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 14ยบ 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.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...