Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Winter Solstice

Today the temperature never got above the teens.  The wind was busy out of the north, as evidenced by my round, "bass" wind gong.  It's not a chime - when we moved to Kansas, I brought along my wind chimes, and soon thereafter, threw them away.  Too much chiming wind makes one irritable, I found.  My wind gong, a deep single tone, is something I found in San Diego when out visiting daughter Gillian a few years ago.  My San Diego souvenir.  It has been gonging all day in slow, steady tones.  I can handle the wind out of the north now.

Late this afternoon I went out to take care of the animals.  A dog, some cats, some ducks, some fish.  The fish are fairly easy keepers in this season.  Since they are in a fairly torpid state, I just glance at the grotto pond pump occasionally to see if it is still pumping.  The theory is, if there is a bit of thawed ice (thanks to the pump), the fish receive oxygen, even if they are inactive, not eating, and lying on the bottom of the pond.

I made sure our dog had her heated water bucket and a deep layer of fresh hay in the barn stall.  The ducks got a thick layer of shavings to burrow into, plus a heated water bowl.  The kitty cats get to come in on nights like this: forecast to be -2*. MacArthur, our semi-wildcat, refuses to come in until late at night.  He is NOT a housecat by any stretch of the imagination.  I can lure him in, late at night, with a can of food.  Yes, I could leave him out, but on nights like this I feel like he is more vulnerable to the hungry coyotes lying in wait in the pasture.  (How do I know there are hungry coyotes lying in wait?  I can go on a morning/afternoon/evening walk in the pasture and find fresh coyote scat along the boundaries of the fenceline.   And, happily, we have a large dog who barks into the night at these wild canines.)

The birdfeeders are full, and the birdbaths were tipped of ice and replaced with water for the late-searching birds who needed the sustenance.  I am always amazed at how many birds flock to the baths.

Overhead, there were Vs and more Vs of geese, flying to find their shelter for this cold night.

And so the animals are tucked in to the warmth of their hay, and shavings, and human household.  The faucets outdoors are wrapped with old rags and have buckets hung on them.  (Something I learned from a 92-year old woman, years ago.  It works.)  I hear our dog, already barking into the dark, along the pasture fenceline.  There are fresh croissants on the stove, and soon I will start dinner for that Spouse o' Mine and I.

It's a nice winter season. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Two Lambs and a Pig

The holidays, for me, are still at full-tilt as I continue to enjoy my Christmas music, recipes, and visits to friends and family.  Why stop at December 25th?  Let's keep the momentum going, I say!  There are a lot more songs to be sung.

I had a fun thing occur this past week.  I had contacted two of our local farmer-rancher neighbors, and ordered some meat from them.  In the form of...two lambs, and a half-hog.  So the farmer-rancher men took my paid-for animals to the processor to be...butchered, and I got the call this week that my meat had been processed.  And THAT is to say, I now have cuts of meat that I personally requested from the meat processors.  I have ground lamb, legs of lamb, lamb chops, shoulders and shanks.  I have pork chops and bacon, ham roasts and pork ribs.  There are sausages and bratwursts.  Suet for the birds, too!  The chops were personally ordered to a specific width.  And all meats packaged to a specific amount in each package.  Ditto the ribs.  I asked for the lamb shanks to be cracked: they only fit in my pot if they are cut in half.  I am not a chef, but I do love to cook.  And I do love to get my meat from local friends.  Give them our business, know what kind of environment in which the animals were raised, and be able to special-order exactly what and how I want the meat to be processed.

Our hog was an organic-raised hog.  We, that Spouse o' Mine and I, went to the hog farm today to pay up for the pork.  We got to visit the pigs and piggies in their domicile.  It was so interesting.  I was of the assumption that all pigs are mean and vicious.  (If you ever watched Wizard of Oz, you might think the same.  Or if you read anything about modern agribusiness pig farming, you might catch glimpses of pigs in restrictive farrowing crates and such.  And often the pig raisers explain that they are necessary because pigs are vicious.)  Mr. Parks ambled over to the field where pigs and piggies could be seen, and motioned me over the electrical fence.  "It's hot." he explained.  I asked if the sows were mean, and he said "Generally not."  Hmmm...

Omigoodness!  Many baby piglets, not a week old!  Unafraid.  Mama sow could not have cared less if we were there or on Mars.  Little, clean, Wilbur-looking piggies!  None of the 40+ sows showed any interest in us.  At one point, a mama sow ambled over toward me.  I kept my gimlet eye on her. I didn't want to be taken out of this world on Christmas Week by a sow.  As it turns out, the farm cat who followed us around on our tour was the object of curiosity.   The speckled sow followed the black cat around, until the black cat realized it was being followed by a 300-lb mama pig.  The cat made an exit underneath the hotwire.

Ok, here are the organic pig facts as I learned them this afternoon: 
  • Organic pigs are fed organic corn, wheat, and such.  Such is raised by Mr. Parks himself, and if he runs low of a season, he searches out other organic farmers in the state of Kansas.  (They are not just next door...)
  • Sows farrow year-round, when bred. (I always thought them to have spring babies only). 
  • Sows can farrow ~ 16 piglets. 
  • 90% of piglet deaths are in the first 24 hours, from inability to thrive, inattentiveness from mother, etc.
  • Our farmer, Mr. Parks, showed us his insulated farrowing sheds, which he built.  He has fashioned a shelf alongside both sides of each mini-"roundtop", maybe 12" high, which allows the piglets to be birthed and fed by mama sow without being squished by mama sow.  Restrictive farrowing crates do the same job, but perhaps with not as much comfort and well-being and happiness to the mama sow. In my opinion.  
  • Pigs go to market ("To market, to market to buy a fat pig..") at about six months.
  • Mr. Parks has about 3-4 sows farrowing baby piglets every month. That's a whole lot of cuteness.
His organic farm is a anomaly here in rural Kansas.  When I asked him about the organic biz, he explained that it started years ago with an interest his wife took in organic farming. The more they learned, the more they worked to achieve organic farming.  What many people do not realize, especially non-agriculture types, is that organic farming takes a lot of work AND cooperation from the traditional farms surrounding one's property.  The farming neighbors must be considerate of his practices VS their own.  E.G., if the surrounding farms utilize herbicides and pesticides, there is a possibility that those chemicals could, through wind or other, infiltrate the organic farmer's crops.  Mr. Parks explained that he has a strip of border land crops near the neighbor's land, which he farms organically, yet sells as standard crops.  It's his buffer to maintain his organic crops.  I suspect, although Mr. Parks did not allude to such, that it must sometimes be a challenge to maintain his organic certification.     

Tonight, to celebrate a thanksgiving of our full larder, I am making a smoked ham roast, along with a pumpkin puree from our summer garden, in addition to some collard greens from my Autumnal Garden (nobody believes I can grow a garden after October!), and some Christmas chocolate. 

No: I did not grow the cocoa beans.

Happy Holidays, still!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This is Christmas!

Here it is, Christmas Eve.  For lots of people.  We Armstrongs celebrated Christmas on Sunday, December 21st. Jolly Santa arrived with stockings filled with fun about, say...4:00am Mountain Time?  I thought I heard a tussle the size of a moose out on the new-laden snow (24+ inches!), and supposed in my mid-night stupor that it must surely be St. Nick.  I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Sure enough, that jolly old elf made his way down the chimney and delivered six stockings for six adult children slumbering away up and down the stairs.  There were kites, and balls - the ones that you blow up BIG and then bounce back and forth on your wrist?  What are those called??!, and music for yodeling cowboys, as well as sea chantey music.  And Elvis CDs, as well as Broadway's Best.

After Christmas presents, we headed to church at a local chapel up in the mountains of Breckenridge -  the same chapel where our daughter Claire and our son-in-law Rich were married two years ago.  This Sunday, the church choir and children's choir were singing their Christmas Cantata.  It was very nice.   And the kids did a really nice job - not to mention the Christmas cows (two of them) were really adorable in their Holstein black & white costumes.  ADORABLE.

For many, many, many years, my family back in Oklahoma - Mom, Dad, us five kids, and then us and our spouses, and then us, the spouses, and OUR kids, and so on...would sing our own Christmas Story.  Each year my Dad would pick out the scripture, assign the readings to whoever could read, and interspersed with the scripture, we would all sing various selected hymns.  This has gone on for years and years.  It is like a rite of passage, a badge of honor, once a kid or grandkid or, now, GREAT grandkid can read, or at least recite, the scripture.

This year, we Armstrongs took a meander from family tradition.  Since our three kids and their  - I hate this term: "significant other" - I also hate "partner" - but the girlfriend and the boyfriend of two adult kids, plus the third adult kid and her husband, are on both the West Coast, the East Coast, and in Colorado...we decided to celebrate our own small family Christmas.

Yes: I missed singing The Messiah in its entirety, another Oklahoma Webster family tradition that has been going on for years and years.  Yes: We missed going to Big Family Christmas. (At least 38 of us?  I have lost count.)

The Breckenridge Christmas Cantata on Sunday morning was nice, as it told the Christmas Story just as we Oklahoma Websters do: scripture, and Christmas hymns interspersed. 

And this was a good - no, a really great thing.  Why? Well, to backtrack just a wee bit, let me tell you that I headed for the hills ( the Rocky ones) a day before that Spouse o' Mine and daughter Claire and SIL Rich.  When I got to Breckenridge, I realized that I had not brought a hymnal for the family Christmas Story (to be done just as the Oklahoma Webster Family one.)  I called Claire and told her to run upstairs and grab the hymnal on the coffee table.  And so, she did.

Sort of.

When that trio arrived in Breckenridge, Claire unpacked, and handed me...

The "B" volume of the 1985 World Book Encyclopedia.  Which was also lying on the coffee table.

B.  Not as in Bible, or hymnal.

Old World Book encyclopedia.  Back from their childhood!

We had a good laugh - probably one of a million we had this week. 

Another funny, which I can't post because of technology and family sensitivity, is a video of us Armstrongs plus some Webster kin, all playing children's rhythm instruments and singing "Sleigh Ride!".  I have to say, I don't think I have laughed SO HARD any time this year as I did during this video.   If you are intrigued, go to YouTube and see one of Jimmy Fallon and the Roots and one of their guest stars.  We rivaled them, hand-down.

And so, you who are still lying in wait of Christmas,
Happy Holidays.

And those of you in Australia (Armstrongs) and New Zealand (Websters), let's move on to:
Happy New Year!

~ Tricia, et al.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fa La? Hmmm....

After all the Fa La La of yesterday's post, here I am, overnighting at a Comfort Inn in western Kansas: Goodland.

Sometimes, when my Dad was very vexed, he would utter "Goodland!" and we knew he was very mad and we should not comment.  At all.  Silence all around.

About two hours' drive before Goodland, I noticed a very sudden change of  landscape.  That which had been mediocre in its winter browns and ochres suddenly was vibrant with winter whites of frosted tumbleweeds and wheat stubble.  So pretty: a powdered-sugar world of nature.  And soon thereafter, the cedars began looking ...beautiful!  Who would have guessed?

And then, just as suddenly, the visibility went to 1/4-mile.

How do I know what 1/4 mile is?  Well, we can backtrack thirty-three years, back to when I was a flight attendant for a small commuter airline in central-coast California, where it always seems to be foggy.  The FAA rule back then was that if visibility was less than 1/4-mile  (which is pronounced "quarter-mile visibility"), the flight did not take off.  There was a small mountain/large hill exactly 1/4-mile from the runway.  If we could see it, the flight was a go.  No hill?  No takeoff.  

Fast-forward to my life in rural Kansas, and I have a bridge exactly 1/4 mile ("quarter-mile") from our house.  Most days I can see the bridge, and also the curve down the way which is 1/2-mile.  So I can gauge 1/4 and 1/2 from  our home.  But some days render our visibility somewhat.  And it doesn't affect driving so much, but I always remember VFR on those foggy, grey days.

And so here I sit, in Goodland, Kansas.  The hotel is fully-booked.  About ten miles before this exit, six cars had slid off the road in vicarious configurations, not to mention two semis who had pulled off onto the shoulder.  And so, I opted out at 3:00 pm this afternoon, turning in to Goodland ("Goodland!")  I hope to be out soon in the morning, but who knows what tomorrow brings. 

Fa La la.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Week in the Life of Me

I am bound for Colorado tomorrow, to begin a week's worth of holiday hi-jinks with family and friends, up in the snowy Rocky Mountains.

That Spouse o' Mine will follow a day later: he is thumbing a ride with daughter Claire and her huz, Rich, who are driving from Virginia.  (I know: they have airplanes in VA, right?)  But those two are married adults, and so I will keep silent about their travel choosings, since they are young and adventurous, except to roll my eyes on my own blogpost. hehehe...

I have offered up our home as an "overflow" for rancher friends down the road.  They are expecting large family from Chicago this week, and we have a vacant home... Please! Use our home, inhabit with lights and cars and humans!  With our neighbors using our home, the theft chance lessens.  (Although, with our good neighbors and our dogs, the theft thing almost goes out the window on any given day anyway.)

Our son and his girlfriend arrive into Denver and then Breckenridge on Thursday, as does daughter Gillian's new guy.  We have a nephew and his wife coming up this weekend as well.  Meeting us all at the Breck house is my sister's husband (my sister is deceased) and his second wife, whom we have all known for decades, and that seems quite nice and cozy.

All-in-all, a great time will be had for all, this week before Christmas.

I am excited.  I have Reindeer Games to coordinate.  I have delegated cooking to the younger generation. I love to cook!  But this is their chance to shine and enjoy, as it should be.  That Spouse o' Mine  and I are in charge of Breakfasts.  I am a protein breakfast gal (bacon, grits, & eggs,) and he is superlative in waffle and pancakes. 

We have Reindeer Games, Dirty Santa, The Christmas Story, Family Christmas, and Church all scheduled this week.  Also, the jigsaw puzzle, a Scrabble Tournament, and a Chess Tournament (all part of the Reindeer Games, I suppose.)

And where are those dominoes, by the way...?

Fa la la! ~

Thursday, December 11, 2014

These are a Few of my Favorite Things...

The kids have all fledged. 
College: check! 
Beyond: check!
Happily, this season allows us to revisit some of the Christmas fun from the past years.  Who doesn't love a snowman made from a paint-stirrer, or a reindeer (sans antlers, some 20 years later) made from an aluminum can?   A terrific project one pastor requested: could the youth please design the covers of the Advent bulletins?  Jigsaw pieces and popsicle sticks, geometry lessons, and more.   A cardinal perches on a branch containing this poem:
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.
'We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,"
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
We place three foil-covered stars at the top of our Christmas tree, every year.  Three little kids, three stars, after all. What one might not be able to discern in the last photograph, that of our whole Christmas tree this year:  A small bouquet of Lily-of-the-Valley, encircled by lace.  Plastic.  It's thirty, and nearly thirty-one years old.  It is the ornamentation from my bridal bouquet, many long (and happy) years ago.  

Wednesday, December 03, 2014


Five years ago, I took up the cello.  I had stared at daughter Claire's instrument in the Old Living Room for quite some time.  She had graduated from high school and college, had moved to Virginia, had gotten married, and yet, her cello was still occupying real estate in our tiny Old Living Room.  (I should explain that our Old Living Room is the size of a tiny 1887 parlor, which it is; our New Living Room was added in the  New Millennium; the size of which encourages ballroom dancing.)

 Something, sometime, must have niggled my brain, because I finally called the local music store that caters to high school and university needs.  I enrolled in cello lessons, and for the next four years, I schlepped that  cello up a flight of stairs once a week, each week, in snow and rain and summer heat.  I practiced notes, scales, bowing, fingerings, and more.  I loved playing the cello.  I still do!  But sometime in the summer of the fourth year of lessons, I became disenchanted with driving 25 miles, in the triple digits, schlepping the cello, sitting outside the practice rooms with other students who were maybe 45 years younger than I was... at some point, I opted out of any more lessons.

I still play the cello.  I have not made any progress beyond where I was at my last few lessons.

Tonight that Spouse o' Mine and I went to hear my hero, Yo Yo Ma, play HIS cello.  Such a grand evening.  As I told that Spouse o' Mine (who did not react negatively), I did not spare any expense for the tickets to this performance: I intended to study this man's performance up close and personally: 3rd Row seats.

Omigoodness.  There is something to be said for starting one's cello lessons in childhood and not in one's fiftieth decade.  Yo Yo Ma displays an absolute grace for cello music.  I stared at how he held his bow:  as my instructor has described to me a multitude of times:  relaxed, as if dangling one's fingertips.  His bowing technique: I cannot even describe.  No rock stop attached to his chair?  The angle of his cello (which, by the way, is 300 years old).  How is it that he can smile and glide through the music?  When I play a piece, my heels hike nervously up the chair legs (a no-no, according to my former instructor), my knees seem to grip the instrument for no rational reason ( a no-no, according to my former instructor),  I nervously forget to swallow and then choke on the saliva pooling in my throat (SERIOUSLY: I AM NOT A NERVOUS PERSON!)  There's never a comment about this from my instructor - I think she is too amazed.

And back to Yo Yo Ma:  He performs for about an hour and a half, using no music - all by memory.

What does this say to me?  

Perhaps I should hop back on the cello parade wagon and head further down the road just a wee bit more.

Stay tuned...   

Westward, Ho! Return

Months ago, back in springtime, the Spring Chickens (aka: my parents) asked me if I would like to accompany them out west.  West: points beyond Oklahoma City - although that was one of our planned stopping points.

You see, the Rooster of the pair needed to take new sculpture out to his art galleries, and the Hen of the pair thought I should come along.  And I concurred.  But there was never a time when the Spring Chickens and I could coordinate what I thought would be a leisurely trip along the Santa Fe Trail together, sight-seeing and such.  (So, so much more on this, later.)  In the springtime, I was busy with seasonal cherry harvest, and then came summer - who know what happened there, but THANK GOODNESS we did not go during the hot months.  I would surely have melted.  And when I called the Spring Chickens in September, telling them that October was THE optimal month for travel, the Rooster (my Dad) explained that he could not get away because he was training for a 5K that month.

The Spring Chickens are 80+ years old.  They do not act their age.

Finally, we three threw a dart and landed on traveling mid-November, but alack and alas, with the snow forecast, we three huddled over the phone and opted to wait "one more week".

Fast-forward to this week, and you might envision us: FINALLY! Westward-Ho!  We three met up in Oklahoma City for our first stop:  The Howell Gallery of Fine Art.  That gallery is exquisite; so much fine art right smack in middle America:

Howell Gallery of Fine Art

From Oklahoma City, we jaunted-loped-galloped to Amarillo, Texas.  This was such a fun stop, to a gallery in a WHOLE MALL of art.  Mall, as in your local "Dillard's-Sears-JC Penny" place.  Except, those retail haunts are just that: haunts.  Ann Crouch purchased this mall and converted it into a tremendous enclave of art and artists.  The mall includes over fifty art galleries, an art school for the Amarillo public, an art library (this Dillards-sized), and all totaled, ~ 120 art-related spaces, all for the Amarillo public to embrace:


Ann Crouch, owner of the Sunset Gallery, is so very interesting and fun to talk with.  She is native to Tennessee, and her accent is wonderful.  She was married to a Texas oilman.  He had her get her pilot's license so that she could fly the oil workers back and forth from their jobs.  She had always had an inclination for art, and she says she always wanted to open an art gallery, but her husband did not support that. In her words: "He passed before I did, and so I got my gallery."  I thoroughly enjoyed my hour talking with Ann.

Did you notice that I said "hour" with Ann?  Because that is what it was (actually, a bit more than an hour), but nevertheless, the Spring Chickens and I were keen on getting back in the van to head further west.  Next Stop : Santa Fe, New Mexico!!

The Spring Chickens have done this whole trek several times a year, for, maybe thirty years?  They have a routine.  They are like homing pigeons in the art world.  They land, they schmooze briefly, they drop off some art, and they flit off for the next destination. 

I, on the other hand, new to Art Land, want to sightsee, embrace the locale and the culture, visit with the locals, and so on.  Well!  That was not going to happen on this trip unless I sighted and saw and sighted some more, on this whirlwind, whistle-stop, We're Gonna Get There and Back trip with the Spring Chickens.  We arrived in Santa Fe in the morning just before any art gallery would be open.  My Dad and I took a lap around the Plaza and headed back to Mom, who was standing guard over sculpture in the car. ((I should note here that Dad and I went into the Basilica, which was very pretty.  One will have to Google it to see photos, because heaven knows there was no time for me to take my camera around.)  The three of us headed into the Joe Wade Fine Art Gallery, met with the owner, dropped off a few pieces of sculpture, and then: BOOM!  we three were off for parts east again: Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig.

What did I see along the way?  Pretty mesas.  Colors in nature that I do not see in rural Kansas.  I saw fields of cotton!  And, of course, some really nice works of art - paintings, sculpture, textiles, and more.

What in the world did we do during all that driving?  We sure did laugh a lot.  We discussed politics.  We mused about Wagner's brain, and what Beethoven must have been thinking and hearing in his head.  All that art in so little time gave us pause for all sorts of thoughts and opinions. 

I had a ball on this trip.  I am thankful for a lot of things: We got there safely, and back. The Spring Chickens are still happy, ready, and willing to take these jaunts.  I am thankful that they invite me along.  I sure do enjoy our time together, be it in hilarious discussion of where our next meal will be, or in serious discussion of politics, religion, or family bonds.

I wish every family could enjoy trips like this.
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