Sunday, December 30, 2012

The 4th, 5th, and 6th Day of Christmas

Big Family Christmas, 2012!!
We are a big family, four generations strong.  This weekend there was no shortage of laughter, of singing, No shortage of arms to hold babies, of aunties and uncles to play with the toddlers.  No shortage of food or fun Dirty Santa gifts.  There was a definite missing of some key roles in the family: an uncle, some cousins.  We will catch them next year, if not before.

The grandparents (my Mom and Dad) who started it all, with the grands and great-grands:

That's a lot of photos for one post.  But we are Big Family, and I didn't even get everyone's photos in this - mainly only "some" of  the grands.  Believe me, a good time was had by all.  And the merriment carried on this afternoon by the singing of Handel's Messiah (3 hours.)  Sadly we Armstrongs were driving back north, one nephew was already on a plane bound for London, and a niece and her fiance were headed back to Seattle.  Next year - hopefully!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Musings

We went to a Christmas party last night, Christmas Eve.  It is an annual event for us, to be invited to this family's get-together.  Each year we greet the same folk, and each year we meet new folk who have been added to the mix.  It's always a nice, casual evening that we enjoy.  This year there were, again, new faces to meet - and that's always terrific fun, in my book.  Funny, though: most partiers were in holiday attire - not necessarily formal attire by any means, but, you know: "street-able" attire.  And there is a lady, whom I did not know and did not meet until mid-way through the evening, and she came wearing a funny knit hat that bore ears on it.  Like one a kid (i.e., nursery school) might wear during his ski school lesson.  It was interesting, and then to meet this lady and act as if she might have intelligent repartee to share...

Well, she did and so we did.  but that hat thing was a - what do they say?  -A Holiday Fail.

This morning was 12º outside. Yikes!  And windy, north windy.  Yikes again!

We Armstrongs headed to the Community Dinner at the Lutheran Church and were given our duties.  You know, after years and miles on TWA airplanes doling out coffee and conversation, and then transforming into some Lutheran lady who helps with the funeral luncheons, this Christmas Dinner deal was a piece of cake.  Totally.  So many interesting people. If anyone who reads my blog (would that be 12 people?) ever has an opportunity to help serve a community dinner, then I say : DO IT.  It is not difficult, it is fun, and one can learn a lot about one's community by experiencing it rather than reading the news about it.

OK.  Off the Holiday Soapbox.

Tonight I completed my Big Family Christmas present 2012.  I am all atwitter.  We play Dirty Santa for Big Family in Oklahoma, and we're not talking small potatoes here.  (Well, some of the gifts are simple, but lots of the gifts are really, REALLY fine homemade gifts.)  We should not covet, so we shan't, but I know a few times...

We are a competitive family.

One of the families we served this afternoon brought in an interesting haul of food and a request:  Could we (we, being daughter Gillian) microwave the four tins of canned pasta for their son (pre-teen), and then serve him a plate of corn to go with his eight packs of applesauce.  I looked over to their table and thought to myself: "There is no way that boy will finish all that food."  And yet, at the end of their meal, this kid had slowly and earnestly eaten all of the pre-packed food.  His family enjoyed the Christmas Dinner that was provided by the church, and they brought along the foods that this boy would only eat.  I will not assume to diagnose this boy's dealings, but I did notice that he was happy but did not establish eye contact, nor did he speak to anyone.  Shy or Asperger's, or other...I just know that his family took very good care of him and he seemed to have a happy Christmas.

And now, I am headed into the (late) kitchen to address the lamb chops on the counter.  That Spouse o' Mine said he would attend to them, but then a chess match with College Boy Graham ensued...

Merry Christmas.

~ Tricia

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Notes at Mid-Christmas

1. I have had such a fun week this past week with all the kids home.  It was a nice week of Christmas.

2. This year I was a little bit tired of the old familiar Christmas songs on the radio and in my CD collections.  So this season I decided to listen to French carols instead. (On Spotify)  In fact, right now I am listening to some French guy singing O Holy Night.  Let me tell you, he sounds ten times better than some of the sopranos who attempt this veritable Mt. Everest of hymns.  He is just singing it like a carol, not like a major operatic endeavor.

3.  Although we have a few weeks left of Christmas, it feels GREAT when somebody at a cash register robotically asks, "Are you ready for Christmas?" and I smile sweetly (because I am feeling relaxed and very happily full of the Christmas spirit, I kid you not), and I say, "Oh, we had Christmas on Wednesday!"  And then there is a pause, because the robot at the cash register does not register the information.    

4.  Back to #2:  Now I am listening to La Promenade En Traineau (Sleigh Ride!)  Instead of singing  Giddy-up!  Giddy-up!, they are singing Puddy-up! Puddy-up!

5.  We are having Vietnamese cuisine tonight.  I am cooking it, and the best I can describe it is: Faux Pho.  It smells good... 

6.  I am not quite ready for grandchildren, but this morning I was thinking that if and when I have grandkids, I will be eager to teach them all the funny Christmas songs rolling around in my head, the ones that my sister and I could always join in harmony in less than half a measure's notice.  "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' for Christmas" and "Here Comes Suzy Snowflake"...

7.  I am supposed to set up for Coffee Fellowship in the morning at church.  (Coffee: We ARE Lutheran, after all.)  That Spouse o' Mine is to serve communion.  Sounds proper and all church-y.  I foresee a few calls back and forth in the morning: "Are you about ready?!"  Did you the car?" "Where is...?"    

8.  Tuesday sees us Armstrongs heading over to the OTHER Lutheran Church in town to help serve the Community Christmas Dinner.  This is a worthwhile and fun activity, you all.  Although we are traditional in lots and lots of aspects, celebrating holidays on their given days has never been something we have acknowledged.  This, of course, frees us up to do other activities.  We have served Thanksgiving mealsin the past, and a couple of Christmas meals.  It's always jolly fun.

9.  It snowed this week, and so our house looks exactly like the photo on this blog: we have the Advent candles in the windows, and snow on the sills.  I am loving it.

10.  Here's our College Boy Graham and the Bloodhound.
Finally!  Someone who can keep up with the pup!  Or is it vice-versa?

10.  Daughter Gillian comes back home tomorrow after her Sunday stint at the museum, and we will commence a few more days of Christmas.  Yep, that's how we do it!

11.  Back to #2:  Now I am listening to some little French kids sing O Chistmas Tree. (Mon Beau Sapin)  So sweet!  It beats Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree!

So, Fa La La, and just keep that Christmas Spirit going.  I am thinking that my happy demeanor might help someone, somewhere, who might be struggling this day, this week, this month.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Past

Christmas Past...only one day gone, though.  And that doesn't at all mean that Christmas is over for us Armstrongs; we celebrate Christmas heartily through Twelfth Night (January 6th).

All our kids were home by Sunday last.  I've hauled out all sorts of Christmas china and crystal and silver from the china cabinet, squirreled away my normal everyday dishes and silver, and we have been dining morning, noon, and night in grand holiday style.  We've had lobster bisque, crabcakes, and oysters (Christmas Eve); bacon, grits, and eggs (any given morning); leg of lamb; cornish hen and assorted sides (Christmas lunch); a breakfast cooked by College Boy Graham: he described it as what any of the ten track runners in his house might make when feeling tired and poor.  Let me tell you - it was terrific: potatoes, onions, sausage, bacon, eggs, cheese, topped with hot sauce.  (Maybe not so healthy for a 50-year-old, but when you're 21 and you run 10 miles a day...anything goes?)

We have hiked the Kansas River, XC-skiied in our newly-powdered field, we have run the rural Kansas roads en famille. We opened gifts yesterday morning.  Santa delivered duct tape and air compressors all around.  I received a really nice French cookbook, and Haikubes (cubes which can be thrown together will-nilly to make haiku poems, and everyone knows I love a haiku!)  Another great gift: College Boy Graham took a lot of our old VHS recordings from long ago and made DVDs from them.  The other night we watched babies and tots from our lives in East Lansing.  Two little ballerinas dancing the Nutcracker!  What a fun time.

And so here we are, only beginning the Christmas, and what a fabulous week I have enjoyed!  I hope all the family is in agreement.  Daughter Gillian went back to her home last night so that she could go to work at the Nelson-Atkins Museum this morning.  Lo & behold (and a big BOO here!), the snow prevented the museum from opening today.  So, Gillian COULD have enjoyed a couple more days of homestyle Christmas, had we any of us been able to foresee winter Kansas snowstorms.  In any event, she went XC skiing in Kansas City just as I was out with our pups, doing the same.  Although her XC ski course was more picturesque, mine was a little more untamed and activity-ridden:

I went out before the sun was up, took my skis and two dogs and headed out to our pasture to XC ski in the new-fallen snow.  It was really windy out, from the north-north-west.  26º and windy, windy.  I skiied for 1.5 hours, and it was lovely, until the last 15 minutes.  I crossed the field diagonally with Bloodhound right by my side and the Bouvier right behind me.  The wind was at my face.  As we approached the corner gate I looked up, just as Bloodhound did, too.  And just as the coyote in front of us did, as well.  Uh-oh: it seems the coyote jumped the fence into our field and did not see, hear, or smell us (we were downwind), until all our eyes met up at once.  Coyote threw himself backwards into the fence just as I gasped and just as Bloodhound spotted the motion ahead of us.  Coyote freed himself from the fence just as Bloodhound bolted from my side and disappeared.  The chase was on, and a very silent one.  I could not discern where the coyote or the Bloodhound were, down in the creek bed. I was not happy, not happy at all, because there were two quandaries in my mind:

A) Beau the Bloodhound, What in the world will you do once you catch the coyote?!
B) Omigoodness, is this going to mean a big vet bill to repair our stupid hound dog?!

Happily, Beau the Bloodhound found his way home (After I had told our kids that he must be in the next county by now.) 

Tonight held XC skiing with that Spouse o' Mine (and the pups), and the College Boy Graham running a lot of miles in the cold, cold snow.

And now I must go serve the Lamb Stew.  Christmas!  I love it.

No, no - wait!  I forgot a funny:  This week for Christmas, I hauled out some boxes which contained Barbie Dolls and Beast War (Transformer) toys, and that's what Santa delivered to the now-adult kids for Christmas. Pretty funny stuff.  Also some books from their kindergarten and 1st grade classes.  Apparently, newlywed Claire planned on becoming a Ninja Chimp.  You go, Girl.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Thoughts

Several weeks ago I was talking with a niece who teaches lower elementary.  She mentioned some training her school did with the kids that week: lockdown exercises: what to do if an intruder came into the elementary school.   I remember now, sighing and commenting, "My gosh, what is this world coming to?  We only used to have fire and tornado drills."  She explained what was involved in a classroom lockdown situation, having to herd her 1st grade students into a safe area of their classroom, and have them huddle and be as still as they can be.

What has been on my mind today are my three kids - now all adults, but in my mind's eye I can see them when they were in Kindergarten, 1st grade. Winsome, shy smiles.  Soft voices.  Funny, silly senses of humor.  Typical little kids.  Blessedly, now, typical young adults.

What a tough day for so many.

"How precious is your steadfast love, Oh God!  The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings."  Psalm 36:6-8

I took a walk in the woods this evening.  I saw a big white-tail deer about-facing away from me.  And up in the sky there were hundreds - yes, hundreds of ducks flying over in V-formations.  And yes, they were ducks, not geese.  Ducks have a different wing movement than geese when they fly.  I learned that from my Dad when I was a kid.   He showed me ducks flying and  how their wings go flap-flap-flap, whereas geese's wings go up-down, pause, up-down, pause.  And these birds were quacking, not honking.  We saw ducks in this number a few months ago, and that Spouse o' Mine commented that he had not seen such huge teams since he was a young kid growing up in South Dakota.

I think of the parents who have lost their children: here in the States: Newtown, and also the parents in China whose children also came under attack the same morning,  by some deranged attacker with a pitchfork. And the families in Syria, whose school children have been killed the past couple of weeks by Assad's regime.   There are tears of loss - complete loss and sadness.  I am so sorry for the world-wide loss of children this month.  I cannot fathom, not one minute, one iota, what the all those families in this world are experiencing.           

It is sprinkling this evening, and that is something we have not seen for months and months.  I can say, "Thanks be to God."    

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bleak Midwinter Suits Me

Bleak midwinter suits me.  I am happily fully-dressed, with a smile on my face, a hat on my head, and some really cute mittens (that daughter Gillian has knitted for me), to warm my hands.

I have positioned several birdfeeders outside so that we can catch a glimpse of avian wildlife from various windows in our house.
The birds outdoors have discovered their winter water source: our grotto pond fountain.     

A bluebird, waiting his turn.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

In the Bleak Midwinter

The wind is howling outside.  Upon arising this morning, I saw the temperature at 44º , and set to drop one or two or three degrees every hour, with wind gusts up to 30 mph - from the north...until tomorrow at 7:00am, when it is forecast to be 13º outside.

This afternoon I attended to the duckhouse (heat lamp and heated water), and attended to the pups (heated water bucket, and fed two hours early.)

So the animals are kept. 

I hear my wind chime - my souvenir from my San Diego jaunt to visit daughter Gillian - bonging in the night.  It has only one tone, a very, very deep BONG.  This is because I live in Kansas.  Wind chimes in Kansas?  Are you KIDDING ME?!  But my San Diego wind chime bongs a subtle, very deep note every-so-often, when that old north wind comes to visit. 

What's good to do tonight?  I am making a vegetarian pizza, and perusing my quilt blogs - two of which make me think I should attend to them in earnest, in 2013.  Kind of like a New year's Resolution, except it would be one part fun (the reading) and one part work (the quilting).  Nevertheless, I am thinking that these two blogs will be part of my 2013:

Civil War Quilts

Orphan Train    

Even if I do not produce, I will have learned.

OK..the wind is still howling, the dough has risen, and I must attend to dinner.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Friday, December 07, 2012

Advent Sad Event

I began the book I checked out of the public library this week:

The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People, by John Kelly.

After I knocked off the first couple of chapters, which were very depressing, I got a phone call from my parents, who had news to share.  My Dad, sculptor, saw on the evening news tonight that the foundry which has produced his bronze sculptures for decades burned to the ground this afternoon.  They don't have details of loss yet, but "burned to the ground" was what the news reported.  "Burned to the ground" could entail a few decades of sculpture molds, and some ~ 13 bronzes Mom & Dad were to pick up next week.  That is, in a small word, frustrating.

I went back to my book.  I read and read, and then began skimming.  Too much blah blah blah and names, when I was looking for details.  Details, I tell you!  There were gory details in the book, and that's not really what I was looking for.  I was looking for a small outline of the dates and history, and some explanation of the goings-on.  Ok: the details are gory, the accounts of reports and details are ad infinitum, and...cut to the chase? 1 million Irish died, 2 million Irish emigrated.  There was a huge problem of British prejudice.  There was a huge problem of disease which was parallel to and perhaps overtook the numbers of death by famine.

So.  A depressing book.  A sad sculpture phone call.

And then?

My parents called again: My Uncle Bob Montgomery, aged ~ 80-something, (not to be confused with my Brother Bob Webster, so you guys don't take this blog post and RUN with it!)  passed away this afternoon.  It was not unexpected, but who wants to lose a part of one's family history?

Sad for us:  Uncle Bob Montgomery

Ugh: Foundry fire

Awful, albeit not so personal as the above two: Irish Famine History

And that's what I have going on this fine Friday evening, the first week of Advent.  

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Dickens Hit a Homerun

It sure was a busy day today.  Busy, in that I had one million and three small tasks to be done, and less than one million minutes to accomplish all these little piddling things. 

And some of the things...I can't even write about, because they have to do with Christmas and Fa La La.  If you are not a member of my family and have an inquiring mind that wants to know, comment and I will email you with some pretty fun(ny) details.  All you Armstrongs and Websters?  You
are just going to have to wait.

Speaking of Scots (the Armstrongs and Websters???), I read a pitiful article in the news today.  That Spouse o' Mine was already privy to the content - apparently this hoo-hah has been going on for a few years.  Donald Trump, filthy-rich American, decided to build a golf course in Scotland.  (Yeah, right - like the originators of golf don't already have enough courses?)  Well.  There is a Scotsman, Michael Forbes, 60-ish, who is was a salmon fisherman and farmer.  He owns ~ 23 acres which happens to be smack-dab in the middle of the planned-for golf course Trump has been building.  Mr. Forbes has refused to sell his land.  Trump has been bad-mouthing Mr. Forbes.  Mr. Forbes can no longer fish for salmon because Trump has blocked access to the water.  Wow, Trump, way to ...ah, nevermind.  I told that Spouse o' Mine this afternoon, this story REEKS with tales of Christmas Past.  (And I hate Dickens.)  

Well!  Just this week, Mr. Forbes has been voted Top Scot by the people of Scotland.  That's a big deal, I think.  Imagine being voted Top American!  Well, true to his colors, Trump has declared a ban on any Glenfiddich Scotch sold in any of his hotels.  Because Glenfiddich sponsors the Top Scot award.

Yeah, yeah, whatever.  Tough talk, Trump.  WHO CARES?!

God bless us every one!  Except, maybe...

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

May the Bluebird...

We have a small pond in what I call our grotto.  In the summer months it houses our giant goldfish, specimen I acquired from the bait shop (yes, I live such a rich life) down by our local lake.  In addition to minnows, they sell giant goldfish, not to be confused with their prettier (hush!) and more expensive brethren, the Koi. 

In the winter, not much goes on in the grotto.  I don't sit out there in the cold, the cats are whiney-pots out there in the winter (meow-ee-pots?), and the giant banana trees and elephant ears have been removed for the winter, along with the herb garden.  It's desolate out there.

But this morning I poured myself a cup of coffee and glanced out to see TWO pretty, pretty bluebirds hopping along the limestone border of the grotto pond.  Getting drinks!  So BLUE, they were.

That was the highlight of my morning coffee, folks.  It made my morning!

(And the photo?  Stock internet photo, not my own.  
But the bluebird looks just like ours, as does the grotto's dog-ear fencepost.)

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Day is Done

Just as we left church this morning that Spouse o' Mine observed, "We have five and a half hours of daylight left."  I looked at him and burst out laughing.  He wasn't laughing.  He was serious.  What to do, what to do in the daylight...

He opted to go on his 38-mile bike ride.  I opted for a 7.5 mile walk/run.  This is how we do the Day of Rest.  Off we went!

By mile number seven I was feeling a little pained.  Tired.  Ready for the party to be over.  I ran some, I walked some on that last mile.  The running began to take on some lurching elements.  It was time to be DONE.

I arrived home shortly after that Spouse o' Mine.  He was spent, too.  We cleaned up, showered, had a light snack.  I still needed to take the dogs out for their evening romp, and I didn't know if my legs could stand it.  The hounds bounded out into the pasture and I limped along, carrying a walking stick.  We went down to the creek, and that's when I turned back to face west:

OMIGOODNESS.  Beautiful. 

Run, run, I told myself.  Run run, run back to the house and grab the camera.  Run!!  

I hobbled very, very slowly back to the house, limping along like Quasimoto, reached the house, grabbed a camera, and lurched back down to the creek.  

Here's what I got:

Saturday, December 01, 2012


I am just coming away from the glow of Thanksgiving, and loving every minute of it.  I loved visiting the Virginia Newlyweds  just the week before Thanksgiving, and loved having our Thanksgiving at home, as well.  The only change I would have made would be to have that College Boy Graham, a physical part of it.  As it was, he roasted a turkey and sent us a photograph.  Love that boy.

I am just getting into December, and haven't quite gotten into the Christmas holiday biz, just yet.  Yesterday I went to the library.  There were stacks of happy-holiday-Christmas-cheer-decorate-NOW_NOW_NOW books to be checked out.  Well, I opted for this title instead:

The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People, by John Kelly.

Sounds bleak, eh?  About as bleak as the topic of conversation the College Boy Graham, and I had online yesterday: North Korea.  Now I promise that I do not wallow in sorrow and pain.  I am just intrigued, intrigued.  Inquiring minds want to know...

That Spouse o' Mine announced yesterday that he is making my Christmas present.  Now THAT is intriguing in a ho-ho-ho kind of mystery!  He has made two trips to the lumber yard.  He has spent hours out in the bike barn.  I have stayed away, for the most part.  I did make a couple of guesses:

"Is it a jewelry box?"        
"No.  You have enough jewelry boxes."  (He doesn't get it: I only want ONE jewelry box.  One large jewelry box.)
"Is it s cold frame?"
"A what?"
"A cold frame?"
"Is it a COLD FRAME?"
"A WHAT?!"
"What's a cold frame?"
"Nevermind.  If you don't know what a cold frame is, then that's not what it is."

And so I have stopped walking on that side of the yard, so that my Christmas present will be a surprise.  There's a good part to this: He has to feed the dogs and put the ducks in and out, since I can't go to that side of the yard.  An Advent vacation of sorts.

This afternoon I went to Hobby Lobby to get a Christmas ornament frame.  My, my goodness!  Apparently I am SO FAR BEHIND in the holly, jolly Christmas parade.   Really?  December 1st?  I am still reveling in turkey and Virginia.

We are slow in the start-up, but once we get rolling, we celebrate through to Twelfth Night: January 6th.

So there.
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