A spooky Halloween party!

My niece’s spooky birthday party for my great nephew, who turned four, took up quite a bit of last week. My husband and I found a spooky spirit and a skeleton cat for her on Thursday, so we took them over, and the house was really looking good!

My sister with the pumpkins before cutting

On Friday, I went over to help carve the jack o’lanterns that were going to line the path of the Haunted Forest. I haven’t carved a pumpkin in a while. I quit doing it when we bought our electric pumpkin and frankly haven’t missed it. But it was so much fun doing it with my niece and her family.

The kids with the pumpkins. Some of them are adorable, including the kids!

My sister and I started out cutting of tops and scooping the insides, then my great niece joined us as a scooper. Next my niece and her husband started drawing faces on the scooped pumpkins, and once they had a few drawn, they and my great niece started cutting. The birthday boy assisted by poking strategic holes in the pumpkins. We worked for three hours and carved 16 pumpkins.

All the kids: my niece’s husband in his Viking regalia, the two kids in their wolf costumes, my sister in her costume (she is some character I’m not familiar with), and my niece as Cleopatra. This picture was taken by Josie Edwards.

My niece was really getting into the decorating. I didn’t realize it before, but Halloween is her favorite holiday. The family ordered their costumes last summer, except for her husband, who always wears Viking regalia and adds to it every year. This week every time I went over to their house, things looked different.

My niece labeled every one of these bottles to sound like they came from a witches house. Notice the crystal skull and the bugs.

We actually got my husband to dress up as a lumberjack, and he made his own big blue ax, named Babe. I am not going to explain that joke to you. It is too corny. Anyway, the night of, the kids had a great time. There was food made up to look like brains, worms, and so on. There was a walk after dark through the Haunted Forest. There was a photo booth (which some of these pictures are from), a dance party and grab bags, and there was just general running around and having fun. I would say about 50 people attended, kids and parents. I had to keep taking my mask off whenever it looked like I was going to scare some little kid.

The family hearth, with skeleton person and cat

I may have said before that I think my niece’s kids are very lucky. They can run around their five acres of property and have an upbringing closer to the one we had as kids. They have a tree house in the woods and lots of things to do outside. I feel sorry for many kids these days, whose play activities are mostly scheduled and who hardly ever go outdoors. When the other kids are here, it is plain they are enjoying the place, too.

OK, that’s us. My sister, me, and my husband with his blue ax. Courtesy of Josie Edwards.

Parties aren’t really our thing, but it was nice to see the kids having so much fun.

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Autumn around our farm

My sister seems to be right in that our fall colors consist of yellow before the leaves die. I’ve been looking around, and the only glimpses of orange and red I get are from planted or landscaped plants. The natural colors of the forest seem to be yellow and green.

In any case, fall is my favorite season. I love the color and sunny, cool days. I also love the blustery days. I love seeing pink cheeks on the children. The cooling weather always seems to energize me. I even love the rainy days, which we had most of last week. This week has been gorgeous, though.

Yes, is the same bush I showed you a few weeks ago. We think it might be a blueberry.

So, I give you a few pictures of our fall color, because nothing much else is going on this week. First, that little bush that I showed you a few weeks ago is now bright red and getting ready to drop its leaves.

At least I think this is a maple. It has maple-like leaves. I know very little about trees.

Back behind our orchard is a huge maple tree. It must be a silver maple, as I believe that other maples turn red in the fall. I took this picture when I went out into the orchard to plant more of my bulbs. This week we also planted the Carpathian walnut I bought to be a partner to our other walnut tree.

Behind the house there is quite a bit of color, but it is hidden among the fir trees. Here is the most notable color, at the top of a wild cherry tree right next to the pond. It’s too bad that the color is behind the firs, because I think it’s quite spectacular back there, if you could but see it.

All around our pond there are yellow trees peeping out from behind the firs and the other trees that have stayed green.

In the orchard, something or someone has eaten all our apples. I was out there a few weeks ago, and there were lots of apples on one of the trees, the tree that is supposed to produce Fuji apples. They weren’t quite ready to be picked, and my research shows that they are ready in November, which is when my sister picked them last year. Our other apple tree only had one apple. So, yesterday I went out to the orchard to check them, and there is only one left, high up in the tree. I don’t know what or who has eaten them, but I didn’t find any cores or apple parts on the ground. Perhaps the deer got all but this one, which is too high for them, because our little Fuji tree is leaning over to the ground. I hope it is the animals and not the kids from across the road, as this is the closest tree to the road. In any case, one of these days we’ll take a ladder out there and get our last apple. The apple on the other tree is gone, so I assume that whatever got the Fujis got that one, too.

This weekend is the Spooky Birthday Party for my great nephew, who will be four. I went over there yesterday to find all the adults and his older sister engaged in decorating the house, the yard, and the forest for the party. It is going to be quite some bash. I will be sure to take pictures of the costumes and the decor for next time. My niece must have spent hours on this so far, because, for example, her kitchen is full of bottles that she has labeled “Eye of Newt” and “Arsenic,” things like that, with quaint old-fashioned labels. What an eye for detail she has! Even in the living room are piles of books with titles like Grimoire and references to witches and devils (next to the giant spiders on the sofa pillows).┬áMy sister went out and bought a fog machine to send fog down the forest path for the Haunted Forest Walk. These kids are going to have a blast, as long as the little ones don’t get too frightened. All events are scheduled for daytime, though, so it shouldn’t be too bad. The children are excited at having helped their parents put up the decorations, so they dragged me through the house and forest yesterday showing me all the things they had made.

Some pictures from art class

My great niece with her picture of flowers in art class. I think it’s pretty good for a nine-year-old.

We took three pictures in art class last week, one of my great niece and her drawing of flowers. She took a lot of encouraging, but I think she did a good job. Her teacher told her she had a knack with the charcoal.

The other two were of my drawings. One was the finished castle that I mentioned last week. Half of the picture was its reflection in the water, and I was deeply unsatisfied with my rendering of it. But when I went back to class last week, it didn’t look that bad after all. I cleaned it up a bit and decided the drawing was finished.

My castle landscape

The next assignment was to do a still life. I wanted to try one, but after I got started, I don’t think either I or the teacher was very dedicated to it. I remember hearing our original art teacher tell people that she usually skipped that assignment, which she thought confused people because it had no relation to the method they used in the school for learning how to draw. I didn’t know how they were going to let me do a still life, as we sit in rather small spaces to draw, but it turned out that I was allowed to select some objects from the anteroom and they put me at a corner to draw so that I would have more room. The objects I could select from were fairly tacky, so I picked a glass vase and two seashells. I did not think I did such a great job, and my teacher really didn’t help me much. I wanted pointers on how to do the glass and all she said was “Make it streakier.” I remember getting lessons on painting glass in my oil painting class years ago, so I know there is a lot more she could have said.

My really pathetic still life

On the home front, I first went crazy buying bulbs. Ever since we arrived here, my intention was to plant bulbs in the fall so we would have flowers in the spring. But I was hoping to actually have flower beds by that time, which would have been easier. I went out to buy daffodils one day, to plant in the orchard, and I was fairly restrained, but they did not have a good selection. Then the next day, I went with my sister to the farm store, and they had a much better selection, so I got more daffodils, ranunculas, crocuses, and snowdrops. The next day I went out to find places to plant them. I planted some of the daffodils under a rim of sod behind the house and some under one of the apple trees in the orchard. But most of our ground was either rock under a thin layer of dirt or under sod. It was very hard trying to plant, and I didn’t get more done except that I planted the ranunculas at the bottom of the ridge between the blueberry bush and the bird feeder. Still haven’t done the crocuses, snowdrops, or about half the daffodils. But I don’t have to get them planted all at once.

On the weekend, I went on an outing with the kids. My niece, her husband, and their two children and I went to the Japanese nursery in Woodland and then to the pumpkin patch. I restrained myself at the nursery, only buying a partner walnut tree for the one we have in our orchard. My great niece talked her father into buying something called a jujube tree. He is a pushover, basically. Then we all went to the pumpkin patch. My niece needed lots of pumpkins to be jack o’lanterns for the spooky forest walk for my great nephew’s birthday party. So we filled up a wheelbarrow with pumpkins. Then the kids enjoyed the hay maze and the hay ride. Later we went to Fuel, a cafe we like in Ridgefield, and then home. A couple hours after arriving home, it was back to their house for our third Game of Thrones night.

This week I have spent finishing the housework for our guest’s arrival. The days were beautiful until yesterday afternoon, but now it is cold and drizzly. Poor timing, as our guest is coming from Houston and is originally from Louisiana, so she is used to warmer weather. I hope she doesn’t think its too cold here.

Today, our contractors are back to finish our sets of steps in the rain.

More of the same

This is the upper set of steps before being redone. As you can see, you can barely see that there are steps. You can see the edges of two of them at the top middle of the picture.

This week there’s not much to tell. We had a few days of rainy weather, but it really didn’t rain very much, and now it’s beautiful out again. We know that probably won’t last long, but right now it’s lovely, cold in the mornings and warm in the afternoon, sunny skies. The trees have begun to turn, mostly yellow, but there’s not enough movement yet in that direction to show another picture. Looks like our friend’s visit will be timed just right for fall color. My sister tells me that here the colors aren’t as pronounced as back east, but they are better than Texas, where you just get a suggestion of color change. Next week it will be almost exactly a year ago that we arrived here, and the colors in the Gorge were pretty gorgeous.

Here is where the steps go from the lower drive down to the bottom of the orchard and the pond. This is the longest set of steps. They wind toward the right of the picture and about halfway, they turn toward the left.

Our contractors came back for a day last week to begin working on our final project. We have two sets of steps that are very dangerous, one up to the ridge above our house and one down from the lower drive to the bottom of the orchard and the pond. We decided to have the guys put in steps like the ones they installed from the upper to lower drive, only half the width, because these stairs are more foresty. They put most of the steps in last Thursday but got called to another job on Friday, and then it began raining. They might put one more step in when they come back, and they have to install the railings. Anyway, I took some before pictures and have one of the mid-stage.

Here are the partially finished lower steps without the railing. Now the wind and length are much more obvious.

I skillfully avoided doing some of the more unpleasant housework (like bathrooms) the last two weeks so that it will be done right before our guest’s visit. Perfect timing.

In art class I am drawing a ruined castle beside a lake. The lake shore is about halfway down on the picture, so that the castle also appears upside down in its reflection. I didn’t have much of a problem drawing the castle, but the reflection is driving me nuts. I feel deeply unsatisfied with it.

We had our second Game of Thrones night last Friday and my husband signed on for a third, so maybe we have him hooked! Socially, nothing else is going on except that my niece is already signing people up for their spooky birthday party for my three-year-old great nephew, whose birthday is right before Halloween. I’ll be wearing a costume for the first time in 20 years. We ran into my great nephew’s other grandmother at the grocery store yesterday, and she told me that she was happy to have finally found her Spongebob Squarepants costume, so she can wear that for the party. It’ll be something to see this slim, tidy woman in a Spongebob Squarepants costume. I think I’ve been drafted to carve about a bazillion pumpkins.

Quite a deluge

This is a pitiful amount of hail, but it’s our first storm of the season.

The big news for this week is that we finally have rain! In fact, we got so much rain yesterday all at once that I stopped what I was doing to watch. It was really loud, and there turned out to be a small amount of hail. The hail was so small that at first I thought the water pouring down from our eaves troughs (which couldn’t keep up with the rain) was frothing. The picture makes it look pretty pitiful, but there was lots of it along the driveway.

In any case, it looks like we are quickly turning toward fall. From very hot temperatures two weeks ago, we went to lovely temperatures last week, and now it is quite cold. We had a fire in our fireplace all day yesterday, because the highs were in the 50’s. But this weekend is supposed to be beautiful. I am waiting for the color changes.

Some of our classical music CDs, double-stacked behind and on top

This week I put some more things away. I am finally down to boxes of decorative items and our CDs, which I finished over the weekend. We had 300 CDs in a changer and probably 200 more. Our changer broke, so I had to find places for all of those CDs. Some of them are double-stacked on the shelves.

I also sold a teapot on Etsy. Again, another fiasco with the shipping weight. At the last minute, I made the mistake of weighing the box on my food scale. Because the box is so much bigger than the scale, I had weighed the box and the packing material and then added the weight of the item for each one. But that morning I doubted myself and reweighed everything. The weight came out a pound more than I had calculated, so I added that to the package, but of course that meant the extra weight came out of my own pocket. When I got to the post office, I found that the original weight was correct. So, I paid an extra $3 for nothing. Worse, I went ahead and changed the weights of everything by a pound, thinking that the box must weigh more than I thought. Now, I’ll have to go back and reweigh all my items. Sigh.

That’s all for this week except we are excited because one of our friends from Houston is coming for a visit in October. We haven’t seen her since the Christmas before last, so we are really excited to have her come visit.

My landscape

I forgot that last week I finished my first landscape in art class. This is a drawing of a place somewhere in Utah. Although I don’t think our current art teacher is teaching us as much as our previous one, I think we’re planning to stay in the class. My sister keeps saying that she likes the time slot, and certainly if my great-niece continues with the class, this is the time we’ll have to go. My great-niece is, I think, enjoying the class more, but she gets frustrated if she can’t do everything perfectly the first time. It doesn’t help that we have kids her age or a little older in our class that have lots more art lessons than she has had. Since drawing this picture, I completed another exercise and already started another landscape.

Finally, the costume I ordered for Halloween doesn’t fit, so it’s back to the drawing board. I got a great mask, though, one of those Venetian ones with the pointy nose. Only I can’t wear my glasses when I have it on, which means I won’t be able to see. I have clearly not done Halloween in a long time.

Visitors and Mt. St. Helens

Our visit with my husband’s brother and his wife passed off nicely. They only stayed one night and were not interested in more driving, as they had driven down highway 97 to the Gorge and come down the Gorge and back up here. We found that an odd route, considering there were forest fires on both sides of the Gorge, past which they had to drive. They said they didn’t see any fire, just smoke. We showed them the house, did a lot of talking, found a restaurant to take them to dinner, and all had a sauna, and that was about it. When they left, they were planning to go back along the Gorge to Hood River, which would put them even closer to the fire in Oregon.

Last we heard, the fire on the Washington side was well contained, but they were saying that the Eagle Creek fire may never be fully contained because of the rugged terrain. However, starting Sunday, it is supposed to rain here for three or four days in a row, so maybe that will put both fires out. It is supposed to be the first substantial rain we have had all summer.

Our guide in his favorite place in the park

On Saturday, we had an outing with my friend from Portland to Mt. St. Helens. Her neighbor works as a part-time ranger there a couple weekends a month, and she was able to arrange a personal tour with him. He was quite a garrulous guy, but he had lots of interesting stories to tell about the eruption and about the park in general. He himself had a close call. He was at Spirit Lake helping remove some equipment from a boy scout camp, and he and the other people with him had decided to spend the night to finish the job even though the governor was not allowing anyone to stay overnight in the area. But a law enforcement officer came by and asked them to leave. The next morning was the eruption, and they would have been killed if they hadn’t gone home as requested.

Mt. St. Helens on a misty day, but it cleared up just for our visit. The eruption busted through the side of the mountain, removing the top and making that huge crater.

I have to admit that Mt. St. Helens wouldn’t have been my first choice of a place to visit, but it was fascinating. It was amazing to think that it only took three minutes for all the debris and gas from the eruption to go miles across the valley and up the other side, to where I was standing when I took the picture above. The before and after pictures are devastating, and the movies in the visitor center were informative and moving. This was a really interesting visit, and I recommend it to anyone who is in the area.

We almost cancelled our expedition because of smoke from the fires, but it cleared up the day before. However, the day we went it was misty. But the mist cleared for our visit, and it started raining just as we were leaving. Because of the fires, there were not many people at the monument that day.

At home, I have spent the last two days listing teapots on my Etsy store. The whole Etsy experience has been a lesson learned. I started out with some harlequin dolls from a collection I made in the 1980’s. I had offered the dolls to the little girls, but they find them creepy and always put them out in the hall when they sleep in the kids’ guest room. So, a few months ago, I looked at Etsy to see what it would take to list them.

I was just investigating opening a store, and before I knew it, I was actually opening one. They don’t really have a primer that tells you all the steps ahead of time, which was what I was looking for. I ran into trouble when it got to the shipping part. I could have just saved my listings and investigated the shipping later, but instead (don’t ever do this yourself), I guessed about the shipping. The program says “Let us estimate your shipping costs,” and I thought (duh!) that when it asked for the weight of the item, it meant the item itself, not the item with shipping materials. I stupidly thought they had a way of estimating the weight from the size of the box and the weight of the item. Of course, I had no boxes and I didn’t have the dolls packed, so I just weighed the dolls! Boy, was that dumb. I figured if I was off, I would only have to add a few dollars.

The error came out when I sold my first item, last week. It was my best doll, and I had it under-priced to begin with, I think (although I couldn’t find any as nice to compare it with). I packed it up in the only box I could find (the one containing my Indonesian puppets, whose bases I can’t find yet), printed the postage label, and took it to the post office. There I found that I owed $8 more on the postage. So, I made hardly any money on that doll. I also have a problem that to get boxes the correct size to ship the dolls, I have to order 25 of them! I only have a few more dolls to ship, so I hope that my husband will be able to make boxes for me out of other boxes. Oh, for the box store I used to go to in Austin, where you could get one of any size of box.

I have always planned to sell my teapot collection that I put together in the 1990’s, and that sale got me going again. So, the past few days, I got the right-sized box from Walmart and have been weighing each teapot with the packing materials on them, adding the weight of the box, unwrapping them and taking their pictures, and listing them. Some of the teapots are unusual enough that I wasn’t able to find comparisons, so I hope I have them priced right.

It has started to turn cooler here. The last two days have been cool and sunny, and finally the smoke has cleared out completely. Right now it is only 46 degrees out, and the high today will be 62. It will get warmer again next week, but I think fall is coming!

Oh dear. My niece just invited us a costume party for my great-nephew’s fourth birthday just before Halloween. I’m going to have to do some thinking. I haven’t dressed up for Halloween in about 20 years!