Sunshine! Plants and burnt sugar

We have had a week of the most gorgeous weather, sunshiny and cool most days, even getting hot yesterday. For the first time I was able to have my windows open during the day, and it was cool and breezy all day inside. In fact, it was so cool in the house yesterday afternoon that I overdressed for my art class when I could have been wearing a t-shirt. However, it was cold in the room, so that was just as well.

Last Wednesday, my neighbor and I planned to go to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge to do our hike. However, when we got there, we discovered that the hiking trail was closed until May 1 because of breeding birds. They had another hiking trail up through town that we could have gone to, but we saw that they had a one-hour driving tour through the refuge, so we decided to take that instead.

We must have seen thousands of birds, mostly water birds. We really regretted not having our binoculars or bird books with us. We saw Canada Geese, and a subspecies called Dusky Geese, lots of different kinds of ducks, an egret (we think—it was far away), lots of red-winged blackbirds, swallows, and so many other birds we couldn’t identify. A large rodent came out of a pond right next to our car. my neighbor thought he was a muskrat, but after listening to our audio CD about the refuge, we decided he was a nutria. We had nutria in the river in Austin, but all you ever saw was their heads, poking out of the water far away as they swum. This guy was big, and he stood there right next to the car! He couldn’t be bothered.

The Great Blue Heron checking out the grass

A little further on, we encountered a great blue heron, who was walking along the road, apparently hunting for something in the grass. We followed him quietly down the road with our car for quite some time. He never paid any attention to us until we decided to try to slowly pass him. Then he flew away.

The Canada geese with their chicks. I don’t know if you can tell, but on the other side of the water are hundreds of birds.

Later on we came to a point where the road ran between two huge flocks of Canada geese. On the left were the regular Canada geese, and on the right were the Dusky Canada geese, a smaller and darker subspecies. With the Canada geese on the right, we were able to see some chicks! I’m sure there were a lot more there, but most of the geese were hiding their chicks away on the side of an embankment.

(I’m afraid I might have zoomed in too far on both these pictures, but I only had my phone.)

We decided we were going to come back again with our binoculars and our bird books. It’s only an issue of when.

On Friday night, my nine-year-old great niece had a talent show at her school. This talent show has history for our family, because of how it is run. Last year, my niece didn’t think to invite us to the competition, and they were all very upset when they came home. I have never actually heard of a school talent show that has prizes, but apparently this one does. The audience votes for the winner, and as many of the families in the area are very large, what happens is that the children from the large families win the prizes. My niece said that several of the kids who were actually talented did not win anything, including my great niece, who has a very good voice for her age and bravely sang Leonard Cohen’s difficult song “Hallelujah” to no reward. My niece said it was painfully embarrassing, because so many of the parents were shocked that my great niece didn’t win anything and came up and said so, or just stared at them. The little girl who won first prize last year stuttered out a few bars of her song and then quit. My niece said that one girl playing a cello, who sounded almost professional, also didn’t win anything.

When my niece explained to me how the show was run, I was shocked that it would be handled that way. It turns out the show is organized and run by the high school students. I think they need some suggestions from the teachers.

My great niece with her trophy after the performance. We are at a restaurant buying her a piece of cake to celebrate. The elbows belong to her parents.

This year, they set up the voting a little differently. Instead of giving the audience three votes and the judges only one, they did it the other way around. Also, I think the judges waited to see who the audience voted for before picking their winners, so that the prizes could be spread around more fairly. My niece also made sure that we were there, as well as both grandmothers, and an uncle. We’re not sure exactly which of those tactics worked, but my great niece won the audience choice award. She was so happy! My niece said that she was the only one of the talented kids from last year that actually came back and performed again. My niece sung “Rise Up” by Andra Day, which is a difficult song. I may be biased, but I think for her age group that she was one of the most talented performers.

My husband said the whole thing was excruciating, and he would not go again. He was nice enough to stay for the whole thing, though. Both grandmothers and the uncle left during intermission, after the younger kids had performed and they could vote. My niece also commented that far fewer people were there this year than last year, which was the first year of the talent show. I’m sure that there were lots of hard feelings after last year.

On talking with my sister and my niece, I found out that I could actually plant some starts at this time, ones for plants that are more cold hardy. So, on Saturday, I went out and bought starts for the cold-resistant veggies, and on Sunday I planted them. I think I made a beginner’s mistake, though, because I have a small garden, and I devoted too much space to large vegetables that only produce one plant, that is cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower. Although I only planted a few apiece, I have very little space left for beans, eggplant, and tomatoes and peppers, which produce more veggies. Luckily, they grow upward, so I will squeeze them in. I planted some herbs, green and red cabbages, peas and snap peas, brussel sprouts, Walla Walla onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach. I may have planted the spinach too soon.

In a few weeks, I’ll plant tomatoes, beans, and peppers, and my niece said she had a zuccini plant I’ll have to try to squeeze in. She is also starting me an artichoke. That will take up a lot of space, but I have saved some for it, and I love artichokes.

On Saturday, we also had a little incident. I had started cooking some sugar water for hummingbirds on the stove when my husband came in and we decided to (finally) plant the plum tree. I got so excited that I forgot about the sugar water. We must have been outside for about a half hour or forty-five minutes, and we were on our way back in when I heard a funny noise that sounded like it was coming from the neighbor’s house. Suddenly, I realized it was a smoke detector, and it was coming from our house! Yes, my sugar water had gone up in smoke. I don’t know if you have ever seen a lot of burnt sugar, but it is not a pretty sight. It sort of makes a black, shiny structure in the middle of the pan, which of course was ruined. (It was an old pan I should have thrown away long ago anyway.) However, this was the final straw for the smoke detector.

The geniuses that installed our smoke detectors put one at the very top of our very high ceilings. My husband had the contractors install all new smoke detectors last year, but he made the mistake, he said, of not changing out the factory batteries for new ones. The smoke detectors are wired into the electricity of the house, but apparently they are required to have batteries, too, in case of a power failure. Well, that top smoke detector decided it needed a new battery, and it beeped all night long. My husband is somewhat deaf, so after we closed our bedroom door and he put on his C-PAP device, it didn’t bother him, but it kept me awake all night long.

We have a 12-foot ladder, which isn’t tall enough to get up there. Our niece’s husband, Ares, said that his stepfather, who was our tenant before we moved here, used to lean an extension ladder up against the ceiling, which must have been very dangerous. My husband had already called about renting a 16-foot ladder but then realized that it wouldn’t fit in our car. Ares came over to help, because my husband thought we might be able to get the battery out using his grabber and the 12-foot ladder, but Ares couldn’t get a grip on the battery with the grabber. Finally, Ares got up on the stepladder with the grabber and a powerful magnet and was able to get the old battery out and put the new one in. What a relief!

 

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Yes, we had a white Christmas

Here is our first snowfall in the early dawn. Our Christmas lights are still on and part of the sky is still dark.

That’s what we were dreaming of. It snowed late Friday night or early Saturday morning, and we drove out Saturday morning around 8 to do some errands in town. Just a mile or so from our house, there was no snow, while we had lots of the fluffy, wet kind that sticks to all the branches. I took a picture of our first snowfall in the early dawn. The rest of the day was sunny, but it never got warm enough to melt the snow we got that night.

On Saturday night, my sister came over to watch Game of Thrones. I didn’t figure out that since she was working the next three nights, she was looking at it as a little early Christmas, whereas we just acted like it was a normal night. We didn’t even have any eggnog to bust out. So, we watched Thrones and then she left, and the next morning, I opened the front door and found a three-foot fir tree on my front porch with a bow on it. An early Christmas gift from her! We will have to wait until the spring to plant it. It made me feel bad that we hadn’t even had a glass of Christmas cheer.

Then on Christmas Eve, it snowed all day. After doing my floors on Saturday afternoon, I was ready for Christmas, so I had a delightful day listening to my Christmas music on the stereo and reading before the fire. My husband was down in the basement all day wrapping presents and doing whatever it is that he does down there.

Sun on the snow the morning after Christmas

Christmas day was quiet. The kids were still all recovering from the flu, so we left them alone to have a quiet day by themselves. We exchanged gifts and spent the day watching Dr. Who reruns, running up to the Dr. Who Christmas special, which in my mind this year was not that good. I think it’s fine that the new Dr. Who is a woman, but frankly, I didn’t really like Peter Capaldi as the doctor especially since they killed off Clara. But my problem with the Christmas show is that it wasn’t that well written. The parts that were supposed to be funny were just marginally funny, and the parts that were supposed to be emotional just weren’t. So, we’ll see how things go with the new doctor. (My favorite is still David Tennant, although I grew to like Matt Smith.)

Our house in the snow. It is evening (well, 3:30, so starting to get dark). I took this from the road, and you can just barely see the pond (in the foreground) and the house (up at the top of the hill) through the trees.

Yesterday, it was sunny again, and so I loaded all the Christmas presents for the kids into the car and then left a note for my husband to bring them when he woke up from his nap and walked over to my niece’s house. Of course, by the time I started walking, the sun had pretty much gone. That seems to be the way it goes, that it would get cloudy just as I set out. It had rained on all the lovely snow the night before, so that there was a thick crust on top of the snow. I had crunched my way to the bird feeders that morning to fill them up, and the crust was almost thick enough to support my weight without me breaking through. It made interesting walking to my niece’s house as I couldn’t walk in the treads of the cars because they were icy. We had a nice visit with everyone, ate some of the marzipan candy my niece made, and exchanged gifts. My niece let the kids go outside for the first time since everyone got sick, and it was really funny. The sled went pretty far down the hill on that ice, and when they tried to make snow angels, they were just flopping around on top of the snow. My little nephew didn’t even break through the crust when he walked on it.

So, we had a quiet holiday, and we hope you all had a nice holiday, too! Next time I post it will be 2018! Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

 

A little break

My husband seems to like to spend all his time at the house. The exception is the errands into town. He loves to stack one errand on top of another, so that when I start to go into town to return my library books, say, and go to the grocery store, suddenly he has added on a trip to Walmart (I hate Walmart), a pickup of prescription drugs at Walgreens, and a trip to the hardware store. Every jaunt into town must include at least one trip to the hardware store. Luckily for me, there’s a Dutch Brothers coffee booth right next door and I love their Cocomos, a combination of coffee, coconut milk, and chocolate. There is always a big line at Dutch Brothers, but if it isn’t too bad, I get in the walk-up line while my husband is looking at nuts and bolts next door.

This is all a big lead-up to say that I finally got him to take a little drive with me on Sunday. It was a beautiful day. We had one really hot day this weekend during which we actually started up the air conditioning for a few hours and one really beautiful day, during which we had the windows open all day. And then there was yesterday, when it was cold and cloudy all day, never out of the 50’s. I loved all of them.

These are the falls without the kids. They had momentarily gone out of sight.

Anyway, we chose to drive to Sunset Falls, which we had not seen yet. The drive was a nice one, southeast farther into the foothills of the Cascades. The falls aren’t spectacular, but they are pretty. Kids were sitting on the rocks over the falls in the middle of the creek (it looks like a river, but I’m pretty sure it’s a creek), and some of them were jumping off the rocks into the river or going along the bank to a cliff and jumping off there. Twenty years ago I would have been up top sitting on the rocks or wading in the creek, but I don’t think I would have had the nerve to jump off even forty years ago! It’s not terribly high up, but you could easily hit rocks on the way down.

On the contractor front, our general contractor finally came over yesterday and cleared out our basement, so I foresee some busy days of returning to what we had been doing two months ago or so when they messed it all up. We have almost all the bookcases out of the dance room, only three to go. My husband is going to fasten them to the wall because of the kids, and then I can start putting away my books. Finally! That will free up a lot of room in the dance room so that we can find the rest of our possessions and start organizing the storage in the dance room and garage.

As far as our remaining projects go, it looks like what I feared might be coming to pass. We had been waiting to hear from the guys who are going to asphalt our driveway, the guys who are going to install our marmoleum, and the guys who are going to install the carpet on the stairs. Some of these projects have been in limbo for months. I feared that what would happen is they would all want to do their jobs around the same time. That could be a problem if the driveway was being asphalted. And sure enough, we have a provisional start date from the asphalt guys of June 5 and a provisional start date for the marmoleum of June 8. I’m not sure how many days the asphalt will take, but this seems too close together. On the other had, both dates are provisional, so I’m not going to start trying to reschedule anything until at least one date is set. Also, no word from Lowe’s about the carpet since mid-May, when they said it had been shipped. I don’t want to put any of these guys off. We’ve been waiting for the carpet since February and the marmoleum since April. And the asphalt guys have the toughest schedule.

We also have a provisional start date of mid-June for painting the outside of our house. That’s not such a problem as the other projects, except, of course, if they end up being the same time as the asphalt.

We recently made a possibly foolhardy purchase. Well, who knows. It’s an interesting one at least. I have been wanting to buy a grill. I used to do about half of my meals on the grill when I was single. That was a standard Weber charcoal grill, and I used it so much it had a hole in the grill top. But when I got married, we decided to try a gas grill. Frankly, I never felt comfortable with it. I never knew if it was heated enough or whether the grill was supposed to have some sort of medium in it, like rocks, or anything like that. Our family has always used charcoal. And my husband is one of the few guys I know that doesn’t grill. (This used to be one of my dad’s favorite weekend activities.)

Our gas grill ended up being hauled off from our Austin house, where it had been chained to the deck but unused for years and was in horrible condition. Now that we have a lovely deck and some nice deck furniture for dining, I wanted to buy another charcoal grill. I was discussing it with my niece’s husband when he told me about something that’s called a Big Green Egg. A Big Green Egg is a kamado-style grill. I had never heard of these grills before, but most of them are made out of enamel, and you can use them to grill, smoke, or bake. What sold me was the information that you can use them to make tandoori chicken and naan.

I was 2/3 of the way there after reading about them, although they are expensive for a charcoal grill, but I wanted to see one. That is the difficulty. Our local Ace was supposed to carry them, but apparently they decided they took up too much space in what is a fairly small store. They said they could order one for me, but I wanted to at least look at one first. Then we stopped by Home Despot, which does not carry Big Green Eggs but has several other styles of kamado grills, some of which are less expensive. But they didn’t have even one of them in stock, either. We talked to a helpful guy in the store, who told us where we could see a Big Green Egg just to get a look at a kamado grill. The plan was to look at the Egg and then return to the Home Despot, where he would show us his other kamado grills online and we could order one. It was this kind of informed and guided shopping that I wanted from the store, because I had already read some reviews and looked at all the various grills online. I just wanted to hear what he had to say about them.

Well, we went to look at the Big Green Egg, but when we returned to Home Despot, nobody knew who the heck we were talking about, even though we knew his name (he might have been a manager), and if he WAS the manager, he was in a meeting. We stood around and stood around waiting at the service desk, but when I heard they were getting someone from flooring to help us, that’s when I decided to leave. After all, someone from flooring wasn’t going to know any more about the grills than I did. This is a problem with the local Home Despot. In Austin, they had pretty good service, but here, you’re lucky if you can find anyone to talk to. We went right back to the store with the Big Green Eggs.

The Big Green Eggs are pricey, but while we were talking to the nice man in the other store, we found out about demo eggs. These eggs are used one time at a Big Green Egg demo in Portland, and then you get one for 25% off. So, we signed up for one of those. We get our grill, slightly used, on June 25.

.This is what I call color

I hate to subject you, completely changing the subject, to another picture of our ridge, but lately the rhododendron on the left side of the water feature has bloomed beautifully. I was complaining in early spring that our property didn’t have any color, but it just didn’t have any early color. Now wildflowers are popping up all over the place. First there were some small blue ones on the ridge, but lately there are lots of white ones and some yellow flowers all around the house, maybe buttercups. I need to learn something about wildflowers. Here is part of our ridge now, just a couple weeks after the last picture. You can see some of the white flowers at the base of the rhododendron.

We have had several returns of the bunny, one time with a smaller companion, to our drive, where he or she likes to eat the grass in between the bricks. Sadly, that grass is going to be going away soon. Maybe the bunny will stay to eat the grass on our lawn, though. The bunny comes almost every evening now just before dusk.

This is my cedar waxwing.

If anyone is still interested in my art class, I finally finished my picture of a cedar waxwing. My sister is still working on her hummingbird, since she missed a class. I guess that means I’ll be doing an exercise in class today. The exercises tend to be tedious, but they are wise to intermix them with the opportunity to draw a picture. I think my next picture is supposed to be of a furry animal.

A fairly smooth day

On October 15 we got started fairly early, taking a route through northwest New Mexico, nipping a corner of Colorado, and continuing in to Utah. The day went pretty well except for the slow speed at which the truck managed the hills, and there were many.

I was worried about my husband’s hand, which was swollen and red, but he insisted on continuing on, doing a lot of the truck driving. His dog was a problem at first, because he would not be separated from my husband but didn’t like getting into the cab of the truck. I suggested my husband get into the truck first and call Hans. That was dismissed as a stupid idea, but was exactly what worked for the rest of the trip (after his brother suggested the same thing).

We made it all the way to Provo and stopped relatively early to get a good rest. That gave us delusions that we could make it to Washington the next day, because that was where we stopped four years ago on our first drive up there.

We finally had real internet for the first time at that hotel, so I found out that my niece didn’t even know that we left yet. The other motels claimed to have internet, but all my messages had gone into the ozone.

 

A slight impact and the wilds of New Mexico

This is my entry of October 14. I am way behind, because I’ve had no internet access for days.

We started out the morning when I went to my husband’s brother’s room and asked him to take my husband to the emergency room. My husband’s dog had to be with either him or me the whole time, which was why I couldn’t go. At the hospital, they gave him an antibiotic and Ibuprofen and made him wait for the animal control officer, who turned out not to be interested, since the cat was in Austin.

We left town around 10, with my husband insisting on driving the truck, even though I had driven it without incident for hours the day before. This turned out to be a mistake, as he drove quite some way through a crowded New Mexican town to get gas instead of driving through town on the freeway and stopping for gas on the other side. At this gas station, he managed to scrape a car. What fun we were having! But the guy was nice, and after exchanging insurance info, we were on our merry way.

My husband and I had mapped out a relatively flat route, but his brother talked us into a more direct one, which is why we found ourselves in the wilds of NW New Mexico late at night. I think he was perhaps a little more concerned with the scenery than we were. We tried to stop for the night in an itty bitty town but decided the motel looked too dicey. So, we drove until almost 2 AM, stopping in a town east of Farmington.

Our day of departure

This is my entry for October 13.

I probably forgot to mention in yesterday’s entry that my husband managed to catch our indoor cat, suffering many scratches.

Our plan for the morning was to get up early, throw our mattresses into the truck, and leave. But we had so much left to do that we didn’t leave until 1:30 PM.

My husband wouldn’t let me drive the truck through town even though he was terrified of it and I wasn’t, so he asked us to stop in Fredericksburg and ask the pharmacist for something for his scratches. The pharmacist said he should go to a clinic, so we tried to catch him, but he was already out of town and wouldn’t turn around.

I drove the truck for several hours and only hated how the seat edge cut into the back of my legs. We made it as far as Ft. Stockton. My husband by then had a swollen hand and a fever, but he refused to go to the ER. We made it to bed fairly late. End of our first day on the road.

Packing day, almost a week later

Well, we made it here yesterday, but we have had quite a few adventures, so I decided to post one a day each post for a while. This is the post relating the events of Wednesday, October 12.

The first thing that happened was that the moving guys let me know that we had way too much junk for the pod and truck (with one pod already dispatched). He said we needed a 26-foot truck. So, I got on the phone and asked to trade our 16 footer and sent my husband and his brother to pick it up.

When they got back, I learned that because my brother-in law’s Canadian license restricts the size of vehicle he can drive, he felt, because of liability, he could not drive it. That left me and my husband to drive the truck the 2000+ miles ourselves.

The packing guys (Army Ant) were great, but after they left at 8 PM, there were still hours of work to do to pack things they missed and clean up trash. One of the horrible discoveries of the day was the state of my husband’s shed (hoarder, remember?). It was packed to the gills with things like every empty bag of dog food we ever bought. The packers said it would be another four hours to pack it. So, I had my husband get out what he wanted (his tools) and then I got on the phone and arranged for a junk moving company to remove it on Friday. We got to bed finally around midnight on our mattresses on the floor.