think I have read all the Jane Austens (probably should re-read them for a refresher, and that would be MOST enjoyable!) 
I like Shakespeare.

OK.  Let me have some suggestions, s'il vous plaît.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fa La La La La


Fa La La La La...


Yep, still with the Christmas songs.  Around our house, the Christmas decorations and tree and such go up gradually, and we keep them up until Twelfth Night, January 6th.  Lots of people seemed to throw Christmas together the day after Thanksgiving.  I actually  climbed up into the attic the Night Before Christmas and found our Christmas stockings (plus some extras for some extras sleeping in our house that night!)


I am sure our holiday festivities sound much like everyone else's.  Big Family (39 of us) Christmas last weekend, reading the Christmas Story and eating and opening presents and then singing Handel's Messiah.  For nearly 3 hours.  We sing all of it: start-to-finish, and everyone sings the solos in unison.  This is something my family has done for years.  My sister used to be our pianist.  Barb would commence practicing the day after Thanksgiving, and by our Christmas, she played every song seemingly with ease.  For nearly 3 hours.  My sister has passed away now, and we are left using an orchestral CD accompaniment, which, let me tell you, is NOT the same as a piano in the same room.  Not the same at all. 


A few days after Big Family Christmas we geared up for Little Family Christmas, which happened to actually fall on December 25th this year.  Living far away from family, we are usually traveling on Christmas Day.  When our kids were little they would write letters to Santa explaining the situation, and asking if he could perhaps jump the gun and deliver their presents early?  Santa and the elves were always happy to accommodate.


Christmas Eve...in the midst of blizzard warnings and drifting snow, sudden whiteouts, and REALLY harsh, cold wind, we ate dinner, went to church, went to a party, and came home and played games.  There were 10 of us, and it was such fun!  Toward bedtime, I cleaned up and, as I used to do on winter nights in Michigan, I set the dinner ham out on the back porch in the blizzard, till morning.  Trouble was, in the morning it was gone.  Hmmm.  Who would have thought that a fox or coyote A) would come into our fenced back porch, and B) who would have thought a fox or coyote would have been out sniffing around in a blizzard?


Today was Boxing Day.  Tradition is that this was the day that servants were given off to be with their families after working on Christmas Day.  OUR Boxing Day/Weekend is such that I am urging everyone in this household to go through all their worldy possessions and let's-throw-it-in-a-box-and-get-rid-of-it and strive for the Shaker existence!  And no, this is not just a year-end/New Year's mental deal.  With three  two kids in college, (strike that:  Daughter #1 graduated last week!!  Yippee!!), or in geographical quandary (Daughter #1), we seem to be bulging at the seams in this household, even though we have a barn and another outbuilding in which to store things! It's time to assess the inventory.  High time.


And so goes our Christmastime.  Next week, New Year's.  Week after that: Twelfth Night.


More holiday...tomorrow!

A Blizzard?





When it snows,
ain't it thrilling...
Though your nose

gets a chilling...



We'll frolic and play
the Eskimo way...
walking in a Winter Wonderland!






Wednesday, December 23, 2009

December 23!

Today is December 23rd.  There are 8 days remaining in the year 2009.  And two days left, for those of you who have yet to celebrate presents under the tree and such.  We Armstrongs celebrated Big Family Christmas over the weekend, and we will have Little Family Christmas on Christmas Day, following church on Christmas Eve. 




On this day in 1893, the opera Hansel und Gretel, by Engelbert Humperdink, was first performed.  I have vivid memories of my brother Mike and I having the starring roles in the Pryor Creek Methodist Church production, some 45 years ago (ouch.)  I remember singing our duet ("I'm Hansel...I'm Gretel...") and I remember receiving a pack of clay (pre-Play-Doh years, I guess) after our performance.  The parts I don't recall are that the two stars (H & G) are sent into the woods by the wicked stepmother, and come upon a lovely gingerbread house, commence eating the lovely candy and gingerbread off the house, are captured by the witch who lives there (possibly the wicked stepmother incognito...who knows what die Brüder Grimm actually had in mind here...), H is put in a cage to be fattened and eaten by the wicked witch, but G kicks the wicked witch into the oven and burns her to death and frees brother H, and then H & G spend some time eating the sweets off the gingerbread house before returning home to their loving father who tells them the wicked stepmother (witch?) is dead.  And they live happlily after, The End.  I don't remember those parts of the story.  Probably a good thing, because I was easily traumitized as a child.  In fact, my mother always sent me to bed when Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz fell asleep in the poppy fields, before reaching the Land of Oz.  I thought this was the happy ending.  It was YEARS before I knew there was a second half of the story, with the wicked monkeys and such.  I was a very sheltered child.



Here is OUR 2009 Gingerbread House, designed and built by Daughter #1:


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hemispheres and Solstices

Here I am this month, enjoying the cold and the snow, and yes, even the dark.  I like this seasonal happening.  I'm not a dark soul or anything, I just like changes in atmosphere, I guess.  Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, first day of our (Northern Hemisphere) winter, shortest day of our year.


I got an email from my mother-in-law this morning, from Down Under.  It's hot there.  And dry.  She is celebrating the 2" of rain they got recently.  


This time last year, that spouse o' mine and I were in Chile, visiting cherry growers.  It was hot there, too!  We had a teeny little rental car with no air conditioner.  But being the tough person I am, I did not whine.  Much.  But figure: 91º and no air conditioner.  It was pretty bad.


Here are some Chilean photos of our trip last year:


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jinglepup!



























This afternoon was, in Kansas-in-December terms, gorgeous!  The temps were above freezing and the sun was shining.  Who could ask for anything more?  Biserka & I went for a walk this afternoon, and I thought sleighbells were in order.  Biserka doesn't run, she prances, so the sleighbells sounded like a miniature Clydesdale in 2/4 time. 




I am happy to say that the Least-Ugly Christmas Tree saga has come to an end.  Finally.  When we brought the pasture cedar into our house last weekend , it was indeed BIG, and UGLY, and just not right.  It became even less right after I trimmed one side of the branches off so that fit would fit flush with our church pew (and that pew is another story for another time).  Well, figure that one out, folks: if one trims one side of an ugly cedar Christmas tree, and not the other, then the tree is lopsided and prone to much tipping.  So after 2 tip-overs, I took some decorative Christmas ribbon (this is the part of the story where Daughter #2 began rolling her eyes during lunch today), and tied one end to a branch of the ugly cedar, and the other end of the decorative ribbon to our window latch.


But when I awoke this morning, I knew what had to be done.  The Boy and I are sharing a car during the holiday season since his is still out on the west coast.  I dropped him off at his place of seasonal employment, (a bike shop: he is a bike builder!), ran my holiday errands (more on that below), and returned to pick him up and drive to the nearest Christmas tree stand, where we purchased a dandy pine tree that neither looks nor smells like a pasture cedar.


There!!  I have broken with tradition, and not a YEAR TOO SOON! 


On the way home from Christmas shopping and such, The Boy and I spotted an oddity along the highway: there was a bat hanging upside down from the electrical line, in the midday sun!  Must study up on bats, because I can only think he was warming himself after 2 weeks of sub-freezing weather.  Poor bat: not many bugs out this time of year.


What else have I accomplished today?  Christmas cards mailed: check!  And probably for the first time in a decade.  Or two.  Our holiday card-sending has evolved, quite nicely, I must say, into New Year's letters, Valentine's letters, and one year, Spring-hath-Sprung letters.  But this year, I got the kids round the dining room table and we knocked out some pretty news-worthy holiday cards! 


And so now there is the delicious scent of roast beef and vegetables wafting from the kitchen, a proper Christmas tree, decorated and lit, in the living room, and the sounds of the Nutcracker being played throughout the house.  It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

More holiday - tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just a Little Negativity...Before the Nativity





















    Just a small complaint:


    Could the gift wrap people please stop putting tiny little pieces of tape at the ends of the paper rolls?

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful...



    I contend that even though it is 13º and WINDY,  I prefer to be outdoors in this season more than a hot, nasty, windy August day.  Today was pushing it a bit, though, in the wind chill category.  I rarely pay attention to such measurements (windchill), but this afternoon, I was chilled to the bone, even in my snowmobile suit, hat, gator, gloves, and arctic boots.

    The Boy is home from college, and mid-afternoon, I heard the front door shut.  I looked out in time to see him running out the front gate and down the road.  In the wind and the snow and the 13º temperature.  He returned after 7 miles, and did not look altogether serene and happy.  He made a beeline for the shower.  I thought to myself that his running outdoors was not at all wise, but then thought to myself, He is an adult, and he will figure things out for himself.  After his shower I mentioned to him that I had gotten him a pass for the Rec while he was home.  I betcha he uses it tomorrow.

    The aforementioned Christmas cards are signed and sealed and ready for delivery!  A first for me in about a decade.  I've gotten a few Christmas presents, have quite a few more to go.  But...I have a week and a half.

    More holiday...tomorrow! 

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Sunday 13


    What a fine day this has been, Sunday, 13 December '09!


    That Spouse o' Mine and I were joined by all THREE of our college kids for church this morning.  This was such a blessing - I love having my kids in church with us. 


    After church we rushed home to change into normal clothes, and went down to the Downey Ranch (our neighbors) to take a CPR refresher course.  Mind you, we live in a rural Kansas area.  The more people to take these courses, the better.  So, yay for the people who spent their Day of Rest, refreshing and learning.  


    Immediately upon our return home from CPR, we gathered family and friends, and hiked out to our pasture and beyond, to find the Least Ugly Tree (see previous posts).  Well, we found it.  And our neighbors found theirs!  Yay!  We trudged home in the snow, two trees in tow, followed by two horses and one high-adventure cat.


    So then, we found ourselves staring into two Christmas greeting card boxes.  As yet unsent.  Now...I have to tell you, for many, many years, I have sent first, New Years' cards, and then Valentine's cards to friends and family.  For many reasons, Christmas cards just never happened in our family.  But this year, the "Empty Nest Year", I can can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I think I can get Christmas cards sent!!! What a joy! 


    Tonight, while That Spouse o' Mine began broiling our lamb chops for dinner, I set our college kids at the table, and we round-robined a kabillion cards to each other, with seperate greetings from each of us, and now I am preparing to address each of these cards.  It was a fun time. Some names were tossed about to rekindle happy thoughts and relations and experiences.  We had a good family evening.


    More holiday...tomorrow!. 




    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Wednesday, December 09, 2009

    Snow. And more snow.

    I am not so much a tea sipper as I am an enthusiast of dark, dark cups of espresso or the like.  But there is something to be said for a mid-afternoon cup of very hot Earl Gray before heading out to feed and water animals - especially in the 12º snow and wind that we are experiencing this week.  (Well..it was actually 6º during this morning's feeding/watering/snow shovelling tasks, and is forecast to be -6º tomorrow morning!)  Once I am properly bundled in my boots, hats, gloves, snowmobile outfit (no, we don't have snowmobiles, but I wanted something a little sportier-looking than the Carhartts I see in every pickup that drives by), being outdoors in the freezing world can be quite enjoyable.


    There's a hush on a dark, snowy morning or in the dark, snowy evening.  I can hear birds and wild things down by the creek.  We have a pair of pigeons who have taken up residence in our big old barn, and they can be heard cooing when I walk in.  Our horses are friendly folk, and are always eager with a cheerful nicker when they hear the grain bins open.







    Tonight I was out feeding and re-shoveling paths from the house to the barn, and to the duck house, and another path out the front gate and across the road to our mailbox.   Our neighbor, Frank, pulled by on his tractor and snowplow just then, and bless his heart, plowed our front driveway all the way back to the barn for us!  Great neighbors are just that. 


    Tuesday, December 08, 2009

    "Nußknacker und Mausekönig"

    "Nußknacker und Mausekönig"  (Nutcracker and Mouse King) was a story written years and years ago by E.T.A. Hoffman.  (Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (January 24, 1776 – June 25, 1822).  In synopsis, it's a story about a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and a fierce battle against a Mouse King with seven heads.  Yickk! 

    However, this was but a story written...

    Marius Petipa (who is this guy??  He is purported to be the most influential  balletmaster and choreographer that has ever lived.) had the idea to choreograph the "Nußknacker und Mausekönig" story into a ballet.  And his idea was based on a revision of "Nußknacker und Mausekönig", by Alexander Dumas - you know: the author of The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, etc.  And we all know that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed the Nutcracker music in 1891-92.


    So, you see, a talented writer may create something which is beholden by others, and taken into another medium, another realm, another "art",  and re-created into a wonderful work.  From E.T.A. Hoffman, to Alexander Dumas, to Marius Pepita, Tchaikovsky, and beyond, we have received a wonderful holiday tradition known as the Nutcracker Ballet!  The means beyond...the Bolshoi Ballet, Baryshnikov, all the tiny kids in local ballet theaters who play the parts of the Ding-Dong Clock and Mother Goose and her children...


    The Nutcracker!  What a festive time!  My family has enjoyed many a city's Nutcracker presentation:  Lansing, Cleveland, Tulsa, Kansas City...  Wherever and whenever we find ourselves in a timely place we enjoy this holiday tradition!  No two ballets are the same, and that is so much a part of the enjoyment!  I suppose it is much like reading and re-reading a book: you can get different things out of it each time you view it.  

    And so, I leave you with this beautiful image:



    And I hope we can all enjoy a Nutcracker Ballet performance this holiday season!

    Monday, December 07, 2009

    Winter Wonderland!

    Well, the winter storm warnings are here.  The weathermen, I hear, are whipping up a frenzy of forecasts and panic-inciting warnings.  I don't listen to weathermen because they can act like such idiots.  I can't change the temperatures or snowfall any more than the people in Newfoundland and Sault St. Marie can, but those people seem to have it down and live quite nicely with nature.  My coffee date and my cello lesson are both canceled tomorrow.  I hope it snows a big one, because if I am not out having coffee and music, then I should at least be out XC skiing with the pup Biserka.

    Yesterday on our drive to church, that Spouse o' Mine was going on ad infinitum (or so it felt, not having had enough caffeine in my system at that point), about chestnuts.  And chestnut trees.  Blah-de-blah-blah.  Or so it felt...


    This afternoon while I was getting the goods to host Book Club this week, I chanced upon some chestnuts at the local grocer!  What coincidental timing!  (I know, I know...'tis the season.  I know...)  I took the big scoop and scooped a whole big bagfull.  I felt pretty smug, getting that Spouse o' Mine chestnuts only one day after his horticulturally-academic lecture about the things. 


    What's wrong with this picture???

    I KNOW what chestnuts look like.  What in the world made me think that the Brazil nuts I so lovingly placed in that Spouse's hands were CHESTNUTS?!

    If I am like this at 49, what in the world will my life be like at 78?  I will be bringing home cats instead of catfood.  I will be flying the American flag at Passover.  I will be using the push lawnmower as a snowblower.

    It's not looking too rosie.  


    Sunday, December 06, 2009

    St. Nicholas Day

    The Christmas season!  I love Christmas.  So far, I have managed to put a wreath on our front door and a festive tablecloth on our dining room table.  It amazes me that some people have had Christmas trees and decorations up since BEFORE Thanksgiving!  The boy gets home from college next week (yippee!) and then we will assemble out in the pasture to pick out the least-ugly cedar tree, cut it down, and haul it in for decorations.  It will have three foil-covered stars on the top, because years ago, three little kids could not bear the thought of THEIR star not being on the treetop.  In fact, the three stars are so asymmetrical and curvy, if we did not put them on the top of the Christmas tree, one might be hard-pressed to guess what in the world they were.  Our least-ugly cedar tree will have a reindeer ornament made from a wooden paint stirrer, and another reindeer made from a squashed-up soda can.  It will have a paper-chain made by a 4-year old girl some 18 years ago, and a star made from popsicle sticks, with a kindergarten girl's picture pasted in the middle.  Our least-ugly cedar tree cut down in our pasture is nothing that will ever make the pages of any magazine.  But it is a fun thing to behold each December.  



    Today is St. Nicholas Day: December 6th.  St. Nicholas was a bishop in what was then Greece and is now part of Turkey, centuries and centuries ago.  He must have been a very kind and compassionate man, from all the stories we read about him nowadays.  So maybe we could take his lead, however long ago, and do good deeds for all the children and poor people and animals like he did. 


    Now I need to address those bell-ringers standing in front of stores this month.  Daughter #2 and I were out & about yesterday (we went to a horse-drawn Christmas parade!), and she commented on the bell-ringers, and made a good point: maybe the ringing would not be so obnoxious if they made bells w/ deeper, more-resonating ding-dongs.  (Those might be my words, but you get her gist.)  I agree with her. 


    Now, off to find the Christmas box...

    Friday, November 27, 2009

    Leave it to Beaver


    Beavers are big, nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodents. Maybe the second-biggest rodent in the world. I find them quite cute, despite the fact that they wreak havoc on creeks, rivers, and, as it seems this fall, landscaping.

    It appears that beavers have a particular taste for aspen trees.

    No other trees on either side of the creek were felled by these furry little fellows, just the aspen. Which are no longer quaking, as you might guess.


    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    This Evening's Walk

    This evening's walk brought forth some bunnies in the fields, two girls walking their goats, and a toothless man looking for a deer.

    Now, where do I live?

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    My Bear

    My Bear

    It's taken me a week to post this, written last Friday.

    Well, Paul & I buried one of the World's Best Dogs tonight. Bear died this afternoon, very suddenly and just the way I had hoped. And the way we all would like to exit this life.

    I walked down the road after lunch to go to a bull sale. Bear walked to the gate with me, and I told him "Stay" (even though he was deaf!), and went on down the road. I got back at 1:30, he was there to greet me. I walked in to do BioWorks on the computer, and half an hour later I heard him on the front porch - he was yip-yip-yipping and it sounded just like a coyote out on our porch. I walked out, and just knew. I pet him, and he died about 60 seconds later. Amazing.

    We had a great "last week" together, walking each morning and each evening around our pasture. Yesterday I spent an hour grooming both dogs, and he looked particularly handsome for a 14-yr old Bouvier.

    Graham was starting his Kindergarten year, in the fall, when we got Bear. Graham is a freshman in college now. (See my post: A Boy and His Dog, 28 Aug.) It was difficult to call our three kids, all in college, and tell them that their childhood pet had died.

    And this is a sand in my hourglass.

    ~ T.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Let's review:

    It's its: It is its title.

    It's its: It is its food.

    It's its: It is its house.

    It's its: It is its entirety.

    It's its: It is its end.

    Period.

    Monday, November 02, 2009

    Rain is Forecast:

    This afternoon a dog, a cat, and I went for a walk in the rain. And this is what we saw:

    A Spectrum: Ends of a Rainbow:



    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Wee Sleekit Mousie

    The past couple of days I have been out in the pasture, playing Green Acres with our little mower, mowing weeds. It's a little late in the game, I realize (and probably what the REAL farmers are thinking as they drive past and see me), but better late than never, I say, and besides, the pasture looks really nice and green now, with the remnants of brome still alive and unfrozen.

    As I go around on our little mower, I am followed by two horses, two dogs, and two cats. The horses don't follow me as much as they are following the dogs & cats: curiosity killed the cat, I tell the felines. (Curious ponies might just step on a kitty.)

    A digression in this story: our farrier came out today to do the horses. The ponies were in fine fettle, finer than the farrier would have liked, in fact. He was exasperated by their antics (who wants a 1500-lb animal dancing while you have a hold of his hoof?) I told him the weather must be changing: there must be a storm coming. Sure enough, tomorrow morning's forecast is for thunderstorms.

    Ok, back to the pasture: every once in a while, I would come upon a fast-moving field mouse, scampering for his life. And this poem from my childhood popped in to my head every time:

    To A Mouse
    On turning her up in her nest with the plough.
    by Robert Burns

    Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
    O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
    Thou need na start awa sae hasty
    Wi bickering brattle!
    I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
    Wi' murdering pattle.

    I'm truly sorry man's dominion
    Has broken Nature's social union,
    An' justifies that ill opinion
    Which makes thee startle
    At me, thy poor, earth born companion
    An' fellow mortal!

    I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
    What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
    A daimen icker in a thrave
    'S a sma' request;
    I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
    An' never miss't.

    Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
    It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
    An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
    O' foggage green!
    An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
    Baith snell an' keen!

    Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
    An' weary winter comin fast,
    An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
    Thou thought to dwell,
    Till crash! the cruel coulter past
    Out thro' thy cell.

    That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
    Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
    Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
    But house or hald,
    To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
    An' cranreuch cauld.

    But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
    In proving foresight may be vain:
    The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
    Gang aft agley,
    An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
    For promis'd joy!

    Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
    The present only toucheth thee:
    But och! I backward cast my e'e,
    On prospects drear!
    An' forward, tho' I canna see,
    I guess an' fear!

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Math. Or Not.

    I was not a good math student. I have never enjoyed math, never held a curiosity for it, and have generally left math up to others to think about and ponder and enjoy. Kind of like rum, I guess.

    But one thing I do enjoy is fractals. I don't want to think too deeply about them, I just like to look at them. Living in a computer age permits a good visual aid to this enjoyment. But even back in my crayola days, I liked them. (I didn't call them my Fractal Color Books, though...)

    I am a modest quilter. I'm not a perfectionist, and if you ever receive one of my quilts, I hope you don't scrutinize it too closely. It really doesn't bother me if my points don't line up. Someone should do a study on quilters who ARE perfectionists, whose points DO line up, and the rest of us, and see if there is a correlation between that and how much we enjoy math.

    I think there is a correlation between fractal enthusiasts and quilters.

    Anyway, here are some fractals that I thought were pretty. You can find more on your own, by Googling fractal images.

    Pretty Fractals:





    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Hurricanes and Such

    Tropical Storm Patricia barreled down on the Baja Peninsula this weekend with 60 mph winds. Sometimes these storms turn into hurricanes, and wreak even more havoc than their juvenile selves 24 hours prior.

    What about those hurricanes? Anyone been in one?

    I have: Hurricane Gloria, Long Island, in 1985.

    What was it like, you wonder? Well, you're asking a girl from Tornado Alley, Oklahoma. (Who now lives in rural Kansas, I might add.) Hurricane Gloria had hammered on the Bahamas, but then weakened as she continued up the Atlantic Coast to N. Carolina. When she made second landfall on Long Island, NY, I was there, twiddling my thumbs in wait. My parents had told me the night before to evacuate LI, but I opted to wait it out, and by the time their parental opinions came in loud and clear a second time, it was too late anyway: the LI Expressway was packed with evacuees and not moving.

    A hurricane is different from the tornadoes that I have grown up to know and fear. Hurricanes give warnings. Let me rephrase that: the National Hurricane Center and all the news channels and webpages and whatnot give warnings: hours and even days of warnings. Tornadoes? Holy mackerel, if you have enough time to grab a pet and a flashlight, you're Okie-Dokie and lucky.

    So I awoke that morning of the hurricane, expecting some really bad experience. Outside, the wind was blowing pretty strongly, and the rain was falling quite heavily. That's it. Later in the morning, the wind and the rain picked up. It was like any really, really, really heavy and windy Oklahoma rainstorm. At about noon, the newscasters came on to say that the eye of Hurricane Gloria was nearly over us on Long Island. "Don't get complacent!! The worst is yet to come!!"

    The rain stopped. There was no wind. The atmosphere had an unnatural weird very golden glow to it. I was in the eye of the storm. This was so fascinating to me, and it is difficult for me to describe the atmosphere. The newscasters were telling us not to go out! Not to get complacent! The worst was coming! Don't go outdoors!

    I went outdoors. It was indeed eery. The atmosphere was silent. No rain, no wind, no birds, no nothing. Just that golden cast of light...one could almost imagine the sun trying to peek through a cover of thick mist thousands of feet above in the sky; but there was no sun or sunlight; just that golden hue.

    About a half hour later, the storm picked up again, with as much and then more vengeance as it had not only four hours previous.

    This afternoon part of the day did indeed feel like tornadic weather. But it didn't pass with the sound of a train after a few minutes, it just kept pounding, for hours. I did not like the wind, and I found myself missing those mid-America cellars and basements. A few hours of wind and rain and more and more wind. And then, it stopped.

    I ventured outside to find trees uprooted and some damage around the neighborhood - nothing like the fierce 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, but enough that the blocks I walked looked haggard and windtorn.

    And so felt I.

    It's Cello Day!

    A luthier is someone who makes and repairs stringed instruments. We hear the name Antonio Stradivari in the music world. He was an Italian who made something like 1100 stringed instruments in the late 1600s/early 1700s. Another famous Italian luthier is Domenico Mantagnana. He made around 95 instruments in his lifetime, of which only 24 were celli.

    One of these Domnenico Mantagnana 1733 celli is owned by cellist Yo Yo Ma. It is 236 years old. Can you imagine playing such an instrument? (Moreover, playing such an instrument and it sounding like...well, like Yo Yo Ma?!) Once Yo Yo Ma was holding a class for younger children, and a little girl asked him what his cello's name was. He replied that he didn't have a name for it, and would she like to think up a name? The girl picked "Petunia", and the nickname has stuck.

    The cello Petunia is worth $2.5 million. One can only imagine how Yo Yo Ma felt that day in 1999 when he realized he had left Petunia in the trunk of taxi cab in NYC. Wowee. The nice part of that story is that his cello was recovered and undamaged:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1999/10/17/nyregion/in-concert-searchers-retrieve-yo-yo-ma-s-lost-stradivarius.html

    And now I am off to my cello lesson.

    Friday, October 09, 2009

    Well?

    Well? Who would you naysayers have picked??

    I got one response about the Nobel Peace Prize laureate question I posted earlier. (And if you knew Pr. Patty, you might concur with the poster.)

    This day was inundated with TV, radio, and press regarding President Obama's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. There were LOTS of critics, but I heard/read very few opinions regarding who might have been a more worthy laureate. My opinion? It was a dry Friday in the press room.

    And further? Why would Americans not embrace that our leader won a remarkable peace prize? That, to me, is unfathomable. Let's support our nation's leader inasmuch as he seems to be on the right track, regardless of party lines.

    That said...That Spouse o' Mine made a comment a while ago: I need to learn how to cook smaller portions. (i.e., he is tired of leftovers, i guess.) OK, OK! I am working on it! Old dog, new tricks, I have been a quasi-stay-at-home Mom for many years, and now I am cooking for two. But - yippee! This weekend I have some college kids at home, and some parents a'comin', so forget that "Cooking for Two Cookbook" for the time being. I am in my element.

    Back to Mr. Nobel's Peace Prize:
    Maybe we can all work towards that prize. Let's celebrate peace in our own neighborhoods.

    Who would you have picked?

    Alfred Nobel was a Swedish man who invented things like dynamite and ballistite. Ballistite, as we all know, is a smokeless propellant which was developed after gunpowder, a smoky propellant, was. And we all know that it is manufactured today as solid fuel rocket propellant.

    When he got to be elderly, Mr. Nobel established the now-famous annual prizes to be awarded in the areas of science, medicine, chemistry, and literature. And there is a fifth award, the Nobel Peace Prize. The story behind the fifth prize is that an obituary of Mr. Nobel was mistakenly published eight years prematurely (in France), and it called him the "merchant of death" and stated that he "became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before". That's not a nice thing to read about oneself. So the story goes, that Mr. Nobel set up the Peace Prize to be awarded, according to his will, "to the person who shall have done the most or best work between nations for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for holding and promotion of peace congresses." Although Mr. Nobel did not give an explanation for his Peace Prize, some say it was his way to compensate for developing the destructive things he invented.

    This morning we awoke to the news that President Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for peace. I was surprised at how many objections and criticisms I have read about his award. There are many, many deserving indiviuals who could have received this award. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee keeps the nominations secret and asks that nominators do the same. (But one nominee was 1939's Adolph Hitler. His name was removed from the list a few days later by the man who nominated him in the first place. And as it happened, no Peace Prizes were awarded during WWII anyway.) This year there were 205 nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize. Who would you have picked?

    I am proud that an American leader won the Nobel Peace Prize, and if nothing better, this prize will make him be accountable for the work towards peace which we all beg for.

    Who would you have picked?

    Here is Wikipedia's list of Nobel Peace Prize laureates through the years:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nobel_Peace_Prize_laureates

    Thursday, October 08, 2009

    Speaking of Snowflakes...

    ...this is a fun website:

    http://www.zefrank.com/snowflake/

    Make your own snowflakes!

    Just Another Day

    The forecast mentions snow for the weekend. I doubt that it will happen. Weather forecasters like to whip us up into an emotional frenzy about what's-to-come. Snow lovers (me) get all excited at the prospect of a new venue out the window, and snow haters (you?) get in a worrisome frenzy about shoveling and driving and survival tactics.

    Even though I don't believe the weekend forecast, I did commence the Banana Tree Transference Program yesterday afternoon.

    But, wait - let me backtrack to yesterday morning's activities, after which yesterday afternoon's goings-on dovetailed in what seems to be a typical day for me.

    Yesterday morning my friend Mary called and beckoned me to join her in a quick hike up our local mountain, Mt. Mitchell. (Keep in mind we live in Kansas, and the highest point of elevation in our state is Mt. Sunflower, at 4039'.) Mt. Mitchell is a teeny hill. But off we went, in search of adventure. And how we managed to climb the wrong hill still escapes me. It's not like we have that many to choose from. When we got to the top of Not Mt. Mitchell, I remarked to Mary, "Mary, we've climbed the wrong hill!" I wonder how many times Lewis uttered similar words to Clark.

    We hiked down that hill and chose another one to scale. It seemed odd to us that there was no sign or path to guide us. We fumbled through sumac and brambles and rocks and a bit of barbed wire (this was where I tried to make a joke about maybe we might come upon a bull and Mary-who-actually-owns bulls did not laugh...). As we ascended in elevation (? 50' ?), we DID come to a path, and it led us the final 50 yards to the summit of Mt. Mitchell. And it was a very pretty view up there, watching all the farmers below in the valley harvesting their soybean and corn the day before the rain.

    I came home from that jaunt full of mountain-air energy, and that was when I decided it was time to haul in my banana trees for the winter. Step one, I planned mentally, would be to take the window a/c unit out of the upstairs window, to allow for more window room for my grove of tropicals. Upstairs I went, opened the window, and WHO KNEW the thing would just fall out?! By some luck or other, the electrical cord caught on something inside the window, and was dangling. I braced myself (maybe after an expletive or two; yes, I do think I opened my mouth and one flew out...) and tried to hoist the air conditioner up the side of the house. I got it to the window sill but suddenly felt like I was losing control (and I was), so I dropped it again. But this time it knocked into some scaffolding That Spouse o' Mine had nailed/screwed onto the roof during some household painting and repair tasks. The scaffolding knocked loose from its holding and slid down to the gutters on that part of the roof, and as I type this morning it has not moved. I wrenched and groaned and pulled and tugged and I did manage to get the air conditioner back up to the sill, and back into the house. You may ask, why didn't I just let the thing drop? I might have, but we have a very dear and geriatric old dog whom I love a lot, and old Bear was asleep just near where my calculations told me the a/c might land. I did not want that story handed down through the generations, that dear old Bear met his demise when I let the window unit fall on him from 2 stories above.

    (I should mention That Spouse o' Mine's reaction when he came home from work and I gave him my Welcome Home briefing. He rolled his eyes and asked, "How do you do these things, Trish?")

    After that fiasco, I moved on to the task at hand: Dig up my 12' banana trees and replant them indoors. Well! I got 4 of the 8 done last night, and plan to finish up tomorrow. After my body rests...

    Tuesday, October 06, 2009

    American and Dutch relations:

    The following was just part of the activity going on in our nation's capitol yesterday. I for one am excited to see that we are tipping our hats to my ancestors' settling of New Amsterdam and the the like. I wonder where the parades will be held, and do federal employees get the day off?

    REAFFIRMING HISTORIC TIES BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND THE NETHERLANDS -- (Senate - October 05, 2009)
    [Page: S10117]

    ---

    Mr. DURBIN. I ask unanimous consent that the Foreign Relations Committee be discharged from further consideration of H. Con. Res. 178 and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    The clerk will report the concurrent resolution by title.

    The bill clerk read as follows:

    A concurrent resolution (H. Con. Res. 178) expressing the sense of Congress that we reaffirm the historic ties between the United States and the Netherlands by recognizing the Quadricentennial celebration of the discovery of the Hudson River and honoring the enduring values of the settlers of New Netherland that continue to permeate American society.

    There being no objection, the Senate proceeded to consider the concurrent resolution.

    Mr. DURBIN. I ask unanimous consent that the concurrent resolution be agreed to, the preamble be agreed to, the motions to reconsider be laid upon the table, with no intervening action or debate, and any statements related to the measure be printed in the Record.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    The concurrent resolution (H. Con. Res. 178) was agreed to.

    The preamble was agreed to.

    END

    Sunday, October 04, 2009

    It's too early for this nonsense...

    I woke up dark and early this morning, and decided to look up some titles on Amazon during my morning coffee. All the prices are coming up in Euro. Did I miss some national event during the night?

    It's too early for this...

    Saturday, October 03, 2009

    Winter, Here We Come!

    Jasmine...check.

    Bougainvillea...check.

    Eucalyptus...check.

    Bringing the outdoor garden in for the winter...check!

    That Spouse o' Mine in Amongst the Bananas:

    Thursday, October 01, 2009

    not to MY dog

    Last night I was reading a magazine. One of the blurby articles was titled: Don't Feed This to Fido. It gave a list of things NOT to feed to my dog: macadamia nuts, avocados, wine, chocolate...

    Are they kidding me?

    Why in the world would I feed those favorites to a dog?!

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    Banned Books

    I was perusing the banned book lists floating around the internet this week. The last week of September is called something like Banned Book Week, and the ALA encourages us to get out there and read a banned book to celebrate our right to freedom of expression. This week-long celebration began in the early 80s, with a list of now-deemed classic literature which was at one time banned from schools libraries.

    Here is a list of some of those titles:
    • 1984 - George Orwell
    • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) - Mark Twain
    • Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
    • Age of Reason - Thomas Paine
    • Andersonville (1955) - MacKinlay Kantor
    • Animal Farm - George Orwell
    • Arabian Nights
    • As I Lay Dying (1932) - William Faulkner
    • Awakening - Kate Chopin
    • Beloved - Toni Morrison
    • Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
    • Bless Me, Ultima - Rudolfo A. Anaya
    • Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison
    • Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
    • Call of the Wild - Jack London
    • Can Such Things Be? - Ambrose Bierce
    • Candide - Voltaire
    • Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer
    • Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
    • Catcher in the Rye (1951) - J. D. Salinger
    • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
    • Civil Disobedience - Henry David Thoreau
    • Color Purple - Alice Walker
    • Confessions - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
    • Death in Venice - Thomas Mann
    • Decameron - Boccaccio
    • Dubliners - James Joyce
    • Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
    • Fanny Hill - John Cleland
    • Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
    • Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
    • Grapes of Wrath (1939) - John Steinbeck
    • Hamlet - William Shakespeare
    • Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
    • House of Spirits - Isabel Allende
    • Howl - Allen Ginsberg
    • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
    • Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde
    • Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
    • King Lear - William Shakespeare
    • Lady Chatterley's Lover - D.H. Lawrence
    • Leaves of Grass - Walt Whitman
    • Lolita (1955) - Vladimir Nabokov
    • Lord of the Flies - William Golding
    • Lysistrata - Aristophanes
    • Macbeth - William Shakespeare
    • Madame Bovary
    • Merchant of Venice - William Shakespeare
    • Moll Flanders - Daniel Defoe
    • Monk - Matthew Lewis
    • Native Son - Richard Wright
    • Nigger of the Narcissus - Joseph Conrad
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
    • Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
    • Origin of the Species - Charles Darwin
    • Passage to India
    • Portnoy's Complaint (1969) - Philip Roth
    • Rights of Man - Thomas Paine
    • Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie
    • Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
    • Separate Peace - John Knowles
    • Silas Marner - George Eliot
    • Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
    • Sons & Lovers - D.H. Lawrence
    • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
    • Tropic of Capricorn - Henry Miller
    • Twelfth Night - William Shakespeare
    • Ulysses - James Joyce
    • Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe
    • Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
    • Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
    I have read quite a few of the titles listed above. And there are some titles I don't want to read. I looked at the top ten titles on the 2008 list of most-challenged books (out of 513 books challenged) and none of them sound like an appealing read to me. Maybe my grandkids (if I ever have any) will one day roll their eyes at me for my reading tastes. I don't lean toward violence, anti-religious, the occult, suicide and offensive language.

    There are a lot of good books out there for me to read - (most recently I enjoyed The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.) I agree with the ALA and the other groups that sponsor Banned Book Week (American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of College Stores)
    that we should celebrate our freedoms. But I feel like celebrating pleasurable reading - titles I would offer to my elderly lady friend at church as well as to the teenager down the road.
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