Getting back to normal

We are back to our normal life this week after entertaining like mad last week. We had my middle brother (MB) and his wife here for Wednesday, then they moved over to my niece’s house so that my little brother (LB) and his family could stay at our house. Then MB and wife came back for the next night, after LB went home to Seattle. The house was noisy and full of people, but it was fun. We had nine people to dinner on Wednesday night and fifteen people to dinner on Thursday. When you consider that it’s usually just the two of us, that’s a lot of activity.

We are noisy when we get together. MB is quite the raconteur, and LB’s family of five is just plain outgoing (sort of a family trait—most of us are super extroverts, and then there’s me, the introvert). But LB has quite the knack of just coming in and making himself at home. When he and his family arrived, he came out on the deck and helped me grill the steaks (when he was young, he had a job as a chef at a fancy restaurant) and his wife started roasting cauliflower. MB also assisted with the steaks, only he had LB saying to him repeatedly, “Don’t cut it!” (He cuts into the meat to see if it is done. Apparently, you’re supposed to tap it.)

It’s a good thing everyone brought something, because I thought steak, big baked potatoes, and salad were enough. Then when I came back in from eating, hoping for more green beans that my niece brought, literally every bit of food was gone except for some of the steak. After dinner, LB’s oldest daughter, a lovely 16-year-old, started making cookies for dessert. My niece and her husband took their youngest home and left her daughter with us, so that she and her cousin, nine and ten, could spend some time together. The two little girls were no trouble at all.

And in the morning, LB got up and started making breakfast. That was a nice start to the day. Then we went over to pick raspberries at my niece’s house before they had to leave. That night, the rest of us went out to eat and finished the evening in my sister’s hot tub.

All in all, there was mostly just a lot of talking and story-telling, but that’s what family get-togethers are for. It was a shame that the week they were here was one of the hottest on record, one day being 105, but no one seemed to be uncomfortable. We just couldn’t go on any hikes, which is something we usually do.

The lower steps, ending up at the wolf pen. Yes, that thing in the bottom center of the picture is a step.

Then yesterday the guys were back out to work on the very last project that we are paying for, the outside steps from the top level of the house down to the lower drive. I don’t know if I reported a few weeks ago that I almost fell down those steps when the asphalt guys were working on the driveway. They were very dangerous. Some of them slanted, some were unsteady, and one was a step that was twice as high as the others. I forgot to take a picture of them to start with, so here is a picture of some other ones we have that are actually safer than the ones we replaced. These steps go from the lower drive down to the bottom of the orchard. See if they even look like steps to you. I have been weed whacking them, but I haven’t done it recently.

The steps at the bottom are new, and you can see what the old steps looked like at the top.

Since I forgot to take a before picture, I took the following picture while they were in progress. You can see that several steps are already inserted at the bottom of the picture, but the top of the steps give you an idea what they were like. The only ways besides these steps to get down from the upper level are to go back in the house and go down the stairs, or to walk all the way down the driveway to the lower drive and back up again.

Our nice new steps

Finally, here is a picture of the finished steps. They forgot we asked for a rail, so they will have to come back and provide one, but in the meantime, these steps are much safer. We have already been up and down them several times, whereas I used to avoid the other ones.

That pretty much takes care of the projects we are paying for, except for the sauna, and the electrician is coming out next week to install the new part. We still have lots more to get done around here, though. My husband says maybe we can have our contractors come back and do the lower steps later, but we have already used up more of our house sale money than I wanted to. I want to have some left over for emergencies. We have to take down the wallless shed so I can put up my garden boxes, so there will be some gardening related activities to report later. And my niece’s husband has some plans for some more rustic, but still safer, steps below.

But in the meantime, now that the major work on the house is done, I’ll have to figure out some other projects to work on.

The fourth and a deer stalker!

I probably mentioned that in the spring we saw some deer outside our living room window several times, but we haven’t seen them since. And the bunny that used to eat the grass in our driveway hasn’t been around since we asphalted the driveway, even though we have lots of nice grass around the driveway. So, we haven’t seen too much in the way of wildlife lately. But one morning I got up and my husband told me we had a window peeker. I was just getting alarmed when he explained that a deer had been standing at the window that morning looking in at him. We also have had curious hummingbirds hovering in front of the living room window as if they are looking in, not anywhere near the hummingbird feeders, but maybe they are seeing their reflections.

My husband and I didn’t expect to have plans for the fourth of July. I had asked my sister what her crew were doing, and she said they were thinking of going to the Fort Vancouver fireworks (which I have since learned are some of the biggest in the country). My husband doesn’t like fireworks, so absent an invitation, I figured we’d do what we usually do, stay home and do nothing. For years, I lived a 15-minute walk from where they shot off the fireworks in Austin. We could actually see the fireworks over the treetops from our living room (just barely, of course, and only the high ones). When I was single, I went down there and watched them, but since I’ve been married, not once.

However, my niece sent out a Facebook invitation. At the last minute, she decided she didn’t want to face the crowds, so they invited a bunch of friends for a potluck. I made beet and apple salad, to which I added some goat cheese. That turned out to be a delicious addition. And we brought a couple of watermelons.

We had a nice time, although it got fairly hot. When I first got there, my great-nephew, who is three, insisted I go watch him climb a tree. He was able to get up to the first branch. After I watched him once, we went to the garden and picked some strawberries. Then he told me I had to watch him climb it five times. Luckily, people began arriving at that point, which distracted him. A surprising number of people showed up, about six couples and their kids. I didn’t count the kids, but one family brought five of them, so there were a lot of them, ranging in age from about 16 to 3, racing all around the yard, going up into the tree house, walking the weasels, and having a great time.

We had a feast. There was a terrific amount of food for the number of people. Our watermelons didn’t even get opened up, so we brought one home and left the other for my sister and the kids.

And finally, my husband had to put up with fireworks, which are legal in Clark County. My niece doesn’t believe in disturbing the neighbors, even though they have been shooting off fireworks every evening since Friday, so ours were restrained. But they were pretty. Finally, though, her husband and my sister convinced her to let them shoot off a few of the big ones. My sister bought a package of them two years ago, and my niece has been too concerned about how loud they are to let them shoot them off. I think half the package is still there. They shot off four of them, the pretty kind that shoot way up into the air and then explode in colors.

So, we had a nice time.

On the house improvement side, no progress this week except that we got a bubble in our marmoleum. I am waiting for the flooring guy to call me back with a date for the guy to come back and fix it. And no word on the carpet. I will call them this week to see if it got shipped on time. That was supposed to happen on Friday.

We have stacked about twice as much firewood as I showed last time. Now we are waiting for the racks to arrive so that we can safely stack the rest. And, yay! my husband finished fastening the bookcases to the wall. I thought I was going to work on the books on Monday, but I feared I was coming down with something, so I spent most of the day in bed. I had a sore throat for four nights running, but now I believe it is some kind of allergy.

Fox on a stony, lichen-covered background

So, no pictures for you today, except this one of the fox I just finished drawing in art class. We have a new teacher, starting last week. We are still trying to decide if we like her or if we want to start looking for another class with our old teacher. We are complicated a little by the fact that we are planning to enroll my nine-year-old great niece in the class when school starts. She is partially home-schooled, and this will fulfill an art requirement, plus we thinks she will really like it. So, the Wednesday afternoon time slot is perfect for her and for my sister. I can go anytime.

I was a little perturbed by the new teacher in several ways. First, she had me change the approach my other teacher was having me take to indicate the lichen on the rocks. I was almost done with my picture at the beginning of class, and she made me rework quite a bit of it.┬áThis change in midstream made me feel as if the result was muddy. Then, she started talking to us about the way our original teacher had us prepare to do a picture, which she felt was unnecessary. I have to admit that when I first encountered it, I was surprised, but it results in a picture that is much neater. She has us drawn the major outlines of our picture onto tracing paper, where you can make as many mistakes as you want, and then lightly trace the outlines onto our paper. That way, your drawing is transferred without mistakes onto the paper, and you have guidelines to work with when you begin working in charcoal. Well, our new teacher doesn’t like this and is talking about “weaning us away from it.”

Finally, this is a small point, but I just realized that our old teacher always told us to sign our pictures before we spray them, and this one didn’t. My poor fox picture doesn’t have my signature, because I forgot. Ah well, maybe we’ll get used to her. She didn’t do what our old teacher did and ignore the new students until she got to them. On the other hand, she was more easily distracted, so that we didn’t get our turns for her attention strictly in order, like we are used to.

New Year in Washington

snow-lights
Snow on New Year’s Day

We have had an eventful holiday season, our first with family for several years. We spent Christmas Eve with my sister and my niece and her family. I made an English trifle dessert, my sister cooked ham, and my niece made veggies and salad. We had dinner, then later we all decorated Christmas cookies, even the three-year-old. We finished up with the kids opening a few presents. It was a lovely evening.

My husband and I spent Christmas day by ourselves as we usually do, just opening our presents and having a quiet dinner. So, that was nice, too.

Then we more or less went back to normal for the rest of the week, having no plans for New Year’s Eve. Well, we didn’t think we had plans, but then my youngest brother let my sister know that he and his family would be driving down from Seattle on New Year’s Eve. That morning, my husband and I had some errands in town, so we picked up a few things for the ravening hoards to eat, as we didn’t know the plans. There turned out not really to be any. We took all our food over to my niece’s house later in the day, and my brother and his family arrived in the late afternoon.

It began snowing shortly before they arrived, snowed all evening, and most of the next day. By morning, when I took the picture above, we had about four inches of snow. All in all, I think we got about six or seven. It was lovely stuff, soft and sticky. Later in the day, it got sunny for a while, so the snow was sparkling on the branches.

My brother and his wife ditched their kids the first night, so they were the first to inaugurate our new guest suite, which isn’t totally put together yet (the doors are off all the rooms) but is good enough since they were downstairs and we were upstairs. Coming back from my niece’s house around midnight, we weren’t sure we were going to make it up our steep driveway, and we had to make several attempts, so my brother started putting his chains on his tires around 1 AM after seeing the house and visiting for a while. We all (except my husband) stayed up until 3 AM, something I am no longer used to. My husband and I were up earlyish the next day, but they were not. A good time was had by all, at least until the next morning.

We woke to lots of beautiful snow. The kids stayed out almost all afternoon building snow men and snow igloos, having snowball fights, and sledding. The adults went in and out. I hit my nephew with a few snowballs, but unfortunately my choice was between warm but slippery Uggs or my waterproof, nonslip, but not that warm muck boots. I chose the muck boots and had to go inside after a while, so I sat by the fire with my sister.

The second night, my brother’s entire family came to stay. They can be quite the active group, so I was a little worried, but actually they were great. The kids got their Christmas presents from us, and then we all watched an old movie on TV and had popcorn. Later, my sister-in-law and her oldest daughter and I stayed up talking until about midnight, but everyone else went to bed when the movie was over.

It was such a nice holiday. My husband and I, as I keep saying, haven’t living among family for years, my husband since he moved down to Texas to be with me, and me since the 1980’s. So far, our nearness to our family has been perfect. We get support and company without anyone feeling like we’re imposing on them.

Happy New Year to you all.