Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014: A Good Year: And Also With You

It's New Year's Eve, and I am setting up a wireless mouse and wireless keyboard for my PC. It's nearly 2014.

Way back in 1988, we were a family of four. Two adults, one working on his PhD, and the other, working on her motherhood skills with two daughters under the age of three.  Back then, we also had an office with a computer. It had a very, very  slow DOS operating system. I do recall that I started learning about "email" that year. I didn't see its worth over a letter sent n the mail.  (And in 2013? I still LOVE a personal letter in my rural mailbox!)  My mother was so far beyond me in computer know-how.  She embraced the new frontier of computerland.  I eschewed it.  She was my To-Go person for all things Windows. She had all the answers!!  And if she did not know outright, she knew in a matter of a minute or so, where to find the answer.

It is incomprehensible how far the computer age has traveled in only a couple of decades.  But - not unlike the science of air travel, right?  Who, besides Da Vinci and probably a few more folk, could have seen the future of human flight?  And now, we have amazing aircraft that few could have imagined even half a century ago!

Do you wonder about the next fifty years?  I do.  I cannot imagine.  I hope that there is more good than bad. (Don't we all, each of our generations?)  I think there will be amazing medical advances, curing diseases on which we have not yet got a handle.  Amazing science discoveries.  I hope that there are amazing movements of peace and acceptance in the world, but I also hold a pessimistic thought, that peoples in the world will refuse to accept others.  Case in point just now, 2013 -  the Tibetan people in China. 

In fifty years...I think the United States is so young compared the rest of the world, it might suffer some in its government.  I don't like writing that.  I dearly hope that I am wrong.

So, well, here we are in rural Kansas; personally, our family is doing pretty darn well. 

And so, in world-wide terms, I can only utter,

"Thanks be to God."  "And also with you."

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Sixth Day of Christmas

Today is the Sixth Day of Christmas.  I made cheese fondue this afternoon - such a treat in this cold and snowy afternoon.  Tonight I went out to feed animals, and lo and behold, there were eight eggs in the duckhouse!  It's like "Six Geese a-Laying" but without the geese.  And more eggs.  Our ducks moulted late this fall.  When they moult, they usually quit laying eggs, too.  I do not know the whys and the wherefors of this, but that's apparently how it's done.  I am so happy to be back in eggville - once one enjoys free-range duck eggs, it's difficult to enjoy the storebought, papershell, teeny-tiny, pale yellow chicken eggs in the grocery store.

Here is a cute photo; see the boy holding the calico kitten?  That's Puzzle.  Jasper, other kitten, and Bear, big dog, are dearly departed. 

And another cute photo: Claire and Puzzle, some seventeen years later...

And yet another: College Boy Graham titled his photo "Two Puzzles".
He took this when he came home from uni two weeks ago.  She is sitting on the game table, on the jigsaw puzzle. 

And finally:
When we put up the Christmas tree in mid-December, Puzzle opted for that special place to sleep in her elder days, by the heat register, under the tree, among the packages.

I took this photo two weeks ago, and emailed the kids as to how cute she was, snoozing under the tree!

 Last week, the night before Christmas Eve, Puzzle died under the Christmas tree. 

Twenty years ago, I got a call from a university Vet Med resident, who also helped us as housesitter on many occasions. 

"There was a litter of kittens dumped at Vet Med this morning.  You really need to come see them."

"No, we really do not need a new kitten."

"No.  You REALLY need to come see them."

So we went, and brought home a gift which has lasted twenty years, and whose memory will make us smile much longer.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Fourth Day

I have a cold today.  I am not sick.  Over Christmas this past few weeks, we, the kids and I, discussed the definition of "sick" and "having a cold".  Since the kiddos have fledged our nest, occasionally one or the other or all three have mentioned by phone or email they they were sick.

SICK?!!!  Mother Me would panic.  Major maternal panic mode!

And come to find out?  They just had a cold.  A measly, snibbly cold. Sniffles.  A tiny bit of a fever.  Nothing that they should write home about.  Take a long nap.  Drink lots of water.  Eat some garlic.  Gargle.  Vicks.

This morning, I began sneezing and wheezing.  I thought it might be allergies, but what in the world could I be allergic to in single-digit temperatures?  After lunch, I lay down on the sofa for a quick 20-minute nap, as is my sometimes practice.  But that 20 minutes ended up to be a two-hour marathon coma. Complete with really vivid dreams.

And I continued to sneeze.

I sneezed out in the snow in the pasture as I herded the pups out for their evening romp.

I sneezed in the art room as I completed some art works.

I have a cold.

I am not sick.

Today is the Fourth Day of Christmas.

Mel Torme wrote this song when he was 19 years old:

MEL TORME: Good King Wenceslas

1. Good King Wenceslas look'd out,
    On the Feast of Stephen;1
When the snow lay round about,
    Deep, and crisp, and even:
Brightly shone the moon that night,
    Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
    Gath'ring winter fuel.
2. "Hither page and stand by me,
    If thou know'st it, telling,2
Yonder peasant, who is he?
    Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence.
    Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence,
    By Saint Agnes' fountain."
3. "Bring me flesh,3 and bring me wine,
    Bring me pine-logs hither:
Thou4 and I will see him dine,
    When we bear them thither."
Page and monarch forth they went,
    Forth they went together;
Through the rude5 winds wild lament,
    And the bitter weather.
4. "Sire, the night is darker now,
    And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know now how,
    I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page;6
    Tread thou in them boldly;
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
    Freeze thy blood less coldly."
5. In his master's steps he trod,
    Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
    Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
    Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
    Shall yourselves find blessing.
Wherefore, Christian people, know,
    Who my lay are hearing,
He who cheers another's woe
    Shall himself find cheering.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Third Day of Christmas

Here we are, the Third Day of Christmas.  I keep coming back to the Kings College because, well...they sing "Christmas" to me!

Tonight in rural Kansas, it's warmish (read: 40º F) and the stars are out.  The stars are brightly shining.  Here's some nice music:  O Holy Night

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Reindeer Games

Today is the second day of Christmas.  The kids have come and gone.  After Little Family Christmas, we six drove to Oklahoma for Big Family Christmas, the singing of the Messiah, and a Christmas Dinner made by the Younger Generation - three days and nights of holiday madness happiness.  We shot arrows and scavenger-hunted. There were races and bike rides, tennis matches, and even an ice storm.  Holly Jolly!

Scavenger Hunt:  Two teams drove around the rural Kansas county, searching for photo opps for their team.  This clue: "Un burrito".  The team competitors got extra points if their faces were in the photos...
 ..."un burrito"...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Bleak Midwinter

I am thriving in this cold, dark season.  I love midwinter.  I can list a myriad of reasons why I do well in this seasonal atmosphere, but that might make all you sun- and heat-lovers more depressed and Seasonally-Affected than you already are.

Ok, Ok, here are just a few reasons I like the bleak midwinter:

Snow!  It is such fun to be out in the snow.  I don my snowsuit and boots and hat and mittens, and there's such fun to be had exploring nature.  Tracks and trails and birds in flight...

 Silence!  Snow is an awesome noise insulator.  All is calm.  All is bright.

Ice is pretty.  We were in Oklahoma this week, and let me tell you, Oklahoma does ice storms better than most.  Granted, the ice storms are a major headache to Oklahoma residents, and are dangerous, and Okies could finish this sentence with more and more negative descriptions, but let me just say:  Ice is pretty.

It's dark outside!  Even in daylight, the skies are most often grey and cloudy.  I'm just fine and dandy with that.  I don't mind the dark.  Never have, even when living in Michigan with its late, LATE sunrises, and its early, EARLY sunsets.  (Hey: payback time in July, when it's the converse, OK?)  For me, dark winter days and evenings signify soups and art projects...NOT watermelon and long, hot bike rides.

Should I mention, "No bugs"?

Ok, here's one of my all-time, tippy-top favorite Christmas Carols.  Yes, it discusses snow and ice and frost and bleakness.  But the song ends quite happily.  The lyrics were written by Christina Rossetti, and the music, by Gustav Holst - who also wrote The Planets - also a favorite of mine.

In the Bleak Midwinter

Sunday, December 15, 2013


As is my practice of an evening, I went to the china cabinet and took out a piece of stemware and poured myself a glass of wine.  I looked at this glass: it is not antique, but it is old and it holds terrifically fun memories.   There is a line around the very center of the globe.  That is the horizon, from which all the etchings of pine trees and snowflakes originate.  I like to call these wineglasses in my china cabinet my "Winter Stemware". When our kids were fairly young, I sometimes would ask them to fill the glasses "to the horizon".  I remember one very difficult day last year, I requested that my glass be filled "TO THE TREETOPS!"    

How did I come to own so many glasses in my "Winter Stemware"?

May years ago, I had lunch with my sister Barb.  We went to Arby's.  She ordered for us, and - WOW!  we got two wineglasses of "Winter Stemware"!  For free!  With pop in them!  My sister really knew how to do things.

I wanted more.  More Winter Stemware...enough for that Spouse o' Mine and our three kids.  (No, we would not fill their glasses to the horizon with wine, Silly; milk in those wineglasses!)

The problem was that Arby's offer for glasses (I am pretty sure they did not tout this deal as Free Wineglasses) was that you got a free glass when you ordered a soda.  Well, we Armstrongs did not and do not drink sodas.  So I was at a loss.  I called my sister up.  (Her family drank sodas like...I don't know; like horses eat alfalfa?)  Can you PLEASE get me some more Arby's glasses?  She said she would do whatever she could.  And that was the end of the story.

Christmas came, and we were all merrily doing the Little and Big Family Christmases.  Big Family Christmas that year: A large box was set in front of me.  To Tric.  (My sister Barb never spelled my name any other way that Tric.)  I opened it, and there was a boatload of newspaper.  Newspaper wrapping something...

Omigoodness!  Twenty-six Arby's Winter Stemware Wineglasses!!

She had called the three brothers, who were in cahoots on this, and they all visited Arbys the month of December, to get me my glasses.

You gotta love family.

And sisters.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Coming Home, Part One:

College Boy Graham is home, dinner has done been et, and we are awaiting the cookies out of the oven.

Can I add a post script to yesterday's post about that Spouse o' Mine and his hand?  This morning, we were busy for an hour or two upon waking, Skyping Chilean customers and whatnot.  Finally, that Spouse o' Mine went in to change the dressing on his carving wound.  I asked if I could have a look.

I spied.

I refrained from squeezing my eyes shut.  I remained without emotion showing on my face.  "You really need to go have this attended to.  We really should have gone in last night."

For once in our happily wedded bliss, he acquiesced.  The wound was not pleasant.  Meaty-things going on there.  (I asked myself, if ever my Dad the sculpture incurred such injuries?  Must ask my mother...)

He drove in by himself (thank goodness, because I could only imagine how many cold and flu germs would hinge themselves onto me in the waiting room...yes! I am neurotic.)

Speaking of waiting rooms...

That Spouse o' Mine waited three hours.  Three hours and some sutures later (Told ya so!), he was good to go.  I told him if we had gone in last night, when the blood  flow was ridiculous, they would have seen him immediately.

And now, back to our happy evening of reunion?

I love this old, old song - here recorded  by Johnny Cash.

Children Go Where I Send Thee

Friday, December 13, 2013

Oh Beautiful Star

Years ago, - nay, decades ago, (when the heck did that happen?!), I used to commute from East Lansing (by way of Detroit) to New York's JFK International Airport once, and sometimes twice, a week, to work a flight to parts east: Europe or the Middle East.

Work is work is work.  That I got to go to terrific places in my employment was a valuable perk.  But, I have to say, commuting and logistics did make my work to be...work!  I started out as a flight attendant first as a single woman, and later on, as a newlywed.  Still later, as a Mom.

Logistics abounded.  Every-which-way.

Stress and worries and security  (OH!  Hijackings and terrorists and who-knows-what-else.)
(In the New Millennium, we have sadly witnessed the "what-else".)

I remember listening to this carol so many, many times on my drives to and from the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.  It calmed my nerves, heading east to JFK.  It called me back to hearth & home on my return flights.

Oh Beautiful Star of Bethlehem

I still love listening to this song, sung here by the Judds.  It is a calming carol for me.

Speaking of calming...

I so needed this, this evening.

That Spouse o' Mine (and he will really hate it when he finds that I have written about this..) has been working on a piece of wood this month.  A carving.  A sculpture.

You see, every year at Big Family Christmas, we play Dirty Santa (look it up), and all the gifts are to be hand-made.  And we're not talking a snowflake cut out of a 9x12.5" paper, we're talking oil paintings, sculptures, quilts.  We Websters are creative, and appreciative of art.  The more personal it is, the better we like it.  Yes, ye, we all would LOVE a real live Bougerreau.  But Gma's oils (my Mom's) and nephew-in-law Josh's framed photographs from Antarctica are prime real estate in our Dirty Santa.

But, back to that Spouse o' Mine:

He was upstairs merrily creating something about which I cannot describe, while I was "lower deck" in the galley, prepping our Friday night pizza.  (Living 12 miles out in rural Kansas, we have no pizza delivery.  Sad state of affairs.)

Very quietly and suddenly, he appeared right next to me.

"I cut myself."

"How badly?"  (Note to all you English writer-wannabes: my adverb, even in emergency, was correct.)

"Not bad."  (Note to all you English writer-wannabes: this is how one speaks when he is bleeding, grey, and about to pass out; please note lack of proper adverb.)

I looked at the wound - and it was BAD.  I announced that I would take him in for sutures.  He ix-nayed that plan all over the place.  (How does one spell Pig Latin, much less speak it?!)  About this time, after I had cleaned and wrapped his wound and was cleaning the surrounding fingers and palms (Because, really? How much blood did you lose before you decided to come downstairs and seek help?!), I looked at his face.  And it was a terrifying grey.  Blank eyes.

He was in shock.

I yelled at him, and shoved him into the living room.  I told him to sit down on the sofa.  He could not find it - he was blacking out, I supposed.  I pushed him onto the sofa and pushed his head down (he frowned, but made no attempt to move it.)  I pulled his injured hand above his head.

Very, very soon afterwards, (a minute?  who knows). he seemed right as rain again.

And now we two are eating our pizza together, as if the First Aid necessity had never come about.

Have mercy.
And I will sing my calming carol, Oh Beautiful Song of Bethlehem once again.

And again...
and again...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pre-Dawn Jingles

Yesterday I scheduled a Skype conversation for this morning at 7:30 am with a customer from Chile.  That Spouse o' Mine and I have been waking up at 5:00 am, so I saw no need to set an alarm.  Wouldn't you know, today of all days, we woke up at 7:00 am?!

I jumped out of bed, scrambled around getting my laptop set up, (because I left it to the morning's task, thinking erroneously that I would have 2.5 hours to prep for this call...!), I cleaned off the desk area which would be seen in the Skype call (who wants to look like a disorganized yahoo first thing in the morning??) and wondered about the bags under my eyes and such, all before dawn and all before coffee.  Ugh.

An aside to this tale:
My Great Aunt Dee's Christmas Stocking, which I was given upon her passing:

   A very charming homemade Christmas stocking!  A really beautiful stocking which finds its place each year in my home.  It is really wonderful.

And here was Aunt Dee's admonishment to me:

OK, back to my morning Skype:

I got everything ready, was dressed and ready to roll, (except for my lipstick; WHERE was my lipstick?!) when I got an email from the customer, just minutes before my Skype call to him, saying he could not Skype this morning.

That was a total blessing.

Here's a carol called "Jingle Bell".

Kling Glockchen

Would that this happy little song would have been running through my head this morning, calming my uncaffeinated, pre-dawn nerves.  We rescheduled the Skype meeting for tomorrow morning.  Rest assured it will commence more calmly than this morning.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

December 10

Today, we - that Spouse o' Mine and I, were discussing units of measure around the world.  Neither of us, for the life of us, can understand why the United States of America is still in the dark ages in this respect: when, oh, WHEN, are we going to go metric?  It is time.  Past due, actually.  Adopt the metric system and do away with the time changes.

This day in 1799, France adopted the metre as its official unit of length.  I have yet to find how things were measured in France before 1799, but I have not researched it, either.  More to come on that subject...

This day in 1817, Mississippi became the 20th state in these united ones of America.  Do we all realize how young the United States of America are?  Compared to other countries around the world, our nation is still in its baby steps.  Amazing to consider.

Mark Twain's book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published on this day in 1884.  It has been on "banned" book lists as early as 1885 - when the Concord (MA) Public Library called it "trash and only suitable for the slums."  Nowdays, the debate seems to center on Twain's language and use of the word "nigger" in the book.  This book was assigned reading back in my childhood.  I enjoyed it.  I haven't re-read it.  I haven't used the word nigger either, except as a quote.  What has stayed in my memory from this book are his adventures.  Do you suppose this is what Samuel Clemons was aiming for?

In 1867, a patent was obtained for a mixture of:
3 parts nitroglycerin
1 part diatomaceous earth
A pinch of sodium carbonate


Yes, this Swedish man, Alfred Nobel, invented dynamite.  He then went on to found the Nobel Prize, which is a pretty coveted prize by folks all over the world.  Mr. Nobel died on this day in 1896.  In Sweden today, they observe Nobeldagen (Nobel Day).

When I was growing up, my family never, I think EVER, celebrated Christmas on Christmas Day.   Christmas was celebrated whenever it worked for all our large extended family.  My parents also told us that Christ's birth was to be celebrated every day of the year, not just on December 25th.  After all, where in the Bible does it say "December 25th is the birth date of the Lord Jesus Christ."?

This month, we Armstrongs will be celebrating Little Christmas here in rural Kansas in just one short week.  Yippee!  Four kids will be home.  (I say kids, but they are all adults.)  From here, we will head south to Oklahoma for Big Family Christmas.  Big, it will be!  One night of dinner cooked by the young adults, the next night will be the singing of Handel's Messiah (all 2.5 hours of it), and finally, Big Family Christmas and finale of all things Big Family.  A marathon to be sure, but fun and love and re-acquaintance after a year apart.

We've had a small respite in the single-digit temperatures today.  Not high enough to melt ice and snow, but enough to give us a bit of solar energy for the rest of the week's single digits and ice and snow.  Hey!  It's winter, after all.  Here's my carol of the day, to still all the holiday hoo-hah:

Still, Still, Still 

(I like it in its original German better.)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Merry & Happy

My day started out nice, at 5:00am.  Cold, but nice.  Since I got an early start of it, I was ready to head out the door bright & early to do some Christmas errands.

Animals fed, business emails checked and replied-to.  Car warmed up.

I hopped in, headed down the highway, and it was then that I bothered to put on my heavy-duty mittens for the 11º temperature.  (I have "special gloves" with which to feed animals, because what might seem just fine in 11º starts to smelling pretty darn awful after the car warms up and the Bloodhound smells start to thaw.)

Eau de Drool.

So, I slid my cold hands into my clean and toasty mittens.  Ah, nuts.  I had two left-handed mittens.  I was going to look silly and lopsided.  Well, too late.  I continued on into town.  I made my first stop: Hobby Lobby.  I collected my things, and went to checkout.  I swiped the credit card.  The lady told me to hit "cancel" and so I did.  Credit card: DENIED.  Silently, I think to myself: IMPOSSIBILE!  She told me to swipe it again.  And told me to hit "cancel".  I did, and: credit card: DENIED.  Again, I thought to myself: IMPOSSIBLE!  But I shyly looked around and thought, I am a total loser.  Ughhh.  Two left-handed mittens and my credit card was denied.  I hope I don't see anyone who knows me.


The cashier said brightly, "Don't you hate when that happens?"  I said nothing.  I was thinking to myself: IT DOES NOT HAPPEN.  IMPOSSIBLE!

I wrote a check and made a bee-line for the door.

I still had errands to run, but I sure wasn't going to submit myself to further humiliation, so I went to the nearest ATM and got lots of cash. UGHhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  From there, I went to points A-Z and did my holiday fun and games, all with that heavy cloud of Credit Card Denial hanging overhead.

Upon returning home, I began lunch. I do love me some garlic, and I grabbed the garlic press and went crazy over the pizza I was making for lunch.


My garlic press broke.  I swear, I go through garlic presses like nobody's business.  Can no one make an industrial-strength garlic press?!

I took lunch into the study and immediately began my banking detail on the computer to determine WHY I was in a left-handed mittened, no-credit- and no-garlic-press world.

Hey.  My credit card was just fine.  Fine and Dandy.  What the heck?!  No stolen identity, no "over-the-mark" nonsense, just ready and willing to be used and used and used during the holiday season.


As for the mittens and the garlic press: I still need to address those situations.  But I am thrilled that no cyber security has been breached, and my holiday shopping can go rolling merrily along.

This melody is how happy I felt after lunch:

Shepherd's Pipe Carol

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Friendly Beasts

You gotta love a dog who loves his baguettes:

And the all-weather dog who lovers her daily hikes:

And the calico kitty, fast asleep under the tree.  (And Martin the Helper, pushing his luck a bit. Puzzle may be geriatric, but she has been known to throw a chihuahua down a flight of stairs.)

The Friendly Beasts
(I remember watching Tennessee Ernie Ford on the I love Lucy shows...)

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Ain't That A-Rockin

I was listening to Christmas music today as I decorated our Christmas tree.  First, I must chortle once again about the "State of Our Christmas Tree".  It's a fake tree.  Some years we do real trees, some years fake. This year is Fake Tree year.  I hauled the fake tree out of the hayloft, hosed it down, and assembled it.

Sort of.

There are a few (Several?  Quite a few?) branches missing.

Whatever.  I have made do with that which I have on hand.  It looks tremendous in my eyes.  I love that each ornament has some sentimental meaning to my family.  Case in point:

The Christmas Cow.

Now, who couldn't love a 2nd Grader's Christmas Cow?  I have carefully kept this ornament, all 12" of it, for years and years.  I haven't decided if or when I shall surrender these ornaments to the original artists, our three kids.  They bring back memories of rocking babies, reading bedtime books, listening to funny stories.  Explaining why a toy brought from Santa said "Made in China" on it instead of "Made by Elves".  (I kid you not.  Thank you, little miss Gillian.)

Our tree is not a show piece of Lenox china or matching ornaments and ribbons and bows.  Ours is a masterpiece of years of fun and family.

Please enjoy today's Christmas Carol:
 Ain't That A-Rockin

Friday, December 06, 2013

Chicken Soup and Music for the Soul

Brr.  The low tonight is now forecast for -3º F.  That's -18º C for all you Celsius folk.  Here's what Cold looks like on a Rural Kansas Evening:

I am making some sort of chicken soup tonight.  I make most soups by scratch, to keep down the sodium (and fat) intake.  I wonder why soup companies think that salt should be the header on their ingredients lists?  Anyway, I could call this Tortilla Soup, since I will be serving it with tortillas, but I didn't follow a recipe, so?  Who knows?  Chicken and beans and lots of vegetables, cumin, garlic, and Sriracha Sauce.  Yummy!  Maybe I will make some rice to go with the soup...yeah...

And tonight's Christmas carol is one of my very, very favorites, even though I do not speak Catalonian.  Two great renditions, and you must enjoy both!

El Noi de la Mare

El Noi de la Mare

What are they singing?!
The Son of Mary
What shall we give to the Son of the Virgin?
What can we give that the Babe will enjoy?
First, we shall give Him a tray full of raisins,
Then we shall offer sweet figs to the Boy.
First, we shall give Him a tray full of raisins,
Then we shall offer sweet figs to the Boy.
What shall we give the Beloved of Mary?
What can we give to her beautiful Child?
Raisins and olives and nutmeats and honey,
Candy and figs and some cheese that is mild.
Raisins and olives and nutmeats and honey,
Candy and figs and some cheese that is mild.
What shall we do if the figs are not ripened?
What shall we do if the figs are still green?
We shall not fret; if they're not ripe for Easter,
On a Palm Sunday, ripe figs will be seen.
We shall not fret, if they're not ripe for Easter,
On a Palm Sunday, ripe figs will be seen.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Hot Food on the Cold Plains

Today I provided a meal for the Emergency Shelter in town.  I take a meal in twice a month.  It may sound daunting but it really is not.  I work these meals around my own weekly schedule.  I call them up a day or two in advance of when I want to cook, and find out the number of folks currently at the shelter.  And I go from there.  When I started this project (last summer), that Spouse o' Mine and I discussed it, and decided that for what it might cost the two of us to go out for a nice dinner, a meal could also be thoughtfully provided for whomever was in the shelter on any given evening.  When I say "thoughtfully", I mean it takes some thought to frugally provide a meal for anywhere from 20-45 people.

But!  It is very easy.

I baked a batch of cookies this morning, and threw three pork loins into the crockpots and went about my daily affairs.  The rice & vegetables are cooking as I type.

Tonight I am taking in Asian pulled pork, garlic green beans, and rice with peppers and onions.  And chocolate chip cookies.  Pork: $25.00, Asian sauce: $5.00, green beans: $4.00, rice: pennies, and peppers & onions: $5.20, chocolate chip cookies: whatever I had on hand in the kitchen cabinets.   (I am serving 30 tonight.)

In 45 minutes I will load the food and take it in town.  The Emergency Shelter also has a full kitchen and a large pantry full of donated items, so if there happens to be more diners than my lot allows, they can easily supplement it with shelter food.  (Although I was told that some people simply do not know how to cook.)

On another note, it is 18º outdoors - the high for today.  I looked out my kitchen window this morning (13º and saw this squirrel:

He did not move at all.


I got so worried about him, I wondered if squirrels ever stuck their tongues out on frozen metal.
I headed outside, with my camera, and he did not move.  AT ALL.  Finally I walked directly under him, and he scampered across four treetops and then he froze again.  What was his problem, I wondered?

Ah.  Then, I saw the greater picture:

Martin the Helper:

So the Great Plains, and the Flint Hills of Kansas, are getting the winter weather we expect.  And here is some news from another plain,

Far, Far Away 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Changes in Temperature, Menus, and Music

Wowee: 24º this afternoon!  I hauled out my fluffy snowsuit to take the dogs out for their run and deal with the other animal logistics in the yard.  Dogs, cats, and ducks all get heated water bowls in temps like this.  Used to be, back in our equine years, the ponies, too, had heaters in their water.  Even with electricity, we humans have be vigilant and make sure all the bowl and tanks are full-functional, morning, noon, and night.  Lows later this week are forecast to be colder, much colder.  But, we may get snow, and that makes everything just perfect in my books.

The kitties will be allowed into our mudroom tonight.  Each cat has an old bed pillow, each with CAT scrawled with a Sharpie pen on both sides, lest some human confuses one as a human pillow.  (How that could possibly happen, I do not know, but I like to assume that anything is possible in this household.)

Our Christmas tree (branches) made it as far indoors as the mudroom, and so it looks like some pine forest with CAT pillows strung about.  Somehow this day got away from me...so...no Christmas tree up yet.  Maybe tomorrow while the plumber comes to pay a call.

I went out to lunch with a few friends today.  We visited a new restaurant.  The menu looked inviting, but also a bit confusing.  We four were given four little plates - just a wee bit larger than saucers.  Our waitress explained that we would not be ordering entrees, but rather small offerings from the menu - she recommended that we each order three things from the menu.   We four would then share - not unlike sharing at an Asian restaurant.  The orders would not all come to our table at once, but would arrive when each was was cooked and prepared.  It was a bit puzzling, but we four were game.  We were not given serving utensils, so we agreed to "serve" ourselves with our butter knives.  The food was terrific.  I think we four were on our best manners - because if one ordered a plate of brussell sprouts, and the tiny plate holding eight sprouts came to our table, who wants to be the one to take an extra sprout over their portion?  (I will freely admit that I totally hogged the shrimp and grits, because I LOVE grits, and since Heidi is a vegetarian, that 4th shrimp was up for the offering, and the other two ladies were playing their Polite Cards.)  Well, the food was excellent, as was the service and the ambiance.  The menu?  Hmmm.

In view of our weather, I offer the following Christmas carol.  I like it, nontraditional as it is.  I can get silly in my head, watching the video of all the Brits in Royal Albert Hall singing in their best British accents, althewhile knowing that the song is probably BEST sung by some Jamaican street group accompanied by steel drums.  Nevertheless, who doesn't love hundreds and hundreds of folk singing their hearts out with a nice, nice Christmas carol?

Calypso Carol 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

I Wonder as I Wander

A gorgeous December day!  It was 65º this afternoon - something we rural Kansans don't often experience in the first week of a December.  And in three short, short winter days, we will be back to the forecasted 6º we normally see in this season of Advent.  Weather moodswings, one could say?

I spent a goodly amount of time outdoors today.  I sanded down a door, and then applied several layers of polyurethane throughout the day.  It's to be a desk, eventually.

I climbed up in the barn loft and recovered the Christmas tree, in three different boxes.  I have no idea why that is, and it was an irritant.  The Christmas tree is kind of large, and exposed to the dusty, filthy elements eleven months of the year that it sits up in the hayloft, and so I took each branch and hosed it down and hung it on the grotto fence to dry overnight.  (Or freeze.)

I filled each birdfeeder, and hung suet for the woodpeckers, and filled birdbaths and duck pools.  Since this is the last "warm" day in the very near future, it was important to get these tasks ticked off my Index Card o' the Day.  (Yes: I make up a neon-colored index card each day and carry it in my pocket.  Things that are not accomplished get carried over to the following day's index card.  It is a useful practice.  Crutch. Whatever.)

There was work to be done, for sure, but also some pauses in the day to sit in an Adirondack and ponder.

Ponder what?

Well, I wonder why one of my four giant goldfish in the grotto pond seems to be in torpor state even thought it is 65º and the other three are hale and hearty.  Is he at death's doorstep?  Is he faking it?  Is he comatose, prepping for the coming single-digits coming our way?  Nature only knows.

I collected a few burr oak leaves from under one of our trees.  And I just studied them.  

I took a seat in an Adirondack out in the pine trees and called a friend and we talked and talked.

I picked up a cat here and there, lulling in the sun.  I think the kitties are lying in the sun, charging their solar batteries while they may.  I waved at a volunteer fireman who honked that firetruck horn as he passed my way - not to a fire, because that would entail a siren, not a noisy honk and a friendly wave.  

This evening that Spouse o' Mine called from out on the road somewhere in Western Kansas, and I sat in an Adirondack as we talked about the beautiful sunset we were both sharing, and the pretty burr oak leaves.  .

It was a fine day, and now I am cleaned up, dinner is nearly ready, and I am enjoying this 15th century Christmas ballad which made its way to Appalachia in the early 1900s:

The Cherry Tree Carol

Monday, December 02, 2013

Just Hear Those Sleighbells Jingling...

I ventured out for a bit o' Christmas shopping late this afternoon.  It was safe because all the Black Friday people were gone.  I have made a list, and checked it twice.  I went to a Menard's store, which falls somewhere between a Home Depot, a hardware store, a lumber yard, and the expanse (but not obnoxiousness of) a Wal Mart.  (And people are not waddling about in their jammies.)

While there, I ambled over to the kitchen tile and linoleum area, because I can see that task coming in 2014. There was, of course, Christmas music piped in throughout the store.

"I'll be Home for Christmas" has been been a favorite of mine for 28 years, since my first year living away from home - far, far away, in Cairo -, and I got to go home for Christmas.

Today's rendition was horrid.  Positively painful to listen to.  I wanted to cry, the female singer was so slow, and couldn't hold a pitch, even in these computerized times, and...oh, I could go on and on and criticize ad infinitum, but... instead of complaining now, I'll tell you what I did in the Menard's.  The college girl who was working in the kitchen tile area asked me if I needed assistance.

I only replied, "I really, REALLY hate this song."

Honestly.  I am beginning to act like a mental case.

After perusing the kitchen tile area, I meandered outside to the garden area.  There was a young woman working near the exit to the garden, and she did not look up or turn to me or face me in any way, shape, or form, but she said, "Hi, welcome to Menard's".

Maybe she was talking to a mouse.

I have a rule.  (I have lots of rules.)  My rule is, if you would like to communicate with me, please face me when speaking to me, and look me in the eye, or close by.  (What if I lip read, for Pete's sake?)  So, the retail people who do as this woman did do not get a reply from me.  (Because what if I am deaf and do not know they are addressing me?)  Heck, that's just bad manners.

That said, I will admit that having three kids who have all worked retail has given me some empathetic reasoning.  Some.  But not much.  (I feel three pairs of eyes rolling as they read this.)

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...
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