Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Matching! And Organizing! Concentration!

Remember that game you used to play with your mom and dad's cards? Concentration is what we called it. My brother and I would spread all 62 (64? I can't remember. Challenge me to any card game and you will win. Except maybe concentration. I'm so good at that. Except this long parenthetical proves otherwise. Who's counting?)... anyway, my brother and I would spread out the whole deck, upside down, in a perfect grid on the floor.

I was a little particular about the grid and its spacing. My brother, nearly three years younger, just wanted to slap 'em down and get on with the game. Brothers. It was always a stretch, literally, to organize the middle just right so the grid looked more or less orderly. This would be important later, when mentally photographing the split-second overturning of a card to find a match.

My brother is a chemical engineer. He's all slapdash and "whatever," clearly, to this day. Me? I'm a (mostly) stay-at-home mom with a blog. Which one of us was paying attention in the big concentration game of life, I'll never tell.

Oh! The REASON for this post?

I have decided to get more organized in the New Year. How novel! you say. Feel free to leave me tips in the comment section. Or hire me a personal organizer. Either one.

Because this is not the first time it has crossed my mind, I have a few (dozen) books and torn-out magazine articles on the subject. All over my office floor. Plus (bonus!) all the new magazines have refresher courses for me.

It occurs to me that one's entire house, indeed, life, should not be a huge game of Concentration. One (that one being me) should not have to close one's eyes and picture where they left their keys, underwear, smallest child. One should decidedly not have to overturn any playing cards to find any of those items. Puh-lease.

So I decided to start the big effort, yesterday, with a shopping trip. What did I buy? Certainly not clever lined baskets or totes or filing cabinets or even bookcases. I bought bras and underwear, people.

I bought five new bras, none of them flesh-toned or nursing-capable, and two pairs of panties to match each bra. The angels of organization are singing as I type that. Can you hear them?

Now, this very morning, I shall attack the organization monster with a vengeance. Clearly I am girded for the chore.

(First stop: Throw away all nursing bras and maternity panties and tidily arrange my new lingerie drawer. Next: Cup of coffee and self-congratulations. Finally: Peruse more magazines to plan the whole attack. Disintegrate into overwhelm. More coffee. Keep you posted.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


We've been baking a bit.

So much so that I've re-named that powdered white product formerly known as Sugar.

Around here, you'll hear it referred to as Christmas Crack.

Divinity, the Devil's candy, calls for powdered sugar and corn syrup. I think it was very early marketing genius to name it "divinity." But a wolf in sheep's clothing, still.

Icing for the sugar cookies. Um. The cookies are made with sugar and butter, and then we put some nearly liquid sugar on top with a little food coloring for good measure. I find the food coloring is especially helpful in ensuring children sleep well at this time of year.

Cranberry Hooties. Hooties? Who names these things? They're oatmeal and cranberry bars, people. Just some grain and fruit cleverly holding the sugar together in a cookie bar with a vaguely disturbing name.

Cardamom bread. Now this, and I kid you not, has made my Christmas. My Finnish grandmother made cardamom bread around the calendar, but it's still a Christmas must when baking. And as a bonus... no sugar.

My grandmother died four and a half years ago. So an hour ago when I was kneading the dough, aromatic with fresh-crushed cardamom, and 8-year-old Sarah paused in the kitchen to say, "smells like Mumuu's house," I of course immediately dissolved into a puddle of (sugary) tears.

Traditions are funny that way. Some we're conscious of creating. As parents we do some things simply because our children's childhoods make more sense with traditions. It's not particularly fun to make sugar cookies and spread icing from one end of the house to the other. But it wouldn't be a proper child's Christmastime without the opportunity to press the shape of a tree and a wreath and the bells into dough, drop the coloring into icing with abandon, spend hours with flour on our cheeks and sprinkles stuck in our hair.

Some traditions are so entrenched we didn't even know how important they were.

And, by the way, my photos have nothing to do whatsoever with this post. Laura likes to take her baths in the kitchen sink. I like to force my husband to pull over so I can shoot little white churches. The camera is storing up the happiness for me, so I can pull the memories up thanks to the miracle of Random Access Memory. Or is that Read Only Memory? Whatever. They're my memories.
I have a longtime habit of comforting myself with pretty pictures. I used to raid my mother's photo albums when I was a little girl. How much better is it to have a large hard drive and a huge stack of CDs... all mine! Anyway that was me at 11 years old, sitting in the closet with a sheaf of square snapsots and some C.S. Lewis books, breathing through Constant Comment teabags, making the world perfect from my perspective.
I have just a minute between kneading dough and braiding Christmas Eve hair to sit in my (closet of an) office with a cup of tea, a year's worth of pictures, and you. While the world looks much more complicated than it did once, it's still pretty wonderful from here.
Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Little Women 2008

Gracie's mastered the fine art of homemade cinnamon rolls. The more butter, the better.

Laura is trying to figure out the knitting thing. She's precocious that way.

Watch Mommy for a minute.

Yeah, that's the way.

Madeleine hasn't stopped knitting since her birthday.

Sarah's working on a blanket for her doll.
That's good, because it's cold outside. Something about being snowed in brings out the little homemaker in me. I'm just one stop short of finding a copy of "Pilgrim's Progress" to read aloud at night around the fire.
Wait, we don't have a fireplace (yet).
I guess we're still not the March family. After all, Daddy is home most evenings, not off to war at all. But the old-fashioned cozy togetherness is definitely growing on me. This year's economy and weather have conspired to make any trips to the mall impossible.
I dislike the mall with a passion that precedes Etsy or even Ebay. But this year I'm not even shopping online.
I'm just... not shopping. I made some really neat gifts in the kitchen and at the sewing machine. I already had some things in my closet of surprise. (For instance, Sarah wanted a "spy kit" a la Harriet, and I'd picked up the components of that previously.)
I've combed through my books and other treasures and found meaningful presents. The girls spontaneously went through their things and made four boxes of lovely donations for our local women's shelter. (It personally bothers me to donate anything that's not in pristine condition, so I'm proud of their selections.) And the big girls are prepping surprise hand-me-downs of teddy bears and dolls for Grace and Laura, which I find charming, so I've been secretly sewing little wardrobes to complement those gifts from the heart.
You know what? I think we're not alone. I think other families across our nation and around the world took hits in the wildly fluctuating stock market and the dismal economy. I think when we took the hit, we took stock. And then we said, let me off of this wild ride, Mr. Toad.
Christmas has never been a super-commercial time in our family, but it's never been as low key as this year. For our part, we are incredibly blessed to be together with tons of time for baking gingerbread and cinnamon rolls and pulling out rows of knitting just to start over.
There will be no Wii under the tree, but "we" are alright with that.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let it Snow

Welcome to the Bird Seed Cafe. Won't you have a perch? It's a little chilly, but we'll warm you right up with some hearty sunflower seeds.

There's plenty of seating al fresco.

A reader in California (Okay, it was my mother-in-law. Hi, Maggie!) emailed me and asked me to post some pictures of the snow.

I have some really pretty pictures of last year's snow.

I thought about posting them, because this year's snow is not lovely to behold.

It's ice-glazed and bluish.

For a couple of hours today the temp went above freezing. Thirty-three point six degrees. Mmm-mmm, toasty.

I braved the elements and risked my hip to take a few photos.

There was a cute little brown bird hanging from that sunflower... split seconds before the shutter snapped.

There's our front door. What with the pneumonia, the other unidentified fevers, the hip injury, and, you know, life, we didn't do our normal range of outdoor decorating this year. I love to have a 30-foot cedar garland over the front door. It's one of my traditional holiday splurges.

This year, thanks to 9 degree weather and the drafty 120-year-old house, there's a festive quilt draped over the inside of the front door. Visitors come in and out through the kitchen door. Just in case you wondered.

This tent isn't outside, but I had to throw the photo in. If I were "10 and under" I'd be happy to crawl under the dining room table with them. Oh, and if my hip weren't broken. I think I'm just racking up reasons why I'm okay with being excluded. It's bringing up a lot of insecurities. I even told the girls they ought to exclude the dog, then, because in dog years he's older than I am.

I'm not sure why this trike is still outside. A-hem. At least it's appropriately Christmas-colored.
And in (sort of) unrelated news: The downstairs toilet supply line thawed. Merry Christmas to us! Also on the bathroom topic: I stepped in the downstairs bathtub for a quick hot shower this morning. As usual at 6:30 a.m., I was only half awake. A tub full of ice water (stored there in case the well pump went out) greeted my bare toes. That's one surefire way to wake up!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Establish Peace

Isaiah 26:12 Lord, You establish peace for us. All that we have accomplished You have done for us.
Isn't it the eternal vicious cycle ... to sweat and struggle to keep up with the [fill-in-the-neighborses] and then, at the end of the day, fail to even feel good about what we have done? Is it ever enough? Will we ever attain that elusive peace?
Yes, we will. When we realize that it's never ours to establish. I don't know about you, but that's a relief and an encouragement to me.
For more encouraging Words this Wednesday, pop over to Amy Deanne's.

Monday, December 15, 2008

From the Front Lines



Toilet tank frozen.

This is not a recording.

If this were not an actual emergency, I'd have more time to blog about it.


It's really cold here. Note to Floridians: Eleven degrees is not as cute as 30.

It's all cuter on the Discovery Channel than in real life.

Bread pudding only keeps you warm for a minute.

Why-oh-why did we give up satellite TV? Also, why is there no heater in our downstairs bath?

Bread Pudding and a Deep Breath


I submit that there is nothing more comforting than bread pudding made with challah bread and little chunks of heaven, otherwise known as dried pears, liberally stirred into the gooey yet chewy sweet goodness.

Oh, yessirree, stop, hold the presses, there is something better: Said bread pudding with a cup of hot Constant Comment tea. Lots of milk and sugar. Good conversation about the plot twists of the latest Harry Potter. Some at the Suite book group would rather imbibe hot cocoa than Constant Comment. I try not to hold that against them.

The snow here is about six inches deep, which is a big deal for us in Western Oregon. The Eastern Oregonians, they're a tougher lot. They wear their Wranglers a bit tighter and their sheepskin-lined Carhart jackets nine months of the year. It's so cold in Eastern Oregon right now that the air is seeping over to the valley already crackling frigid.

The ground is white with snow and the trees are white with frozen fog. It's cold, people.

When the Eng-Gen-Eer and I were newlyweds, we lived briefly on the east side of the state while he finished his degree. High desert summers, blue skies, young love, and long icy winters spent, um, er, studying.

I have some good memories of Eastern Oregon. But I'd never want to move back there. It's so much better to be where it's green all year round, where we have four children, where we have maybe less time for "studying," but lots more of the building blocks that stack up to make a beautiful life.

Speaking of stacking bricks. Our first winter of marriage, we lived in a little concrete block bungalow in a low-rent district near the college. It was a slum, but it was a newlywed, redneck slum, and we didn't really notice anything odd about it. The houses around us were all built just after WWII, without benefit of structural engineering.

In January the area was under record snow accumulations. Our rental, specifically, was under a record amount of snow load.

Our next-door-neighbor's house, more specifically, fell down from the weight of the snow.

It fell a little bit onto our house. One whole wall just sort of leaned over into our bathroom and master bedroom, but only a little. We barely heard the crash.

We did, however, hear the fire department's arrival. They banged on our door and asked us whether we had any children. I said, "I can't remember."

Isn't that a strange answer for a girl of 20, married for four months? I can't remember whether I have children?

I'm sure I grabbed my favorite teapot and my wedding album (which I hadn't, at that point, finished paying for). We had a condemned house. We were on CNN. We had each other.

But we didn't have any bread pudding!

Miri's Bread Pudding With Pears

About 6 cups day-old challah, cut into 1-inch cubes (I make my own bread but have to make extra if I want day-old!)
3 cups milk (half and half is better if you have it)
Half a stick of butter, cut into small cubes
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup or so diced dried pears

Grease the inside of your crockpot with the butter wrapper or pan spray. Pour the bread cubes in. In a separate bowl, first beat the eggs, then stir in the milk, then add all other ingredients. Pour the wet mixture evenly over the bread cubes. Cover and cook on low for about three hours. Stay warm while it's cold outside.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Surprise! A Happy Farm Update!

Peace and quiet. Pastoral views.
My favorite: a sturdy and strong century barn.

A Jack-In-The-Box.

New glasses.
(Okay, so Sarah has pneumonia, my hip is nearly killing my "active country lifestyle," we have had our first power outage of the year (may it be the last), a 10-day cold snap has begun, my Meyer Lemon tree may not make it.)
(Just in case you stopped by for the bummer tour.)
(A little melodrama never hurt anyone. Did it?)
This weekend was a good one. I haven't uploaded pictures yet, but (after the urgent care staff and the X-Ray tech all wished us a Merry Christmas; quite seriously, we are getting to know them at the hospital) Sarah and Grace and Laura and I stayed snug in the house while my husband and Madeleine shored up the farmstead for a much-heralded wintry blast of snow and ice.
We (okay, they) installed the stock tank de-icer I raved about a few days ago. They also put a heat lamp in the chicken chalet for our remaining hens and the rooster. They set up the generator just in time for the first power outage to be over and they purchased a Christmas tree in town. Usually we trek to the woods with a Bureau of Land Management permit to cut our own, but this would not be that kind of year.
Then my husband took a shift with the recuperating masses indoors while Madeleine and I tucked her horse in to the stall for the duration of the storm. Some horses have the sense to come in from the cold or at least to keep a blanket on. Seven, not so much.
I (okay, my husband) had the brilliant thought to bring my prized geraniums into the shop for shelter. Also the Meyer Lemon. It's not looking so good, but I have hope that we didn't wait too long.
As I write, Madeleine and Sarah are playing chess. Grace and Laura are sleeping. My husband's snitching cookie dough from the batch we made this evening. I'm able to sit in the office chair long enough to download beaucoup coloring sheets from Crayola and a little weather lesson or two for tomorrow's school. What do the hip kids say? It's all good.
It's a happy farm update.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tiny Hiney, Big Fear

We've been home sick this week.

I know, I know, home all week and not much blogging to show for it.

But it's been that kind of sick where each and every daughter (I count four through bleary eyes) needs my constant presence round the clock.

Round the clock, people.

Grace, our 4-year-old, is not even sick. But she's clingy because it rocks her world to see her big sisters and her baby sister sick and the all-powerful mommy (whoo-hoo, that's me) gimping around without benefit of Vicodin.

Anyway the clinginess. I completely and utterly understand that many fears are irrational. They don't have to be fever-induced to be so. And just because they're irrational does not mean they aren't real fears. Or, maybe they are scarier precisely because they aren't rational. There's no scaring (or explaining) away an illogical fear, now is there?

Grace's particular phobia this week is falling in the toilet. To my knowledge she has never actually done so. Also, she's not easily grossed out, so it's unclear what this fear is about. Again with the irrational, and why go there? So we hauled out the little toilet-topper seat for her tiny hiney. It enables me to be with another feverish child or three instead of holding Grace steady on the throne.

Which of my fears are huge and nonetheless irrational? What crutches (Dutch Brothers latte, anyone?) and elaborate detours ("creative procrastination," phone call avoidance, compulsive thumb twiddling... anyone?) mark me as completely beyond reason on the way to resolution of my most likely normal problems? Most likely normal, right?

How small would the actual feared outcome be if exposed to the light of rational thinking?

Yeah, I don't really want to find out either.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Friends Love One Another

1 John 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another. For love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
I've been thinking a bit about friendship lately. About how easy (relatively speaking) it was to fall into friendships when we were younger, and how much harder it is to find time to build friendships as adults with busy lives and busier children.
Heck, I can't even find time for myself.
But isn't that what friendships are for? We love one another, we fill one anothers' cups with the tea of kindness, and we are blessed by the reflected friendship.
Finding time for friends is finding time for ourselves, I believe. Maybe you have great ideas on how to do both... to spend time on your hobbies and with your best buddies. Maybe you have made best friends with your childrens' friends' parents and share a cup of coffee while they play.
Or maybe you talk on the phone every day to a friend you've know since forever. How do you make time for friends in the midst of the everyday hustle and bustle?
I am going to make some extra time for my friends this season.
For more encouraging words this Wednesday, pop over to see Amy Deanne at the 160 Acre Woods.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tank Thawing Thingamajig, $36

Water trough warmer: $36. Not having to haul water to the horses from the kitchen sink in 30-degree weather: priceless.

My husband can consider my Christmas done.

In fact, it seems as though we could cover all of Christmas at the feed store. Why not? The feed store gets most of our non-mortgage money anyway. A 50-pound bag of chicken scratch is $11 and lasts about two weeks. (Unless of course all of the chickens are eaten by raccoons or dogs.) A dozen eggs costs about $3. Something about that math is not right. A 50-pound bag of horse feed costs $9.50 and lasts two and a half days. (Unless of course the pony breaks into the tack room and eats it all and has to be walked for four hours for fear of colic.) A ride at a dude ranch costs about $50 and lasts for an hour. That one works out better. I think.

Try not to stress me out with algebra. We still have at least two months before I have to remember it well enough to teach it.

Back to the feed store Christmas.

Since I am such a novice knitter (ten rows knit with perfectionist (read: anal) tendencies can take a while), no one I love can expect scarves or hats for Christmas. I am working kind of a lot at my husband's office (ah, the togetherness), so there's no time for quilting or sewing or painting or any of the things I might actually do halfway well. And in between working the farm and working the front desk I still try to hurl a little learning toward the girls every day. So the only shopping time is grocery and feed shopping time.

Let's kill two (very proverbial... we've lost enough real-life fowl) birds with one stone! How shall we take care of Christmas at the feed store?

All of our farm friends can expect a bale of hay. Hay is more expensive per pound than gold, I understand. I'm all but selling my wedding band for the hay effort around here. We'll tie a big bow around it. Try not to let your livestock eat it all in one sitting.

Cityfolk friends might enjoy a bag of salt. I'm not sure whether this salt is culinary since the uses on the bag seem to indicate using it for baiting deer (how unsportsmanlike, really) and/or thawing ice on the sidewalk. Doesn't the feedstore know there are no sidewalks in the sticks? Again, a big bow, and try not to eat it all in one sitting.

Children on our list are easy to please at the feed store. The aisles are full of some obvious gifts like John Deere replicas and model horses. Today I noted there are model wildlife animals too. Ooh! Model tigers to stalk your model horses! How exciting. How British. (Why does that strike me as British? Could it be because I haven't blogged properly in weeks?) A tiger truly could eat a horse in one sitting. But that's too morbid for Christmas.

Some of the less obvious presents are a ("completely safe herbal formula!") tranquilizing paste and matching drops for the water bowl. Imagine how much easier Fluffy will be to manage on the way to the vet. I mean, how much less stressed out Little Bit and Bite will be.

And isn't that what the holidays are all about? Getting less stressed?

Maybe I should have picked up some of that Quietex for myself. (Joking! Just kidding! Everything's fine here!)

(I'll try not to use all the tranquilizer in one sitting.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Just Me And The Girls

Madeleine turns 10 next week. That obviously calls for A&W root beer and a Coney Dog ... ordered with a flipped switch and expertly hung on the car window.
It also called for a trip to the Sylvia Beach Hotel to revel in all-night Scrabble playing and learning to knit. Just me and the big girls.
Knitting and Scrabbling around in the E.B. White room of the greatest book-lovers hotel anywhere. Eating authentic Italian and walking on the beach. Finding tiny shells to bring home to the fairies.
I could easily flip the switch and order up a big side of angst over my oldest child turning double-digits. But for now I think I'll just be so so glad we did all that together.
For now I feel extraordinarily grateful (I know, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving anymore) that my daughters love to read and walk on the beach and play word games with me. How lucky can I get?
Oh! And there's more! I'm now a member of the Coney Dog Preservation Society. Who knew?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Roller Coaster, Check; SeeSaw, Check; Pendulum, CHECK

Oh, the back-and-forth of country life.

A couple of weeks ago, I shoveled up hens with my neighbor and lamented the not knowing to whom those bad chicken-eating dogs belonged.

Then, a week and a half ago, I met the kind and sweet owners of those bloodthirsty dogs and we commisserated on the whole tragedy. Promises and phone numbers were exchanged, people. Their kennel was to be shored up; our chickens were to be safe evermore.

KL gave me new hens, and, lo, they were nicer than the ones who went to chicken heaven. They started laying. All was good. For a day and a half.

Of course, the bad dogs kept coming back. They sniffed around the chicken yard and laughed at the memories of the big party they'd had. I kept the hens locked inside.

I spoke to the neighbors again. They threw up their hands in despair. The dogs are escape artists! They can't be contained! And we have to go to work every once in a while. But look! They're so sweet. We'll make the kennel FORT KNOX, we swear.

I swear, too. But only when pushed to the very limit.

Dog break-in number four occurred this morning at 10:00 in direct view of my kitchen window. I was unpacking from our four-day trip. The girls were all studying and the hens were all sunning themselves to kick off December properly.

Little did the feathered ones know how thin that winter sunshine really is. Nay, even the DOGS had no idea. Because this chicky had HAD it.

She hurt her healing hip with the wrestling of an injured hen OUT OF THE MOUTH of the worst dog. Then she tripped while throwing the bad dogs into her kennel. She cussed up a storm (sharky! criminy! like that) remembering that she had locked those dogs in there before and it did exactly no good. So then she further wrenched herself out of whack and into real pain by tying the dogs to the back deck.

Oh, yes, she did.

Then she called the nice neighbors. Who, of course, were not home. Then she called the nice sheriff.

And the pendulum swung a little bit toward normal.

Did you notice how I had to slip into the third person there? It was too grisly to have been me, I think.

Speaking of grisly, we have a mostly featherless but live hen in a towel-lined box our laundry room. Anyone know what to do about that?