Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care

I'm taking down the Christmas decorations today. I know, I know, it's early but I'm in a snit and am ready to be done with Christmas, okay? (Anybody else wanna fight?)

About 35 years ago when our daughter was wee, I knitted her a Santa Claus stocking. When our son-in-law joined the family ten or so years ago, we learned that his family never did stockings at Christmas. So I got out the old pattern I had used for that first stocking all those years ago and made him one of his own. Keep in mind I used the same pattern, the same needles, and the same weight yarn. But for some reason, his came out bigger. A point my dear daughter never fails to bring up.

Then several years back, she decided that it really wasn't fair that Santa went to so much trouble each year filling a stocking for her and her hubby, but her dad and I didn't have one. She said that if we did have a stocking, Santa would see fit to fill it each year. Didn't take me long to whip out the old knitting needles and yarn. Granted, ours are on the smaller size but still manage to be filled with lots of fun stuff come Christmas morning.

So, you ask, what does Santa leave in our stockings? Ooooh, lots of good stuff. We might find gum, an issue of a special magazine, a dark chocolate bar, a new nail clipper (wahoo! - no, really, I asked for it), post-it notes, bars of special soap, colored bandanas, a bottle of specialty beer, hand lotion, colored paper clips, etc.

I just have to show you a picture of something I got in my stocking this year. They are thumbtacks (for the cork board I have here by my desk) made to resemble old typewriter keys. I think they are just the coolest!

Okay, I'm going back to my un-decorating job now. Hopefully, I'll pack Scrooge away in the boxes with the other stuff. :o)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Learning to Drive

I have no idea what in tarnation brought these thoughts to mind today, but I've been thinking about when I first learned to drive a car.

I vividly remember I simply could not wait to get my learner's permit, which could be obtained at fifteen years of age (good gawd, that seems like such a baby now), and start learning to drive so that the day, THE VERY DAY, I turned sixteen, I could take my driver's test and be able to drive a car. Wahoo!

Back in those prehistoric days, there was no such thing as a driver's ed class in high school. Oh, sure, you could go take lessons at a bona fide driving school but that cost money and no one but the kids from rich families went that route. Usually your mom or dad, other relative or some family friend volunteered to do the teaching.

Finally, the day came when I got my learner's permit, and my dad said he would take me out in the family car for short sessions. The very first time I got behind the wheel, the fact that I had this massive amount of power in my hands (well, it sure seemed that way to me) scared the bejeezuz out of me. Never had a car looked or felt so big. Our '56 black and white chevy sedan was a stick shift, my dad was a little short on patience (I'm being nice here), and I was not a very adept learner. Right then and there, I decided, nuh-uh, nope, I didn't want to learn to drive after all. What?!! I had been literally counting the days off until I could begin driving, and here I was chucking it all . . . just like that.

In all my life, I can never remember my dear old grandpa talking to me in less than a kind or playful manner . . . except when he heard that I had decided not to learn to drive. He got right in my face and shaking his big ol' gnarled finger at me said something to the effect of, "If you put off learning to drive until later, you'll never do it. Before you know it, you'll be a young mother with two little kids stuck living way out in the suburbs somewhere and you won't have any independence. You'll have to rely on others to take you places and do errands for you. I want you to learn to drive now!" Well. Alrighty then.

Back at it Dad and I went. We spent many frustrating hours (for both of us) in a huge, empty Sears parking lot, but I simply could not learn to work the clutch without killing the *!#%! motor every *!#%! time. No matter what, I just couldn't get the feel of it.

One day my dad was telling my uncle what a terrible time we were having. Dear Uncle Jack volunteered to take me out that afternoon and what an instantaneous difference. Just by using different language in describing how to manipulate the clutch and the gas, something clicked, and I got it! (He was also a very calm, cool, patient man . . . ahem.) Hallelujah!

All went smoothly after that and when my birthday rolled around, Uncle Jack (I think my dad was working, but he was probably just as glad) took me to take the test to get my for-real license and I passed with flying colors, probably surprising everyone. Whew.

And I've gotta say, I've always been glad that I learned on a stick shift (difficult as it was) because that has enabled me to drive any and all cars and several other vehicles that have a stick shift.

So now, I'm curious. What's your story? Everybody's got one. How did you learn to drive? How old were you? Who taught you? Was it a good experience? Where did you practice? Did you pass your test the first time? Fess up, c'mon, let's hear all the gory details!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Miscellaneous Pictures from Christmas

Our daughter and son-in-law (aka Chicken Mama and Chainsaw Tommy) with our granddog Maisy who looks like she's just been chastised. She wasn't.

By the expression on Roy's face, you might think he was guzzling something potent. He wasn't.

By the expression on my face, you might think I was half asleep. I wasn't. (Have I ever mentioned I'm not very photogenic?)

Chainsaw Tommy modeling hat I knit him. Hat is definitely over-shadowed by his beloved green Christmas pants.

This is granddog Tucker momentarily stretched out on the floor with his blankie. A pose not normal for him. Usually he's bouncing across the floor with an honest-to-goodness smile on his face chanting, "Happy dog, happy dog, I'm a happy, happy dog!”

Don't know what got into Zoey. This present was not for her but she was intent on helping Chicken Mama open it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gift of the Wood Cutting Cradle

How many fathers do you think built a wood cutting cradle for their daughter this Christmas? Maybe the better question is how many daughters asked their father for a wood cutting cradle for Christmas?

This past summer when Roy and I were spending a day helping our daughter and son-in-law put up some wood, she mentioned that they really needed a wood cradle, knowing that it was a very handy piece of equipment to have on a homestead, and they hadn't yet acquired one. She asked her dad if he would build her one for Christmas.

Now this child has had a long and personal relationship with wood cradles. When she was growing up, we heated our home with wood and used a cradle for cutting up long branches and eight foot long pieces of waste wood (slabwood) from the sawmill a friend operated about a mile down the road from us. But we also had a contract with a state park some thirty miles away to provide them with bundles of wood for their campsites. Five thousand bundles of wood each summer season, to be exact. This was while Roy was working full time as a teacher so he did have the summer "off" (does one ever have time "off" on a homestead?), but summer was when the park went through the bulk of the wood. Therefore, we worked year round cutting, bundling, and delivering the bundles of wood so come June 1st every year, they had their quota for the year all set and ready.

This meant that many nights when Roy and our daughter got home from school, I would have driven the truck and 8' x 14' flat bed trailer over to the sawmill during the day, gotten a staggering load of slabwood, brought it home and had three cradles loaded with wood all ready to start cutting. Usually we would cut three fillings of the three cradles, then I would go inside to make dinner, our daughter would start her homework, and Roy would do animal chores.

The three of us put in a certain amount of time each weekend on the wood cutting and lots of time in the summer months. About the only time we had a respite from knowing there was wood waiting to be cut was when the sawyer down the road wasn't cutting for some reason.

Our daughter was about twelve when this was taken.

If I'm not mistaken this cradle that we still use (seen here in hibernation mode) is one of the original three we used for the slabwood bundles.

Here's Roy before Christmas working on his daughter's requested present.

Putting the very last finishing touches on it.

Loaded into the truck (if it had been 1/4" longer, it wouldn't have fit!) and ready for the trip on Christmas Day.

I sincerely hope our daughter and son-in-law will not be using her cradle to cut and deliver wood to a state park (!), but it does come in unbelievably handy for stacking full of eight foot long branches from kindling size to about six inches in diameter. Then one chainsaw slice down through the designated slots and many, many pieces of wood are cut to size in a jiff.

Wanna know another gift she asked for for Christmas? Well, they live fa-a-a-a-r off the grid, making their own electricity with solar panels, so they have to be conscious of how much power they use. Their electric toaster just bit the dust, so it seemed like a good time to switch to a folding camping toaster that they can put on top of their wood cook stove in the morning to make toast. But she grew up with one of those, too, as we didn't have electricity for many years. (Do you think we permanently warped her?)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wood Supply's Hanging in There

Our once full wood shed is no longer full. But that's what happens when you heat with wood, and we have already had three serious wood burning months this fall/winter season.

Although we've used a good fourth of the wood from here, the good news is that nearly all of the wood we've burned so far was half-punky wood from trees that had either fallen or we took down because they were dead and near buildings or driveways. Do I mean to say I'm happy we've had punky wood? Noooo, not at all, because the thing is punky wood burns much faster than solid, hard wood without giving off nearly as much heat. That means we have to feed more of it into the wood stove to get as much heat as we want. Pretty much all the wood left in the shed now is nice maple or birch (which is a very good thing), so we'll go through that slower than the less desirable wood we've already used.

This is one of our two racks of "all nighters." They are large diameter logs of hard wood that we put in the stove at night. Happily, one of these along with perhaps one or two small logs, will hold a fire for us all night. We've yet to touch this rack but have used just under one-half of the other rack.

And here's the wood stove that eats all our wood. Well, actually not all our wood as we have a wood stove in the garage also that gets fed its share much of the time now.

One of the reasons we really like our wood stove is that by opening the door, and adding a screen to the front, we've got the advantage of an open fireplace. Nearly every night for about an hour before bedtime, we park in front of the open stove to read, talk, or do some kind of handwork (with yours truly usually starting to nod off before the hour's over). It's a really nice way to end the day, and we both miss it in the summer time when we seldom make a fire. (You'll notice I said seldom make a fire. In the 35 years we've lived in Minnesota, you could probably count on one hand the months - yes, even in summer - that we haven't had at least one fire in the wood stove.)

These days we do have a small LP gas furnace in the basement that we use when we are gone or if the temperature is particularly cold. We caved and lit it one night a week or so ago during a spell hovering around -15 degrees for several nights. It helps by warming the floors and dispersing heat better to the end of the house farthest from the wood stove. We try to use it as little as possible because of the price of the fuel, but there's no denying the fact that our wood costs us also. There is our time and labor (lots of labor!), fuels for chainsaw, vehicle for hauling, and wood splitter. We have purchased wood on occasion, but try to use the wood available on our property of which there is a lifetime supply. The most time-consuming (and physically taxing) task is harvesting it and hauling it into the yard. And as many of you know, even on a small homestead, there's never enough time (or energy!) for all the chores needing to be done, let alone those you'd LIKE to do.

Basically, we're in good shape in the wood department this year, so no complaints. We're staying toasty warm . . . and thankful for it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Season's Greetings to You All

The truck is all packed and we're ready to head over the river and through the woods to our daughter and son's-in-law for a day of relaxing, drinking good drinks, eating good food, and a few presents to open.

From what I hear more of us than usual have a white Christmas this year. The snow certainly does make it seem more festive. May you all have a wonderful day whether you be with a big group of relatives and friends or spending a restful, low-key, content day with a special person (or animal companion!) or two.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What A Great Idea!

I have just thought of a way to make the week before Christmas less stressful and considerably more enjoyable.

What if, for the week preceding Christmas, the woman of the house didn't have any of her usual household chores and responsibilities? No preparing and serving of meals, no dishes to wash, no laundry, no cleaning (dirty bathrooms be damned), no errands, no grocery shopping, no meetings or appointments, no desk work/bill paying, no outside duties whether that be snow shoveling, animal chores, getting in wood . . . well, you get the idea.

If that were the case, all of the once-a-year holiday related tasks that fall to said woman of the house (whether these tasks be enjoyable or . . . not so enjoyable) would be so much easier to accomplish! The tension headaches would cease, the dark circles under the eyes would disappear, the anxiety attacks would be non-existent, the temperamental outbursts wouldn't occur, all would be sweetness and light, as is the usual aura surrounding said woman of the house.

I'm a genius! Why didn't I think of this earlier? But wait. How to make it happen . . . ah, yes, I can see this fantastically brilliant idea still needs some work. I'll just go pour myself some Bailey's Irish Cream over ice . . . and think about it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

How Lucky Are We?

We seem to have a new resident on our homestead. Mrs. Pileated Woodpecker was back again this morning. This picture is hardly different than one previously posted which shows she definitely has this spot on the big birch staked out as her sunbathing area. All puffed up and soaking in the rays. (Seventeen below this morning . . . br-r-r-r-r.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another Weekend of Snow

Roy cancelled his day trip to the big city (135 miles away) when he checked the latest weather report at 5 a.m. yesterday morning. Reportedly conditions were already bad in the direction his traveling would have taken him. His wife was very glad he made that decision.

After lunch we decided to hike our loop with snowshoes to start getting the trail packed. Our snow had started about mid-morning and by two o'clock when we got back, we had somewhere around 4" of new snow.

No, I am not tossing my cookies in this picture. But I sure was feeling the ol' muscle burn in my thighs and was trying to catch my breath after going up the steepest part of the trail. (Hey, let's have a little compassion here . . . I was breaking trail!)

Smarty-pants photographer who makes fun of my endurance (or lack thereof) gets pelted with snowball.

Help! It's the Abominable Snowman!

What does Zoey like more than a run in the woods? Nuthin'. (With her long legs hidden in the snow she looks like a little puppy in this shot. Actually, she'll be twelve years old in a couple of months.)

And this, dear people, is the scene looking out our front door, across the deck and into the yard first thing this Sunday morning. The snow has stopped but a wicked wind seems to be starting. Hmmm, the day could get interesting!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Big Guy (Or I Should Say Girl)

For a few years now we've had what we assume to be a pair of pileated woodpeckers living in our woods. Winter before last, we saw both of them together at this same suet feeder a couple of times. Last winter I think we only sighted one of them maybe twice.

Thursday when I returned from a short foray into the outside world, Roy reported he had seen a pileated on the feeder. That was our first sighting this year. Then yesterday morning he came down from his office to find me, because Mrs. Pileated was again visiting.

I wish the pictures were better, but I was thrilled to get what I did without scaring her away. The top one was taken through a window and a screen so I'm happy it turned out as well as it did.

I was able to get the last two shots by oh-so-carefully opening the door to the deck, and although clearer, they are darker than I would like. After she ate her fill of suet, she attached herself to this big birch, puffed up her feathers and took a nice, long sunbath. Now we'll be keeping an eye out for her mate. Wonder if I could be lucky enough to get a shot of both together?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Haphazard Thoughts #2

  • Most movies leave me feeling I've wasted my time.

  • Old-fashioned good manners need to be brought back.

  • Plant a vegetable garden, no matter how small.

  • There are so many wonderful books to read, never plod on through one you're not enjoying.

  • If someone asks me to keep a secret, wild horses won't drag it out of me.

  • No one fails to be moved by a sincere, hand written, complimentary note.

  • I'm not tolerant of people who are habitually late.

  • We all need to voice our positive thoughts and feelings, not just our negative ones.

  • Try to find something funny in any upsetting situation.

  • Admit your mistakes without rationalizing your actions.

  • It's very hard for me to spend money.

  • I still have very fond memories of my most physically taxing job: Detasseling corn.

  • Don't waste time in any kind of a relationship with a dishonest person.

  • Listen to what your body is trying to tell you; it never lies.

  • When you lend an item, always write down what it was, to whom you lent it, and the date.

  • My physical surroundings are very important to me.

  • Smile. It makes anyone look more attractive.

  • I can figure out an intricate quilt pattern, but I can't program the VCR.

  • Never tell anyone the way they feel is wrong.

  • Be polite enough to return phone calls.

  • Who gets to decide what I "should" do?

  • I'm a slow learner in most things cerebral. I'm a quick learner in most things physical.

  • Bottling up your true feelings will make you sick. Always.

  • Am I the kind of person I'd like to be around?

What a Sweetie!

This is the wood box in our back porch. My husband is going to be gone all day tomorrow, the forecast is for snow, and he didn't want me to run out of wood. Fat chance of that. Thanks, hon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Am So Proud

I am so proud of myself. This year I am totally organized and ready for the holidays. Just look at the list of what I have accomplished.

Early in 2008, I made a month by month list of all the handmade gifts I wanted to make and got each one done in the allotted time. Such a satisfying feeling.

I had all my shopping done by Halloween. Christmas gifts were wrapped as I brought them home. No last minute rush of wrapping for me, oh-no. And the carefully arranged display of the presents under the tree looks so colorful and tastefully done.

I've baked an amazing assortment of luscious holiday cookies, candies, and confections that have been packaged and sent off to relatives in various far-flung parts of the country. (I was so wise to have all the cookie doughs made and in the freezer well before Thanksgiving.)

My mom's special fruitcake recipe was baked two months ago so it had time to receive two good soakings of brandy. Now it will be just exactly at its optimum flavorful peak for cutting into on Christmas Eve.

I shopped over a month ago for some new holiday clothes for myself. I look good in red, I look good in green, I splurged. I bought several floor length skirts with matching tops and a lovely green brocade suit. What a nice change from my usual navy and black turtlenecks and jeans. Yes, I needed some new holiday clothes, and I will look so festive in them.

For special friends, I hand made darling little remembrances that can be used in their homes as decorations during the holidays. I have them all wrapped and ready for presentation.

I finally made the two new wreaths that I bought ribbon, pine cones and berries for several years ago. The smaller is hung on the front door and the very impressive large one is on the outside wall of the house you see when you come into our yard. They look so lovely. And professionally done!

Before putting up the tree and house decorations, I spent a week deep-cleaning the whole house. Now when I take the decorations down after January 1st, the house will already be clean and ready for the New Year.

I purchased and/or made new decorations for my home replacing all those that were looking shabby and past their prime. This gave my holiday decorating a sparkling new look and everyone comments on how lovely the house looks.

In the coming weeks, I have a full calendar of dinner dates and casual get-togethers scheduled. Invitations were sent out weeks ago (I made them myself, of course). Menus are printed, foods have been prepared ahead and are in the freezer, holiday napkins and tablecloths are washed and ironed. It will be no-hassle entertaining for me this year.

Oh, I am so proud.


Ah, yes. Sometimes reality necessitates we escape into our own little fantasy world. The truth is I've been operating under the influence of heavy brain fog for about a month now.

I read that extra doses of Ginkgo Biloba help clear your head. I'd take some, but I can't remember where I put my bottle.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Going to the Dogs

What? You say these Christmas cookies are a little blah looking? Not at all colorful and they sure could use some decoration? Sorry, this is the finished product. They're homemade dog biscuits.

Call me crazy (don't I have anything better to do?), but I've always wanted to make dog biscuits to give at Christmas to special canine friends. This year I finally just did it, and I'm really anxious to see if the dogs will eat them. I haven't even given one to our dog yet for her to critique. The dough has a can of Bac-Os in it and I gotta say, they smelled reeeeeally yummy when baking.

So do I have all my people Christmas goodies made since I'm fooling around with dog biscuits? Uh, well, no, not exactly . . . but I'm gonna start real soon!

P.S. I just asked Zoey if she wanted to try one.

Sure I'll give it a go, she said.

That was GOOOOOOD!

One more, please?

Vacuuming up every last crumb.

I think they passed the taste-test.