Saturday, December 31, 2011

7th Day of Christmas

What a fun day!

Christmas Day (again?) for the Armstrongs.

I got many nice, NICE presents.
The one that absolutely tickled me PINK is:

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner -
read by Gill, Claire & Graham

How special is that, I ask?

I love the tale by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, always have. I often tried to sneak some recording or other of the Rime into my kids' heads. They usually balked, often quite vocally. But here they are now, adults, and taking the time to record their voices for one of my favorite stories.

Pretty special, let me tell you.

Friday, December 30, 2011

6th Day of Christmas: A Bedtime Story?

That Spouse o' Mine and I are enjoying having all three of our adult kids home this week!

Tonight we went to eat Japanese. Muy bien! On the drive home, college grad Claire started describing a bike ride she had taken, during which she saw a squirrel get hit by a car. I remarked that it was a sad story and that we should get on a happy track. Then that Spouse o' Mine started telling a story. I could have sworn he was telling three footy-jammed little tykes a bedtime story...until the story went on a bit:

He said, "I was out riding one day, and another cyclist was approaching. A little squirrel ran out into the road, and over into the path of the oncoming cyclist. It ran almost beneath his back tire, and I thought the little squirrel was going to get run over, but instead it missed the back tire, and as it cleared the tire, the squirrel must have grabbed the spokes, and as it did so, it was carried up around the wheel, and when it reached the apex, (NOTE: not many fathers would use the term APEX in a bedtime story, but I guarantee you, even if our kids had been 5 years old, their father would.), it jumped onto the thigh of the cyclist. It happened so suddenly I was wondering if I had actually seen this, but we were on curves, and I didn't turn around, so we will never know!"

And so the rest of our twelve-mile drive home was spent in silence, pondering the evening stars and squirrels clutching our legs on bicycle rides.

Way to make a peaceful mindset for the next bike ride through the countryside...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

For Every Bird a Nest

For every Bird a Nest
Wherefore in timid quest
Some little Wren goes seeking round

Wherefore when boughs are free
Households in every tree
Pilgrim be found?

Perhaps a home too high
Ah Aristocracy!
The little Wren desires

Perhaps of twig so fine
Of twine e'en superfine
Her pride aspires

The Lark is not ashamed
To build upon the ground
Her modest house

Yet who of all the throng
Dancing around the sun
Does so rejoice?
~ Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On the Third Day of Christmas...

We Armstrongs celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. We set our tree up later than others, we celebrate a long time, and we take our tree and our Christmas decorations down after Twelfth Night: January 6th.

So, in effect, our family celebration just keeps on going and going, from Big Family Christmas in Oklahoma (the weekend before December 25th) through January 6th. Sounds over the top, but if you glance over your shoulder at all your neighbors who put their Christmas tree up on Thanksgiving?? Puh-lease. We are allowed our Twelve Days. And we take them, merrily.

Here is MY Christmas gift!

See the cello over in the corner? Over beyond the granite Treble Clef carved by my father some years ago...beyond the bougainvillea wintering over by the piano...just past the piano music for "Simple Gifts"'s my new (very old) cello!

College Grad Claire asked for her cello, which I have been playing for the past two years, and so what was I to do? We have looked since last summer for a cello for me (or her), between here in rural Kansas (not too many cellists in my neck o' the Tall Grass Prairie) and west to Denver, east to Saint Louis...South to Tulsa. Just nothing that called my name. Or Claire's.

Last month when that Spouse o' Mine and I made our fun trek to Virginia to visit Claire, we hauled her cello with us (gamely putting it into our hotel room each night so that it would not incur temperature damage through the West Virginia mountains.)

Once in Richmond, Claire & I began a half-hearted search for a second cello, for me. Or her.

Lo and behold! Eureka! Amazing! We found one that BOTH of us felt good about!! We both agreed that this cello (ca. 1901) might be a keeper. It sounded nice. Looked good.

I claimed it.

"Merry Christmas!!!!!" I announced to that Spouse o' Mine!!! "You are off the hook for Christmas, our anniversary, and my birthday!!!!"

He smiled.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What's the Temperature?

We started acquiring ducks several years ago, when we moved to our rural clime and discovered that grasshoppers and junebugs abounded in the yard. We got ducks...I guess because I had always heard that Okie phrase, " ducks on a junebug!"

And so there: we got us some.

The ducks are pretty good in the pest control business. Sometimes they eat our greenery, and we aren't overly fond of that. They do lay nice eggs, which we enjoy. I have mentioned recently that they are laying about a baker's dozen each day - more than enough to keep us and our neighbors in custard and meringues. Interestingly, that Spouse o' Mine works with a few Chinese students, by whom duck eggs are considered something of a delicacy. Grad Student Gillian says the Asian Mart where she shops sells duck eggs at $1.00 each. Zounds! We just give ours to the Chinese students. And the food pantry at our church. And, occasionally, to our dogs.

This week the temperatures have been slightly warmer than the past few weeks. One way I can tell, without benefit of a thermometer, is how the ducks lay their eggs:

On a freezing day (literally), the ducks cover their eggs with straw and the wood shavings, and I have to sift through the shavings to find all thirteen or so. On a warmer-than-freezing day, they leave them uncovered. Additionally, I took this photo today, and there were two or three eggs in each little nest. This is not always the case - on freezing days, the ducks tend to lay ALL their eggs in one basket, so to speak. I think this also is a means to keep them warm. That one nest must have a revolving door on it for all the ducks to have a turn at laying.

That's all I have to share. Ducks. Ducks and eggs.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Day

Well, Merry Christmas!

I am sitting here writing as that Spouse o' Mine talks to his parents, who live near Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia.

The College Boy Graham is in the dining room, working on a model ship. He received this ship 2-3 years ago (from Santa, of course), and every time he comes home he works on it a bit. By the time he is forty with kids of his own, it should be near completion.

Grad Student Gillian is upstairs, finishing her Christmas gifts - since we still have 5 days till we celebrate Christmas again. (Good thing we embrace the Twelve Days of Christmas!). I have it on good authority that all of her gifts are knitted works of art.

The ham is in the oven, the onion rolls are rising, and the sweet potatoes are soon to go in. I am headed upstairs, too, to the art seems I have a bit of quilting to get completed this week...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Eve

It's Christmas Eve! And very nearly Christmas Morn for us in the Central Standard Time Zone. My Aussie inlaws began celebrating their holiday morning a few hours ago. Oops - we usually call them, but this evening it escaped us. Will do tomorrow, in our Christmas morning and their Christmas night. Besides, they're probably at the beach now, anyway.

We went to Christmas service this evening, then home for a quick Christmas Eve soup bowl (succotash, if you must inquire), and then back in to town for a Christmas party at friends'. This is how we have done Christmas Eve for quite a few years now, since we moved to Kansas. Tradition, continuity, is nice. Our kids, then kids, knew their kids and families and friends, and now we know the whole shebang, and the kids, now adults, know the whole family/friends/shebang as well. A village which annually collects itself for a celebration of life and continuity.

Tonight, I am sitting up watching yet one more production of The Nutcracker (ballet). I have viewed four different productions this week, and tonight's makes #5: the Royal Ballet of London. I would rank this production as #2 or #1 in my humble opinion of what I have viewed this week - in terms of my enjoyment. Being no ballerina, I cannot judge the technical aspects of the ballet (well, yes, I can, in terms of the Berlin Ballet, because - I am sorry to be so judgemental - they were not at all up to snuff as the Bolshoi OR the Royal Ballet.) Anyway, the Royal Ballet seems to adhere closely to the traditional, and that is fascinating to me. The technique these dancers employ is amazing. And the Bolshoi? Maybe my very-very favorite production.

And by the way, I am up late watching the ballet and writing this blog, waiting for the kids to fall asleep before Santa arrives. The kids are adults now, as are subjects of a lot of their gifts. (College Boy Graham remarked after opening two this evening before Church Services: "Wow. This must be an "appliance" Christmas year for me." ) Heh heh. Welcome to adulthood, Honey-Pie.

We have 2/3 of our kids home tonight. #3, College Grad Claire, will arrive on the 30th. This year is a changing year for us. We have never NOT had all our kids home at the same time for a holiday. Somewhere during tonight's church service's last song, I got teary-eyed. This year is a transition year for us, for me. Learning to share my kids with others. Bah, humbug.

But, that's life, I know. I am learning.

So here I am, watching the Pas de Deux and getting ready to fill some stockings. What is going into the stockings from Santa tonight? Duct tape, chocolates, spice gumdrops, a hacksaw, and some gardening gloves.

Yep. The kids have grown up.
I have, too.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Weekending

What a pretty day! Sunny and windless. Forget that it was 14º when I arose this morning - it was a pretty day, two days before Christmas.

Last weekend we drove to Pryor Creek, Oklahoma for
Big Family Christmas.

At least, that's what I call it.
We are a big family:

I was describing the Big Family Christmas to a friend today. Having always ever known a big family, I suppose I thought this was how all people did holidays. My friend is an only child who married and had an only child, and so her holidays are calmer and simpler. I bet they even have a formal sit-down affair complete with witty repartee.

Here was our Big Family Holiday:

High noon: Potluck: Dig in!

After lunch: Obstacle course in the back yard! Go! Go! Go! Note: this entailed a myriad of physical challenges, including crossing a creek by means of log, mountain biking, climbing a chain link fence, toting a sailboat buoy (don't ask) across a stretch of running trail, shooting hoops, and maneuvering across a giant swingset (this sucker contains a giant swing, a hammock, a trapeze bar, and a tall treehouse deck) "without touching the ground".And then,
Christmas Story: All the grandchildren (now adults) retell the Christmas story, throughout which we all sing old hymns and carols. We have done this since I was a wee one, I think.

Followed by:
Dirty Santa: Dirty Santa with 35+ people...all of whom arrived bearing homemade gifts. We had a plethora of medium from which to choose and steal: oil paintings, watercolors, quilts, a sculpture, food, photography, and funny, goofy things as well. This was a really fun idea instigated by my SIL Stephanie two Christmases ago. It is a hoot, and I highly recommend it.

I suppose I recommend it because I got just what I wanted,
made by my niece Lisa's husband Josh (so is he my nephew-in-law, or what?)
A boot-scrape!

After Dirty Santa we move on to the next activity:

Handel's Messiah: The entire thing, 2.5 - 3 hours of singing. At this juncture in the day, some friends of the family come over and join us. This is a really good thing, because we need the additional voices. This tradition, singing the Messiah, began many, many years ago, first by our singing key songs from The Messiah in church choir ( directed by my father), and then sometime in college or shortly thereafter, we as a family got together and started singing the whole thing. The most amazing part of this? My sister Barb played the piano accompaniment for the WHOLE thing. We were reminiscing last weekend, how Barb would commence practicing The Messiah the day after T'giving, and would be ready by our Big Day to play the whole thing all the way through with nary a mistake. Incredible. Barb passed away five years ago. The Christmas after she died, we didn't do Big Family Christmas, much less The Messiah. Her absence is still a chasm in our holidays. We miss her laughter so much.

After singing the Messiah, we scatter and finish off the odds and ends of food and conversation, completely numbed by the entire affair.

What can I add to this description, but to say that it is our tradition, and we embrace it...even as a marathon runner embraces the 26.2 miles........

~ Happy holidays to everyone reading this ~
~ Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Yesterday the only thing on the news besides the death of Kim Jong Il was an anticipated blizzard. I am not sure how the news people and the weather people can keep going on and on and on about snow and ice; snow and ice happen every year, it's not a freak lava flow barreling down on us.

And the snow arrived yesterday in the form of pouring rain. All day long. Lots of wind, too. I was out running errands and thought to stop by the grocery to pick up a few odds and ends in case the deluge did indeed turn into a week-long apocalyptic white-athon. I picked up a bag of potatoes, two gallons of milk (the college boy is home for the holidays), two chickens (the college boy is home for the holidays), and such. I ended up with a cartload of food. (The college boy is home for the holidays.)

The cashier asked if I would like help out w/ my bags? Why, yes, that would be nice, I replied. As the sacker girl sacked my groceries, I readied my umbrella and gloves. And as soon as the cart was full of bags, I pushed it forward to get out of the way of the next person in line. The sacker stepped behind me and said, "I will follow you!"


So as I fumbled, one-handedly pushing the cart and one hand on my umbrella in the pouring rain and wind, this sacker girl gamely walked me to my car. And stood there as I fumbled with the car keys, the umbrella, and the cart - which was listing in the wind toward the side of the car next to mine. And then the sacker girl and I loaded my car with the groceries. At this point, my umbrella had turned inside-out in the wind, and the bags were wet and I just wanted to get in the car. I politely thanked the sacker girl (for the company??!) and hopped in the car.

Once back home, that Spouse o' Mine played sacker boy and hauled all the groceries through the pouring rain and into the house for me. While he did that, I walked across the road to our mailbox, with my inside-out umbrella sort of doing its job. A car slowed down and rolled down its window. I didn't recognize the car or the driver. She yelled, "I like your..." and between the rain and wind and her car noise, I could not understand what she liked about me. My soaking-wet leather boots? My white rabbit fur Elmer Fudd hat? My inside-out raintree umbrella? The skis on our porch railings?

Whatever it might have been, between that and having all the groceries in the house, the day ended on a positive note or two, or three, if I count my eager anticipation for the inches and feet of snow accumulation I kept hearing about on the TV and radio.

This morning I woke up and went to the window: it was...sort of white. But not really. No drifts. No white-topped trees. No whiteout conditions, to be sure.

Now, I am sure there are people out there who are relieved that we missed out on a blizzard.
But I am not one of them.

Lying in wait...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Week Before Christmas: A Poem

'tis the week before Christmas and all through the yard,

All the flora and fauna are working unseasonably hard.

The ducks think it apropos a baker's dozen to lay,

The wallflower is blooming as if it were May.

The kitties are outdoors and playful to boot;

The eldest, Miss Puzzle, is terribly cute!

The weathermen are warning: Get snug in your homes!

Bundle Up! Wear hats! Dress like the gnomes!

For out on the lawn there will be such a blizzard,

Your chooks* (if you had some) will freeze their gizzards!

Either the birds and the blooms sense what is to come,

Or their common sense is keeping it mum.

Whatever the outcome, whatever the storm,

Christmas is a' coming,

And here's wishing you warm.

(heh heh...)

*Chook: [choo, chook] noun 1. Australian . a hen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Return Trip

This morning I awoke to a feeling I have not experienced since my flight attendant years, ages ago. I must have opened one eye, saw a light, and then shut my eye again.

Where was I?

Back when I was flying to Europe every week, I taught myself not to move in my bed in the morning until I had discerned exactly where I was: London? Lisbon? Athens? I guess I should preface this by explaining just how disconcerting it is to awaken, get up, go to the toilet and not know where one is. So I taught myself early-on not to move out of the bed till I was sure of my surroundings and the language I should be listening for.

This morning, I saw a light, and I could not make out where I was or what the light was. After a night in Frankfort, Va, four nights in Richmond, Va, a night in Charleston, WV, and a night in Paducah, KY, I hadn't a crack of dawn clue. I took it for the bathroom light, but indeed it was the morning sunrise at the opposite side of the hotel room, , and that meant I should be up and at 'em. So up I arose and at 'em I went: 9 hours of driving home.

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

After the morning sunrise, the majority of my day and drive was spent in either dense fog, heavy rain, or a mix. Welcome home, yessirree.

But when I actually got home, what was there to greet me?

A Christmas tree, up in its stand, and ready for decorating.

And THAT, is a homecoming.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Quilts! Kentucky!

This morning I left the Appalachians and headed west-southwest (a small meander) towards home. But my plan was to enjoy Kentucky throughout the day. What a pretty state!

Our equestrian kids and I made a few treks years ago to the USPC (Pony Club) Nationals in Lexington. Horses, camping, dewy fog, and humidity are top slots in my memory of those trips. Well worth the time and effort, in my opinion. And it was A LOT of effort, if I recall.

Today I drove through horse country, marveling at the gorgeous horses in gorgeous paddocks and fields and well-maintained barns and dark wooden fences.

Then I headed south a bit, to Paducah. If you are a quilter, you may know that Paducah is home to the American Quilt Museum. And that was the draw for my afternoon: exhibits of quilts made by real quilters. Let me tell you, those quilts were wonderful.

Like Montecello, this was a "must-see" on my trip.
I have one (1) pair of clean socks left in my suitcase, and that means that tomorrow is my return trip home. Good thing! I have a son to greet (having only seen him once since LAST winter!), a Christmas tree to acquire and decorate, as well as the entire household. And a homemade gift to complete for our big family Christmas celebration in Oklahoma this coming weekend.

Busy, busy.
And, fun, fun.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Southern Style

We Armstrongs tend not to plan too far in advance for our travel fun. In fact, it makes me queasy to make big arrangements for far, far into the future. It is so much simpler to grab a bag and GO! It is more difficult to do this with kids and their schedules, and animals of all species to deal with, but here we are, that Spouse o' Mine and I, with a nest empty of chilluns, and a barn empty of equines, and the logistics are evolving into a simpler plan, that of dogs, cats and ducks. And fish.

And that's all.

"Paul, we should go to Virginia next week."

And so, we did! We drove an SUV-load of furniture/furnishings out to the College Grad Claire, and spent a whirlwind weekend experiencing the big southern city. What fun! Claire and her boyfriend Rich are perfect hosts and tour guides. Good food from their kitchen, good tours of the city and surroundings, and fun evenings spent with kitties and the chiminea.

Saturday morning, the men went one way (cycling group ride) while we two women went the other: the Richmond Fan District Holiday Home Tour. Although I think both pairs had a good time, I can only comment on our experience. We Holiday Home Tourists enjoyed seeing big homes down in the older part of Richmond - ca. 1900s. They were very pretty! Some were nicer than others, in my opinion. I have to laugh at an observation: It seems that fur coats were the costume de rigeur for Saturday's Home Tourists. Claire & I were woefully out of place in our down coats. Who knew?!

On Sunday morning, Claire & Rich took us to a neat little hole-in-the-wall eatery, Perly's, in downtown Richmond, and then over to Belle Isle, where we got to view the rushing water of the flooding James River up close and noisy! Rushing flood waters are really loud - something I did not notice until we returned across the footbridge to Richmond, and could then hear the birds singing once again.

Belle Isle was used as a POW camp during the Civil War. So sad. Many men suffered through winters and died and were buried here. I think of them as a mother reflects on her son.

After Belle Isle, we took that Spouse o' Mine to the airport, and he flew back home to rural Kansas. Nice thing about his homecoming was that our College Boy Graham was winging it from the west coast at the same time! They met (30 minutes between their arrivals) and drove back home together.

We other three drove over to Williamsburg and spent the afternoon traipsing around the old place. It's a restored model of the old Williamsburg settlement. One can see the old houses and businesses, which are inhabited by people dressed and acting as the original settlement people.
It's a little weird to approach one of these "actors". In that the ratio of 2011 people to 1700 people were approximately 30:1, the place felt a little "touristy". But an interesting aside was that some real 2011 people own and live in some of the old 1700 homes in Williamsburg, and they have all sorts of regulations as to car parks and such, in order to dovetail into the 1700-world. (e.g., cars must be removed from historic Williams from 9:00am-5:00pm each day. This is OK, if you have someplace to go each morning??) And I found myself peering into what I thought would be an historic home, when in fact it MIGHT BE a private 2011 home. How embarrassing!!) You can Google it - it's interesting.

William and Mary College is directly adjacent to Williamsburg, and the morning we were there, the W & M choir was out and about singing Christmas carols, and drawing us visitors in to join them. And so I did. As did many people surrounding the sidewalks. That was really nice!

This morning was a glorious (albeit it cold) morning spent at Montecello,
in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Now, this is a MUST-SEE for anyone and everyone.
So interesting to see Thomas Jefferson's big old house and all his fun scientific instruments and innovations and ideas, not to mention his gardens and grounds. We were fortunate to have a good tour guide (because I don't do tours well; Claire can concur on that one), and I kept on mental task for the entire 40-minute tour throughout the home without wandering off or embarrassing Claire or Rich. (I think; the same might not be claimed for the Fan District Holiday Home Tour...sorry, Claire...)

Tonight finds me in Charleston, West Virginia.
There are lots of Appalachian mountains to drive up and over in West Virginia.
The exciting thing this afternoon was the car that caught fire in front of me (not directly in front of me...~200 ahead), and first one, then two, then a third, and lastly, a fourth fire truck came to douse the flames. They would hose down the car, and it would look all right, but then the fire would start up again, they would hose it, and on and on. 40 minutes later, I was back on my way, points west. I had thought I would be in Kentucky tonight, but I do not drive well in the dark, and I really do not drive well on mountain curves in the dark, and I stopped short of my planned destination.

So here I am, in Appalachia.
Tomorrow, I shall have a look around the place.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Good End to the Day

This afternoon I was on my drive back home from cello when, suddenly, there was a low-flying movement coming across the road.



(I braked, of course.)

I immediately pulled over (after checking my rear view, of course.)

And I watched him glide across the road in front of my car, and into the field just next to my car. At first I thought he was injured, because he was so close to me. He was so close. So big, and SO PRETTY.

And he just sat there, looking at me.

I sat there, looking at him.

A car drove past, and stopped, thinking I needed assistance. When he spied what I was watching, he drove on. (WHY, I ask??)

Then the eagle slowly took off, and re-crossed the road some yards further. I followed, slowly, in my car. He landed low in a tree. I stopped alongside again, and sat, watching him. He was aware of me - my car. A few short minutes later, he took off again, slowly and relaxed, across the road again.

The last I saw of him was at dark dusk, and I could barely make out his amazing white head and tail. I should mention that this bald eagle was large. LARGE.

And very pretty.
And he just made my already happy day...even better.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Love the Holidays!

"...And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”

(Dr. Suess, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, New York: Random House, 1957.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Repast and Reflection

So we three (That Spouse o' Mine, Grad student Gillian, and I) spent Thanksgiving in delightfully cold and wonderful Colorado, along with my brother, SIL, and niece Melinda. Fun people all around. We really felt the absence of one College Boy Graham out west (he will be home in two weeks, after finals), and College Grad Claire, who is at the mercy of holiday retail scheduling, (and she will be home a week after Christmas - yay!!)

The repast: The two grad students fixed a great meal on T'giving day" :
Moosewood Scandinavian Salmon Soup
Cabbage and White Bean Salad


Better than the textbook turkey and gravy - although that is nothing I sniff at judgmentally: I LOVE turkey and gravy...but it needn't be the requisite meal at all Thanksgiving meals. Puh-lease: cook a turkey for the 4th of July. It is really nice then, too!

The following day I made a leg of lamb meal, with hash brown casserole and broccoli.

Inbetween all this cooking, there was skiing, climbing, quilting, jigsaw puzzling, museum-going, shopping, My Fair Lady-viewing, reading, and all the normal family get-together stuff.

Love the holidays, yes, I do.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 Mary Mackey


One November
a week before Thanksgiving
the Ohio river froze
and my great uncles
put on their coats
and drove the turkeys
across the ice
to Rosiclare
where they sold them
for enough to buy
my grandmother
a Christmas doll
with blue china eyes

I like to think
of the sound of
two hundred turkey feet
running across to Illinois
on their way
to the platter
the scrape of their nails
and my great uncles
in their homespun leggings
calling out gee and haw and git
to them as if they
were mules

I like to think of the Ohio
at that moment
the clear cold sky
the green river sleeping
under the ice
before the land got stripped
and the farm got sold
and the water turned the color
of whiskey
and all the uncles
lay down
and never got up again

I like to think of the world
before some genius invented
turkeys with pop-up plastic
in their breasts
idiot birds
with no wildness left in them
turkeys that couldn't run the river
to save their souls

~ by Mary Mackey

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Week: T'giving

I spent a goodly amount of time yesterday and today getting the logistics right for our T'giving trip to Colorado. Case in point:

Car? check
Food? check
Skis and ski poles? check
Did I forget the snowshoes? check

Animals? Hmmmm......

We have house sitters who are knowledgeable and able and relaxed enough that they won't call us unless there is a REAL, REALLY-REAL emergency. Keep our animals alive, and we are happy.

And so today, I finalized all the physical animal hoo-hahs (feed, water, light,fence, warmth), and then I called it: complete!

That Spouse o' Mine came home at 6:00 pm, and he topped off the feed tins and such.

Soon thereafter, Grad Student Gillian arrived. Enough worrying about the logistics.

Let T'giving begin!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Safety Net

On Saturday I wrote about riding my bike, and how, when I opted to take a different route home, that Spouse o' Mine simply said, "If you're longer than 20 minutes, I will assume you have had a flat."

Today I decided to do a long run. I follow safety rules. I never run the same route regularly. I always let someone know where I am going, how long I will be. I always call that person and let them know A) If I am home safe and sound, or B) I am running a little late (literally). Sometimes I even leave a Map My Run map on the computer so someone (that Spouse o' Mine) can visualize where I am going.

Today I sent that Spouse o' Mine my running itinerary. It was very specific - Point A to B, then Point C, over and around Points D, E, F, etc.

His reply?
"Don’t get lost or freeze to death."

Yep. He makes me an independent woman.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Walk with Beau

Bay! Bay!!!! Bayyyy!!!!!! BAYYYYYY!



STOP. Sniff the air. Nose up higher.


Dead possum! Dead possum! Dead possum! Dead possum!

Bayyy!! Sniff and run sniff and run sniff and run CircleCircleCircleCircle...

Bark at squirrel nest. Bay! Bayyy!!!

Sniff the ground Sniff the ground SniffSniffSniffSniff

STOP! A hole! A hole! Sniff. Sniffy-sniff. SNIIIIIF.

Run! Run! Run, oh run, oh run!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Balancing Act

I've never been good at math, and have never enjoyed it, but math is what occupied my mind this morning during the Pancake Ride.

Here it is, mid-November, and this morning felt more spring- or summer-like in sunny temperature than a winter-beckoning November day. That Spouse o' Mine and I even opted to wear cycling shorts rather than long pants and jackets. There was a southerly wind, and that made our ride into Pancake Land very fun: 18-25 mph the whole way. There is nothing finer for this middle-aged cyclist than a chance to pretend she can keep up with the big dogs in the cycling world.

Well, that finer-than feeling lasted until the coffee cup was empty and we got back on our bikes to head home. While we were happily chatting away indoors with our fellow cyclists, the comfortable southerly wind reared its ugly head and turned into a 25 mph gale with 35 mph gusts. And, now it was a headwind. Part direct headwind, part 45º angle of south/southwest "knock-'em-off-their-bikes" wind. I managed about a mile riding on the shoulder of the highway before I flagged that Spouse o' Mine and told him I was taking the gravel roads home - I was not feeling good about my balance alongside the cars and trucks and semis AND the wind. I told him to go on, that I would be fine, and he replied, "OK. If you're longer than 20 minutes, I will assume you have had a flat."


We parted ways, and I turned west onto unknown roads and into that ridiculous wind. Riding in that wind would be hard on any bike, but riding on a gravel (i.e., ROCKS) road on a road bike (read: little, skinny tires), with 25 mph wind hitting me from several directions was a lesson in balance, patience, mind games (what if I fall over? {I did, 4 times} What if I get lost? {I was "lost" for the whole first half of my ride home, in that it was a winding road and I had never been on it and did not recognize anything} What if a dog chases me? {I heard dogs barking twice, but none appeared at my heels, so that was OK}).

The falling over bit was kind of scary the first two times. The wind gust simply HIT me, and oops, there I went. Each time, I managed to extricate my shoe from the clip before I fell flat on my side, and I certainly had a lesson, too, on anticipation and reaction time. I imagined that I was being watched by farmers sitting snug in their living rooms all along my way. I hope I don't end up on YouTube.

And my, how the cyclists learn how to read the wind. I would imagine lots like a sailor. If there are any trees to be had, one will have a much, MUCH easier time of riding in the wind. Until he gets to the end of the treeline. And somehow the gust seems built up just that much more, as if it's lying in wait to bowl you over.

So as I was limping along, wind and dogs howling in my ears, here is the math I came up with:

Southerly wind= northerly 25 mph ride + 30 minutes eating delightful breakfast in great company - 25 mph headwind= 7 mph southerly ride + 4 mph south/southwesterly ride X what angle should I aim for to counteract the wind gusts [balancing in wind @ only 4 mph: is that possible?] minus the 2-minute stop for water and "mental regrouping time {i.e., where AM I?!} ...equals...complete fatigue for the rest of my Saturday.

I am going to take up pinochle.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Perennial Music

Many years ago, I chanced to meet a really great guy. He was sitting in his living room, strumming a guitar. He was blonde, and he wore a white cotton shirt and jeans. That sight is as vivid today as it was 31 years ago.

About the guitar: we started seeing each other. He introduced me to guitar music. Notably, a guitarist whose name was not the least bit familiar to me; I was ignorant of rock music, of guitars, of anything but classical music. There was a particular guitarist whose name kept surfacing in our "playlist". I assumed it was some Aussie musician, from somewhere deep out in the Outback.

A few years later, this cute surfie guy with an accent and I exchanged vows, and were pronounced Man and Wife.

We still enjoyed guitar music. And that one guitarist kept coming up in our "playlist".

Years later...maybe years and years later, I found out that this guitarist is from MUSKOGEE OKLAHOMA. Leo Kottke is NOT an Aussie. He is an Okie. Big difference here, people.

That Spouse o' Mine had a big laugh over that. He always knew Leo Kottke grew up in Oklahoma.

Fast forward now, to our having a son, and he is now in his twenties. He is a guitarist. Imagine that. When he came home from university this summer, he was playing a wonderful song that got stuck in my head:

In Christ There is no East or West

The arrangement is from John Flahey, but this recording is Muskogee's own Leo Kottke.

And now? That Spouse o' Mine is in the living room this evening, playing the same song on his guitar...

Just like lavender and jasmine, the guitar music comes back to me each season of my life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Games:Goodbye, Rutsville

"Please don't ask me what the score is, I'm not even sure what the GAME is."
~Ashleigh Brilliant

Ooh. This hits close to home. MY home.

I have never been a huge game fan.
Competition? Absolutely.

Hmmm, maybe not so much. As a kid I was not much of a game player. I was more of the onlooker. Onlooking allowed me time to daydream and pretend play in-between moves. I could critically analyze a move, and then move on to what Puggles ( my stuffed Pekinese dog) was saying to Peggy (my answer to Barbie's sister Skipper. ... Hey! I had an extraordinary imagination.)

The games I learned growing up consisted of checkers, chess, Rook, Scrabble, and spoons. I think that was all. I did not play Monopoly with the other siblings. (I was busy with Puggles and Peggy.) Growing up we had a game called Driller, which (only an Okie family would embrace this) had the players drill for oil around the board. I think you can still find this game out there somewhere in gameland. And ditto, my sister's game called Park & Shop. I never understood it. Apparently, one parked, and then one went shopping. As my sister and her friends did this, I happily watched, and brushed Puggle's hair.

I did have a brief fling with Risk and Stratego, and I recall enjoying that. But apparently, that was short-lived, because I don't remember those game rules today.

This past week, I decided to revisit a couple of old games, and maybe learn a new one. This would be my "new" this week, in my "12 Weeks of New".

Out of Rutsville, I started with one of my all-time favorite hand-held games from the 80s: Tetris. I have to tell you: I LOVE TETRIS. Tetris came in as a hand-held game sold by Radio Shack, and sadly a couple of years later, and some corporate lawsuits later as well, it vanished.

I, in my post-partum depression, was bereft.

But now it's back, twenty years later, and on-line! (I chanced to Google Tetris after a grocery sacker boy and I had a conversation about Tetris vs the ability to properly sack groceries. That young man deserves a tip!) So last week, I commenced playing Tetris. Only now, online. (Sheesh. That's like saying, "I flew to Newark today." as opposed to "taking the longhorn wagon train back East.")

So, I embraced Tetris. What else was out there?

I have to admit, in the past ? 30+ years, I have LOVED Mah Jong. I have my mother to thank for that. Come to think of it, my kids and my nieces and nephews have my mother to thank for that! My mother taught them all (I think) how to play Mah Jong online. My mother has always been so computer-literate-cool. She spent so much time with her grandkids, teaching them how to use a mouse, online games, and more. How funny is that?!

OK, I am gamefully digressing...

Tetris, Mah Jong...I already play Scrabble online, and chess...

What's left?

I went online to relearn Solitaire. My mother and my sister could always throw out a Solitaire game in cards, anytime, anywhere. I remember this most on boats, or at the boathouse. This was indubitably the precursor to "online" games. Hmm... it seems like an OK game. It seems like I will need some time to really "get" the game. I am OK with that. I am a slow learner when it comes to games.

Well. Ugh.

This week's "new" is a big BOO in my opinion. So far, at least. I am sure some of you will regale me with reports of delight and nonsense. OK, here goes:


I do not get it.

I hate math. Why would I go here???!

Mom, I anticipate you will be one of the first to reply "I LOVE this!!"

(My mother excels at Sudoku. Don't get it, at all. Where is my Puggles, my little stuffed dog, anyway?)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pancake Ride

This morning is the Pancake Ride, a regular Saturday morning ritual for the cyclists in this area. They start from one town, ride like cheetahs on wheels past our little village, and on to the next little town for pancakes. And then, back home again. Sometimes I join them, and sometimes, I do not.

This morning is a "join 'em" morning.

Past jaunts:

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Rainy Day Wardrobe

Rainy and windy. Windy and rainy. And I am not complaining!

I did, however, plan to run this morning - something I have taken up again now that the outdoor temperature has dipped down to liveable degrees. At 9:30 am, I got out of my jammers (because when you work out of your home, you are allowed to work at your desk in your jammers till... whenever!), and I put on my running pants, t-shirt, jacket (because the house was 66º), and my running shoes. It was raining - nay, pouring! Cats and dogs! And little fishes, too! But the hour-by-hour online weather stated that at 10:00 am, there would be no rain. I took this online weather channel at its word.

Its word was wrong.

I think it rained all day long. That's OK, though, because we really, really needed the rain. Even though I traipsed through the rain to run errands at the grocery store and the post office and USDA (that would be that Spouse o' Mine's office), and my cello lesson. Rain, rain, rainy-rain.

Then I got home, still wearing my running clothes, still in my Pollyanna mindset that the cloud cover might break and I could have a quick jaunt down the road. Such was not to be.

Well, next on my agenda was feeding animals and frolicking with the bloodhound. The thing with Beau the bloodhound is that he has a need, a deep need, to exert energy enough to burn off several million calories every day. If a human or other canine is not around to support his need, he will find ways to burn off this stored energy on his own, and his activity is often seen as unacceptable by us humans. (Chewing up his toys, chewing off the tree limbs, digging little holes all over the dog yard, chewing on dog bowls, lawn mower handles, little paper pieces found in the burn pile...) well! You might get the picture. I suspect this was the reason his former owners searched for a new home for him.

Lesson to anybody thinking about a pet: if you are a young married couple, with one toddler and a baby, let me just tell you: that adorable (and I stress ADORABLE) little (and I stress LITTLE) bloodhound puppy you are thinking about purchasing will in no way fit into your fine little family in 12 more months. Don't even consider a pet whose potential weight will be 120 lbs by the time he is 18 months old, with an energy level that rises exponentially with each month and inch of growth. Sheesh. I cannot even imagine what Beau's former owners were thinking when they purchased him.

But boy, am I digressing; I was talking about rain. As I stepped out of my running clothes and hung them by the wayside for another day, I put on some already-worn old grey sweatpants and brown sweatshirt. Old socks. Boots. Hat and old gloves. Rain and bloodhound clothes!

Off I went to feed animals and to frolic with the giant puppy. Not to neglect our smaller-yet-still-large dog, Biserka the Bouvier. She wants attention, too, but not the rollicking frolic that Beau requires. So I spent quality time with both dogs, in the rain, mud, and wind.

When that Spouse o' mine came home from work, I came in. I pulled off the boots, the hat, and the gloves. I stripped off the sweat pants and sweatshirt. I thought. Hmm... not so bad just yet that they couldn't be used for another canine frolic in the rain and mud. Not clean, though. Hang them next to the running clothes.

I need some pegs in the mudroom for all activities of my day, jammers through mud-frolic, and in-between.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Something New, Week #5

I am halfway through my 12 Weeks of New and out of Rutsville.
What new thing did I learn or do this past week?

Grad Student Gillian and I went to an art gallery in Kansas City to see this artist's work.

(In that we know the sculptor pretty well,
that did not fall into the 12 Weeks of New category.)

But the gallery was really nice and had some terrific paintings and sculpture in it.

After our cultural excursion, Gillian and I headed north to the City Market.
More specifically, to the Ethiopian restaurant.
I have never eaten Ethiopian cuisine.
A new experience!

I stopped at Barnes & Noble on the trip home to search out an Ethiopian cookbook.
I didn't find exactly what I was looking for,
so that will be put on the back burner for another day...

Friday, November 04, 2011

My Week...

I anticipate that this entry is going to be ramblings. For some reason, my week did not follow a schedule, a plan, or even a path. My week just meandered.

Sunday, I sat in a meeting alongside a lady who proceeded to sneeze a kabillion times. Right beside me. She would sneeze, maybe eight times in a row, and let me tell you, these were not ladylike "choosies", these were major "clear the sinus passages" explosions, and then she would blow her nose, then sneeze maybe six times, hack a bit, blow her nose, then start sneezing again. I was totally grossed out. I really wanted to excuse myself, since this lady was NOT. I am such an anti-germ fanatic, this scene was played into my mind as horrible.

And then we move on to Monday. Monday held a funeral for a friend, a kind and gentle acquaintance. Not sad so much, because with the cancer-stricken, there is a time to go. And this friend had told her family and friends this summer that at age 70+, she was forgoing any more cancer treatment. She was done with that. I loved her kind spirit and her smile, her kind words, her marriage to her husband, her What a wonderful role model she is.

Tuesday was cello lesson. Not too bad! Some lessons of late have been frustrating, but I enjoyed this week, and have been practicing and practicing, and so maybe, after a few weeks of what has felt like no-progress-whatsoever, I might see the light at the end of the Handel's Largo tunnel. Maybe.

Wednesday, nothing to speak of. I went running in the rain and snowflakes. That was enjoyable.

Thursday we had a friend out for dinner, and that was really fun. It's fun to have people out who challenge our minds, and yet have such a great sense of humor. Thanks, Irakli.

Today: Friday! I had plans to visit the ranch-neighbors' bull sale, but phone calls and such delayed that, and then the weather past noon was such that I took a 7.5 mile excursion across the countryside. It wasn't a clear run. It entailed some walking in the 35 mph southerly wind. Especially those inclines. Anyone who thinks Kansas is flat? Come visit us in the Flint Hills. I stopped by the Downey Ranch on my way home, but the auctioneers had already gone home, I guess, and all I could see were cattle being loaded into trailers to move to their next homes. I went on home as well.

And then...late afternoon...I started feeling kind of punk. Kind of...maybe I was getting a cold? Was I running a fever? DO I have a sinus headache?! Am I cold?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!!! IS THIS FROM SUNDAY'S MEETING WITH THE SNEEZER??!

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Things At Which I am Good

Knowing that I should NEVER end a phrase with a preposition.

Baking chocolate chip cookies.

Foreign languages.

Waking up early.

Getting lost.

Making morning "index card" lists.

Parties and potlucks.

"Relaxed" gardening. (Lax gardening?)


Memorizing music.


Changing the subject from politics to anything else.


Talking to complete strangers.

Serving tea.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Something New: Week #4

Last week was Week # 4 of my Something New- ness. What did I pick? A couple of weeks ago I mentioned having seen the new Movie The Big Year. I really liked it. It's about birding. Birdwatching. Ornithological capers.

I think know I have always watched birds. In the air, on the ground, on the water, wherever. But I have never taken the time to write down a list of "seen" birds. So, here's this weekend's beginning list:

  • duck(s): Indian Runner
  • peacock(s): Black-shouldered
  • cattle egret
  • sparrow
  • hawk (with over 250 species included in the hawk family, I can only tell you it was not a red-tailed hawk.) This one was swooping onto a fieldmouse.
  • pigeon
  • cardinal
  • crow
  • turkey
  • mourning dove
  • killdeer
  • blue jay
  • downy or hairy woodpecker:

And I have already noted a date in April for hunting (with camera) for the rare sighting of whooping cranes only just down the road from us. No kidding!

I am excited.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Poem

A Dream of Autumn
by James Whitcomb Riley

Mellow hazes, lowly trailing
Over wood and meadow, veiling
Somber skies, with wildfowl sailing
Sailor-like to foreign lands;
And the north-wind overleaping
Summer's brink, and floodlike sweeping
Wrecks of roses where the weeping
Willows wring their helpless hands.

Flared, like Titan torches flinging
Flakes of flame and embers, springing
From the vale the trees stand swinging
In the moaning atmosphere;
While in dead'ning-lands the lowing
Of the cattle, sadder growing,
Fills the sense to overflowing
With the sorrow of the year.

Sorrowfully, yet the sweeter
Sings the brook in rippled meter
Under boughs that lithely teeter
Lorn birds, answering from the shores
Through the viny, shady-shiny
Interspaces, shot with tiny
Flying motes that fleck the winy
Wave-engraven sycamores.

Fields of ragged stubble, wrangled
With rank weeds, and shocks of tangled
Corn, with crests like rent plumes dangled
Over Harvest's battle-piain;
And the sudden whir and whistle
Of the quail that, like a missile,
Whizzes over thorn and thistle,
And, a missile, drops again.

Muffled voices, hid in thickets
Where the redbird stops to stick its
Ruddy beak betwixt the pickets
Of the truant's rustic trap;
And the sound of laughter ringing
Where, within the wild-vine swinging,
Climb Bacchante's schoolmates, flinging
Purple clusters in her lap.

Rich as wine, the sunset flashes
Round the tilted world, and dashes
Up the sloping west and splashes
Red foam over sky and sea--
Till my dream of Autumn, paling
In the splendor all-prevailing,
Like a sallow leaf goes sailing
Down the silence solemnly.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Great White Pumpkin

Back in May, my family began its most recent competition:
The Great White Pumpkin Contest.

I sent out an email this morning to the competitors,
and here are a few replies I have received so far:

We have a slight problem...
There is technically enough time to grow one batch, extract new seeds, and grow a second batch. Granted, they would be small... but we're after quantity right? Since these technically come from the same 10 seeds, I might be able to make a thousand pumpkins or more.
Do we need an extra rule?

I, and my class, have successfully kept ALL the seeds in the cup you gave them to me in….does that count?

I harvested and destroyed (trying to get more seeds) about 14 pumpkins (see attached).
However, I refused to shade my patch and relied on water instead (this killed the pumpkins).
I did have one plant revive itself from a root, but it has not produced any pumpkins and has also died (due to a freeze)
Unfortunately, I do not believe I am in the running, although I had a great time tracking my progress on the pumpkin blog (well, until the plants all died!)

That's nothing! I had squash bugs bigger than that.

I tied Brian.

I think my seeds got mixed up with Brian's. Brian, yours died.

I did witness several small, cute little pumkins on Brian's one remaining plant immediately after the freeze. I'm sure this would earn him extra credit.

Melinda, You have some great gardening skills.

She gets that from me.

Some of these are close enough to count as pumpkins, right??

I placed my pumpkin seeds underneath my pillow while I slept every night for months, and yet no pumpkins. This whole gardening thing is beyond me.

And there we have it: a season of family fun & games.
The Great White Valenciano Pumpkin Award will be announced Monday, October 31.

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