Heat and relatives

I’m a little late with my post today because my youngest brother and his family just left after a short visit. As is usual with them, this was a visit fraught with drama because of the uncertainty of when they would actually arrive. Last week, they couldn’t decide whether to come New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Then by Saturday, they had decided on New Year’s Day until they learned that my niece’s kids had to start school today, so they changed it to this Friday. Then my niece told them that her Friday night and Saturday were booked, and my sister told them that she had to work both Friday and Saturday night, so they changed their arrival date back to New Year’s Day. On Monday, New Year’s Eve, I was just heading out to the store to make sure we had food for their visit when my sister-in-law called and told me they had decided to come that day, and they would be here in about five hours. So, I went to my niece’s house to let them know and do a little planning. Then I went to the store, which was packed with people. Then I came home and began changing the beds and cleaning bathrooms. They didn’t actually arrive around five like they told us, but closer to six thirty. It is always nice to see them, but we go through something like this every time because they can’t make up their minds what they are going to do.

My beautiful niece, Áine, with her silly New Year headgear on. Unfortunately you can’t see that it lights up.

So, we had a New Year’s Eve party at our house. My niece and sister brought over almost a complete taco dinner. All I had to make was guacamole. With the two families and me and Wayne, we had 12 people in the house, which for us is a lot of people, since for years we have been alone on New Year’s Eve. Since we knew not everyone would make it to midnight, we toasted the New Year in at 9 PM, midnight New York time. After we all sang Auld Lang Syne, Søren, my five-year-old great nephew said, “So, where’s the toast?” This remark became an instant family classic.

We spent the rest of the evening playing silly games, and we watched a movie. My brother has friends who are in the Motion Picture Academy, so they brought along a bag full of the submissions for this year’s Academy Awards. I was surprised to find that I had already seen about five of them, because usually the past few years I am lucky to have seen one. We watched Green Book, which was very good. They left a couple of the movies with us that they don’t have to return to their friends, and my sister took the rest, so we will be trading them around. I have the one about Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the one about Laurel and Hardy.

This has been a week for movies, because this Sunday I went to see Mary Poppins Returns with my sister and my niece’s children. They all loved it. I had mixed feelings. This movie purposefully evokes the original movie, even playing themes from it in the background and having the cartoon penguins in it again, and so on. The two stars are very talented, and Lin Manuel Miranda has the cutest smile. However, as far as the format of the movie went, I felt it wasn’t very original. The Banks children were now adults, and the movie was about Michael’s children. There was one animated scene, just like in the original movie. There was a bunch of dancing lamplighters instead of a bunch of dancing chimney sweeps. There was a woman who went topsy turvey instead of a man who floated when he laughed. There was a balloon saleslady instead of a birdseed seller, and there was drama at the bank. It is a completely enjoyable movie, but it was too much like the original one for me. And, I don’t think it had any memorable songs. My sister and brothers and I can still sing all of the songs from the original movie, which came out when I was in middle school.

Doggy pals Sage and Luke on a break from romping. She looks smaller than him, but that’s just the perspective of the shot. She is actually bigger.

The family stayed until this afternoon, when they were on their way to visit friends in Oregon. Lukey was in seventh heaven the whole time because of the kids and their dog, Sage. We were disappointed to miss a mini pack walk this week because my family was here, but Luke got to run around with Sage for two days. He was a bit taken aback at her arrival on New Year’s Eve, and we had to keep them separate. But by the next day, they seemed to be getting along just fine after a few minutes. Sage, in fact, had to correct his puppy behavior a few times. She’s a grown dog, and she wasn’t putting up with his puppy foolishness.

When the heating guy came out last Thursday, he explained to us that when the heat exchanger gets iced up, it defrosts. That was why Wayne saw it steaming. It was just doing what it was supposed to do, and if we had just turned up the thermostat to a normal temperature, we would have saved ourselves almost a week of shivering. Then on Friday morning, the chimney sweep came out, so now we are back to being toasty, which was good, since we had guests.

Aside from having the family here, nothing particularly interesting has gone on this week. Most activities were cancelled except art class. I did a double, finished my sky and made a good start on my castle or cathedral or whatever Mt. St. Michel is.

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and a pleasant start to the new year!

Baby, it’s cold inside

Here are two of the guys from the Yacolt station of the Clark County Fire Department. The guy on the right is the commander.

Our big event for the week happened on Wednesday night. My first clue was that it got very hot in the living room so that I had to take off my sweater. Just a hint. I never take off my sweater in the house during the winter. Then, a little while later we were watching TV and the smoke detector went off. We couldn’t see any smoke, but Wayne went outside and said that sparks were flying up out of the chimney of our wood stove, so he told me to call the fire department. The fire department got here in about five minutes, cooled off our stove and told us not to use it until we got it cleaned. (We have not neglected it, though, we got it cleaned last winter.) They were really nice guys. The fire commander told me some things about what they were doing and what the colors of their helmets mean (orange is probationers and yellow means they have passed some level of training) and told me that they were all volunteers except for him. They were a bunch of nice guys, very understanding about what I felt like was almost a false alarm. The sparks had stopped going out of the chimney by the time they got there.

So, thanks, guys from the Yacolt station of the Clark County Fire Department for coming so quickly and being so helpful! I took Luke back in the house after it looked like they were leaving and started sweeping up insulation that came down from our attic. Then I realized that they still seemed to be there. I went out to see what was going on, and they had backed the fire engine into our racks of firewood and knocked them over. Well, it’s a fairly small turnaround, big enough for cars and smaller trucks but too small for a fire engine! They were actually restacking our wood! Now, that’s what I call service. The racks got a bit munched up but they still work.

And speaking of that, an odd follow-up to that experience was that two days later, we received this huge packet from some kind of insurance adjustment company assuming that our house burned down. At least, that’s all we could think of. It started out condoling us, and at first we thought it was about Wayne’s sister-in-law, who died last week. It took us a minute to figure out what it was about. I guess they’re the fire equivalent of ambulance chasers.

That was our excitement for last Wednesday, and it was a bit of a shock when on Thursday, Wayne announced that our heating system wasn’t working. He said the heat exchanger was burnt out, whatever that means. So, I guess you understand my post title for this week. The furnace guy is scheduled to come out tomorrow, and the chimney sweep on Friday. That’s this week. So, for the next five days, we were huddled part of the time next to a space heater by our chairs. Then yesterday, my husband suddenly started fiddling with the thermostat, and lo and behold, we had heat! I don’t know what it was that made him decide the system was broken, but it apparently isn’t. Unfortunately, he can’t remember who he called for service, so we can’t tell them not to come tomorrow.

For Thursday art class, my sister and I did a double. My art teacher has finally convinced my sister to work in oils, so I got her a gift certificate from the art school for a down payment on her oil set for Christmas. Tomorrow night I am doing another double, but Sue has to work.

On Saturday afternoon, I went over to my niece’s and sister’s house to help with cookie decorating. It was the complete family again like the first year, all decorating (except Wayne, of course, who didn’t go). It was lots of fun.

Mischa and Luke with Santa at the puppy Christmas party

And speaking of Christmas activities, I went online and downloaded the picture of Luke and Mischa with Santa from the puppy Christmas party. Lukey looks like he wants to get away from there as soon as possible. Mischa is styling, as usual.

Wayne and I decided to have our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, so we sat down for it earlyish. All presents wrapped, everything done. Then later on, I took my favorite holiday movie over to Sue’s (currently, it is Love Actually) and we watched it together.

On Christmas morning, we took two quiches over to the relatives’ house and had brunch and presents. It was a perfect idea for Christmas—no huge meal where you have to stay for hours and hours, just an exchange of gifts and a light brunch and plenty of laughing. Everyone said I got a little carried away with the gift-giving this year. I admit it, I did!

That was our week, and I hope you all had a Merry Christmas!

Getting in the spirit

I got my weekdays mixed up Wednesday morning and posted my Thursday book blog review instead of this blog, which is what I usually post. So, this week this post goes out on Thursday.

This week we have had beautiful but cold weather, sunny skies every day but cold, cold, cold. If it had been raining, we undoubtedly would have snow. Mt. St. Helens is looking great, because with the recent rains, it got back its covering of snow. It is a perfect week to go out and finish up my garden, but instead I have been working on Christmas cards, wrapping presents, and getting packages ready for the mail. These days, since we live close to much of our family, we only ship out two packages, but I still try to get them into the mail early. Since the post office was closed yesterday because of President Bush’s funeral, I made it my goal to get my packages ready to go into the mail this morning. We have one more nice day before it clouds up, so I hope to do my garden tomorrow.

On Tuesday, we went out to buy a Christmas tree. This year, for the first time since we moved here, we were planning to buy it from a lot. Last year, my niece’s husband was unwell so couldn’t help us and we went with my sister. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been around when they cut the tree the first year we were here, so I didn’t realize how much work it was. Because we are both geezers, my sister had to cut the tree, and I vowed never to have that happen again. We would have accepted an invitation from my niece and her husband to go get a tree with them, but none was forthcoming, so we went out looking for a lot.

Our scrawny tree next to a nice warm fire

We had been hearing on the news that Christmas trees are scarce this year, but it was hard to believe they would be hard to find here. Heck, there are Christmas trees everywhere. Of course, lots of people around here cut their own trees, go to a U Cut, or even cut them in the Gifford Pinchot Forest, but still, last year and the year before, there were several tree lots on the way down state highway 503 to Vancouver. This year there were none, and we didn’t know where else in Vancouver to go. I didn’t want to go to Home Depot, because my theory was that they were more likely to have purchased their trees far away and they might not be fresh. We ended up buying one in a tiny lot in Battle Ground, the only one we could find besides those in the grocery and hardware stores. It is tall, about nine feet, but it is kind of pathetic looking compared to our previous trees. It’s branches are far apart, and it looks kind of skimpy for a Noble fir, and it’s lop-sided. Although it was much cheaper than any tree we could have bought in Austin (and in fact, we never bought a tree that big in Austin), it cost about twice as much as any tree we have bought since we moved here. I have tons of ornaments, so it will be interesting to see if I can get them all on the tree. Once I finish spreading alpaca poo and more dirt on my garden tomorrow, I’ll start decorating.

Last Saturday, my sister and I went to a Christmas concert in Portland. Our friend was singing in the Portland Choir and Orchestra concert. Last year, I thought the program was a little dull except for the Bells of the Cascades, whose director is a delight to watch, full of energy and practically levitating off the podium. This year, although the choir sang more traditional songs, the arrangements were really interesting, and some of the songs were quite beautiful. And the Bells of the Cascades were there again.

Luke has not only graduated from puppy class, he has been asked to join both puppy and adult class for the last few classes of the year. We went last night for the first time. I thought he could handle two classes, but wasn’t sure how well he could handle two in a row. However, he did really well, almost better than the adult dogs, just because he has been taking class for so long. We have quite the little puppy pack going now, with three other dog owners joining me and Luke once a week for a pack walk.

Last week, my great niece Mischa came with us to puppy class. She enjoyed it, so if she thinks she can bear getting up that early, she might go again while we are still in puppy class.

We no longer need to take a leash with us when we take Lukey out, as long as we have cheese in our pockets! In fact, even the promise of cheese gets him back in the house when we have gone out for short runs. I only take a leash if I think we may be walking on the road, as he tends to go toward traffic.

In art class, I am still working on my sky, whereas my sister has almost finished her picture of an owl. Actually, she has almost finished two pictures. Hmm. Well, it is not a race, as my instructor keeps telling her. I guess I’m going to have to get used to taking three or four months each to do my paintings, while she finishes one a month. It is a secret from my husband (who does not read this blog) that a woman in my class who does beautiful pictures of dogs has agreed to do one of Luke for me to give Wayne as a gift. It doesn’t look like it will be done for Christmas, but it will make a good birthday gift. Tonight, we are both doing makeups, so we will be in class from 4:15 until 8:30!


The secret is cheese

Of course, much of the beginning of this last week concerned Thanksgiving. My niece and sister never celebrate holidays on the actual day, because my sister, a nurse in the maternity ward, always works the holidays. She, in her inimitable way, had tactfully suggested I host Thanksgiving this year, as I did last year, by saying, “Why don’t you host Thanksgiving and we could bring dishes?” But even if I’m only doing the main things, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing, that’s a lot of work, and Wayne and I like to have a meal on actual Thanksgiving day. However, just for two of us, that’s even more work, even if we keep it to the basics, as we have done for the last five years.

So, we decided to skip actual Thanksgiving dinner and have Sue and my niece’s family over that weekend for another Moroccan meal. This is because my recipe, which says it feeds 6 to 8 as part of a Moroccan dinner (and suggests also serving a chicken dish), actually feeds about 20, so we had tons of leftovers in the freezer from my dinner earlier in the month (and still do). Those Moroccans must really eat.

That’s what we were going to do, but the week before, we started talking about not having any leftovers, which of course is the purpose of Thanksgiving dinner in the first place (aside from the obvious thanks part). Then I saw an ad for buying the basics of a Thanksgiving dinner from a sort of Whole Foods-like market in the area called New Seasons. I figured that if it was good, the price was worth the savings in my time and effort, especially since my husband’s reaction to any dinner, whether it took 15 minutes to cook or six hours is “Good supper, honey.” In any case, we agreed it was worth the experiment. So, I signed up for a turkey breast dinner for four to six that included the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. That meant I only had to make the pies and my husband’s required dish of green bean casserole (yes, that very dish, dripping with Campbell’s mushroom soup).

So, that was the plan, and we stuck to it, only adding a mince pie to the menu at my husband’s request. (He has to eat all of it. I don’t see the point of mince pie.) However, my husband dubbed the food “commercial,” so I guess that next year it’s back to Plan A. I actually thought the food was much better than commercial. I’ve had commercial at numerous corporate and state holiday parties, and this was much more tasty. So, New Seasons, I thank you for saving me about two hours of work. It still, however, took about an hour and a half to coordinate heating up all the dishes, some of which had more than one step, and cooking the green bean casserole. At least I didn’t have to mash the potatoes and make the gravy all at the same time, as usual.

The weekend dinner was complicated because that entire branch of the family got sick, as they almost always do on the holidays. Actually, my niece had been sick for close to three weeks and had made two trips, including a flight to Madison to visit my brother and his wife, with a cold. So, they weren’t sure they were actually going to make it. We enjoyed the week, although one negative of being retired is that holidays aren’t that different from other days (the positive being, of course, that every day can be like a holiday). However, it seemed weird because every single one of our usual activities was cancelled—no puppy class, no great niece’s taekwondo, no art class, and no hike, because of course everyone was too busy cooking on Wednesday. The only regularly scheduled thing I did was go to my water aerobics class.

In any case, we finally decided to have the Moroccan dinner on Sunday, because everyone felt well enough. And it went very well except that Lukey got a little excited and had to retire to his crate at one point. Everyone was duly impressed, however, when I put him in his place and he stayed there—that is until everything got too exciting for him and he got off without permission.

Our biggest concern with him is that we have no fenced-in yard except the wolf pen, which is partially disassembled so that he is more or less contained in there but can’t be left unattended. My husband has been planning to finish it for weeks, but that’s him all over. He only has to replace one pole and rehang the fencing between it and the rest of the fence. That’s all. Yet it remains only a semi-secure place. I feel like Lukey should be able to run around loose occasionally. After all, we live in the country. However, I don’t want him on the road, and I don’t want him going all over our neighbors’ property. And the problem is, he doesn’t always come when called. If he would do that, then we would feel safe in letting him run a bit more. We have experimented with letting him go loose, but I don’t do that very often, and when Wayne does, he won’t come back. I have to go out and call Luke, and so far he has always come back for me (but he doesn’t always when he is on a leash, sometimes I have to reel him in, so you see the problem), and there were a few times the first few times when we let him loose that he only came when he was good and ready.

That’s where the title of this post comes from. Two days ago, I bought string cheese at Costco. That day, I cut a portion of it up into little pieces. Then I put them in a baggie in my pocket and took Lukey out on a leash. We did our usual tour of the orchard, and he was bugging me to let him off the leash, which he does by trying to grab it. I took him into the wolf pen and threw the ball. He doesn’t play catch. He plays keep the ball away from the human. He hasn’t figured out that catch is more fun, at least for me. Then I started calling him to come, which I did a few times before we went into the pen when he was still on his leash. Every time he came, he got a piece of cheese, and trust me, he was trying to get that cheese.

When we left the wolf pen, we didn’t put his leash back on, and he barely left my side. He wanted cheese! I let him run around for a while, having him come several times, and finally I put his leash on and we went in.

I originally posted this article without this picture, because our internet service was out, and I had to post from my phone. This is Lukey looking for cheese.

Yesterday, we followed the same experiment, only this time he went a little farther away from me, but he always came back for the cheese. In fact, he stuck with me much more closely than he did when he was off leash before, when he has gone deep into the woods and even crawled under the neighbors’ fence (not a neighbor we know, either). In fact, this time he kept looking back to see if I was coming too. When it was time to go in, I said, “Let’s go into the house and have some cheese,” and he did. I didn’t have to put him back on the leash.

The only trouble with this experiment is that it was so much fun for him that after we came in, he was ringing the bell to go out within five minutes. I took him back out and worked in the garden for 45 minutes, pulling up what was left of my plants, taking down my plant supports, and raking. He wandered far enough away that I didn’t know where he was, but every time I called him, he came back.

This week are his last two puppy classes. We think he’ll be graduating.



Putting things away

Last week I ended up taking down the Christmas tree and putting away all of the decorations except the outside lights. They are dripping, and I am hoping to get a sunny day this weekend to take them down when they are dry. Even with a day on Monday that had little rain, they did not dry off.

After we took the Christmas tree out of the living room and swept up all the needles, we rearranged the furniture. My husband has started sitting in our Amish glider-style rocking chair instead of on the sectional, because he has difficulty getting up out of it. The only problem with that is that the glider was against the wall, and he had to move it into a walkway to see the TV. That would have been okay, but he refused to move it back again, so I was continually putting it back where it belonged. I decided to try to think of a furniture arrangement where the rocking chair would be permanently in a place where he could see things.

Our new living room arrangement. Before, both the rug and the sectional were pointing diagonally at the TV set and the rocking chair (off to the right) was against the wall by the wood stove.

I started out with one idea that didn’t work because of the size of our sectional and our living room rug. But then we settled for squaring off the sectional with the staircase instead of having it at an angle to the room. It really looks more spacious in the living room now, I think.

In art class, my glaze came out looking beautiful. I could not have predicted from the color it was last week how it would look this week, after it dried. I started out with a deep purple base, and last week painted over that with a brownish gray glaze. This week the entire background looked a warm gray, like it might on a blustery day. I spent the class painting in the branches surrounding the bird and painted the first layer of color on the bird. Next week, I think, I’ll be painting the needles on the branches.

Today, I’m blogging late because I took my husband to the dentist. The other night one of his crowns broke off, so we had to find a dentist fast. It looks like we found a good one. He has all sorts of high-tech equipment and was showing me how he was making a temporary bridge for my husband with a machine that is sort of like the opposite of a 3D printer. That is, it takes a block and carves it away electronically to the right shape for the bridge. I have already made an appointment with him for a check-up.

While my husband was at the dentist, I went and had my hair cut (I have gone from seeing a pricey stylist when I was working to just getting my hair trimmed at Great Clips) and then took my book for a crêpe and a latté at a  nice little café in town. Finally, I browsed for a while in the local used bookstore.

And that’s about it for today. I am rereading a book that I read when I was in my 20’s, and I am having quite a different reaction to it. It’s The Women’s Room by Marilyn French. At the time that I first read it, it made quite an impression on me, but now, although I think it is an important document for the times, I would not recommend it as good fiction. I’ll be discussing this on my other blog in April, for the 1977 Club.

First post of the new year

I am late posting today because we planned to go out earlyish to do a Costco run. My husband went back to bed at about 6 (he wakes up in the middle of the night and then sleeps again in the morning), though, and when I got up he was fairly unresponsive. So, I sat down and wrote up a book review of the book I finished reading last night for my other blog (review coming in a few months), and after a while, my husband got up. So, we went later than usual.

Oddly enough, the Costco here is packed at all times. We have found that they open it early, so if we get there before 10, we can go right in and it’s not as crowded. (That was our plan, but it didn’t work out.) I can’t really figure out why it is so full compared to the ones in Austin. My sister said because it is the only one serving a large area, but Vancouver isn’t nearly as big a town as Austin, even if you count the population of the small towns and countryside around it, and Austin had two Costcos serving more than a million people. So, population much more dense. The Vancouver store isn’t serving Portland, either, because they have two in Portland. My guess is that more people use Costco around here than in Austin, because the number of people with very large families is high (see my article concerning the Old Apostolic Lutherans in the area).  In our grocery store, for example, most of the meat is packaged for large families to accommodate them. So, I guess the OAL families are buying in bulk at Costco, too. I can think of lots of people I knew in Austin who said they didn’t shop at Costco because they didn’t have a large enough family.

That leads me to the big New Year’s Day sale they have around here. Last year when I saw it the first time, it really cracked me up. Every New Year’s Day, Fred Meyer, which is the local grocery store, has a sock sale. Yes, socks. It is packed. You don’t want to go anywhere near the Fred Meyer in Battle Ground on the day of the sock sale. I’m guessing that no one in the area buys socks any other day of the year. There are huge traffic jams on the two highways that run next to the store. This year, they completely rerouted the traffic going into and out of the store, and they finished it in time for the sale. I’m sure they had that goal in mind.

I really don’t have much news today. I am thinking about when to take down the Christmas tree. I’ve reflected that I no longer have to get it down on New Year’s weekend, which always seemed too early to me (although I know of people who take theirs down the day after Christmas), but was the weekend while I was working when I had enough time and was still able to make the deadline for when the city would pick up the tree. Of course, out here, we can get a permit to dispose of our tree, but last year we just cut it in half and threw it into the woods to decompose. It provides the birds a place to hide. So, maybe I’ll start this week, but it’s a relief not to have to be in a hurry. On the other hand, I remember that when  I was a kid, our family left our tree up sometimes until almost the end of January, and the whole time its needles were falling off onto the floor. Don’t want to wait that long.

On New Year’s Day we didn’t do anything except have a nice dinner, this year artichokes and lamb chops encrusted with garlic, herbs de Provence, and pepper. Long gone are the times when we had something to do on New Year’s Eve (although of course we did last year, because my brother came down from Seattle). As usual, we didn’t even make it up until midnight. On New Year’s Day, though, our neighbor stopped by with a tin of Christmas cookies. She is the neighbor I talked to about going walking sometime. We had left it that she would call me when her infected toe improved, but apparently she forgot that, because when we talked about it the other day, she said she thought she’d offended me because she hadn’t heard from me. (Actually, I asked her one day if she wanted to go to the Japanese greenhouse, so I guess she forgot that.) I thought I’d offended her because I didn’t hear from her. So, we were at cross purposes, and we’ll try again. Right now, she says she is a little depressed, so I’m waiting again to hear from her. But this time I will call her in about a week to see if she feels better. In any case, I’ve been much better about my own walking, most days managing a walk down to the end of the road and back. Just a mile, but it’s all the farther we can walk around here without getting killed trying to walk on the main road. If the neighbor and I go, we will drive to a nearby park and walk there.

I also helped my husband move a bunch of firewood from our driveway into a shed roof thing we have on our property. The problem with that is that I have wanted that thing removed ever since we moved here so that I can put raised beds there for gardening. It’s the only place near the house that gets full sun. So, if my niece and her husband ever make it over here to help us take it down, it’s going to be loaded with firewood and other things. (This is what happens when you live with a hoarder. He fills everything up.)

We thought my brother and his family were coming down sometime last week, but when I called him, they weren’t planning to come. They said we’d see them in the spring. They only live about three hours away in Seattle (well, it’s usually more like four or five hours, the traffic being so bad), so we should go visit them sometime. I don’t think my husband wants to drive in the traffic. Maybe my Portland friend would be interested in taking a day trip sometime.

We also heard from a friend in Houston. She said she wanted to see how we were doing in the cold. Well, I hated to tell her, but lately it’s been colder in Houston than it has been here. There is a high pressure system sitting on top of the Pacific Northwest, and it’s been there ever since winter started. It’s kept us warmer than usual, which was why we had our snow so late and it went away so fast. Just about the entire rest of the country is freezing its butt off (including in Michigan, where another friend had to drive home from Christmas at her daughter’s house through a blizzard), but here it’s in the 40’s and even the 50’s during the day. Maybe we’ll get some more real winter later. At least we had our Christmas snow!

No pictures for you today, but speaking of pictures, last night in art class I learned how to make a glaze. I showed you the painting I am working on, just the purple background around what is going to be a bird, a couple of weeks ago. Last night, we made this brownish gray glaze and painted over the background, darkening it and lightening it in places. The color is really beautiful. I guess next week I get to start working on my bird.

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!



Will it snow for Christmas?

This is the question everyone in my family is asking. Although practically the whole rest of the country has had some snow by now, including good old Austin, where it hardly ever snowed the 20 years I lived there, we have had none. Last year, it had been snowing since shortly after Thanksgiving by now. Of course, last year was an unusual winter for snow. We had lots more of it than normal.

I’ve been checking the forecast regularly, and they keep changing their mind. About a week ago, they were forecasting snow for today and Friday. The next day, no snow was forecast, the next day snow on Friday, and so on. Yesterday, no snow was forecast for the next 10 days. Today, snow is forecast for Friday, possibly Sunday, Tuesday, and possibly Friday again. So, we just might have a little snow on the ground on Monday (although it’s supposed to rain). We all wish for it except my husband.

My poor niece spent weeks preparing her house and cooking food for her big family Christmas dinner with her husband’s family, supposed to take place last Sunday. But the immediate family got sick with the flu. The only person in the house who escaped was my sister. So, my niece’s mother-in-law was picking up all the food that my niece prepared on Sunday to take over to her house. My niece and her family were disappointed, but they didn’t want to spread the germs.

We finished our Christmas decorations this week. The last thing that remained to do was for my husband to hook up an extension cord to some lights that have been strung on a tree out in the yard since before we bought the house. We had no idea they worked, but our tenant told us they did, so he lit them up last night.

Other than that, nothing significant is going on except at art class. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I switched classes after my sister quit art class so that I could get back my original art teacher, Sarah. But Sarah is clearly pregnant, and I asked her about her plans for taking time off from work. She is working through January. At first she told me she was coming back in a couple of months, but now she’s not planning on coming back for five or six months.

We discussed what I could do in the meantime if my last teacher was given her classes to cover. If it’s another teacher, I will try her out, but otherwise, I would rather get someone else. Sarah suggested taking a break while she is gone, but that was before she planned to be out so long. She also said I might have trouble getting back into the 4:15 Tuesday class. That doesn’t matter to me, though. If my sister decides to start back, I’ll have to change classes to one that is later on Tuesday or on Thursday anyway.

Here is the background of my bird. I learned how to shade for lighter and darker last night. I took this picture before I finished, so the blob by the twig at the bottom center looks different now.

So, for now, we’re waiting to see who substitutes for Sarah. I ran into another lady who was in my original class with her last night, because Sarah asked me to stay late for the next class. I was finally painting a picture, and she wanted me to finish painting the background while the paint was wet. So, I stayed for the class and saw this other lady. She originally quit our last class when Sarah stopped teaching it, so she was concerned about the same thing as I was. We got recommendations from Sarah about who would be a good teacher to move to temporarily in the art school.

And here is a photo of the background of my picture. I learned how to do the shading of the beautiful shade of purple we mixed.

The nightmare before Christmas

I am posting late this morning because I had to take our car into Vancouver this morning for routine maintenance. My husband said he couldn’t go because he was expecting a delivery of firewood. When I got home, he said the firewood was being delivered tomorrow. Senior moment? It’s hard to tell.

This week I learned how much more difficult it can be to get ready for Christmas if you’re out in the country. You know how it is. You start decorating and that’s when you find out you need something. When I lived in Austin, I could just run down to the corner drugstore to get replacement lights, for example. Here, it’s a 20-minute drive to town with no guarantee that you’ll find what you’re looking for.

My decorating started relatively painlessly on Thursday when I put up some of the outside lights on the back deck. Although we had plenty of lights already, my husband had bought some fancy ones that change color and can blink or not blink, so I started out by helping him put his up, then I put up the ones I used last year on the other side of the deck. I just bought a couple of strings last year of pseudo-antique ceramic bulbs and found that about six of them needed to be replaced. More on that later.

The next day, my sister went with us to get a Christmas tree. Or rather, she took us, because she drove and borrowed her son-in-law’s trailer. The U-cut near our house has closed up and the one we were planning to visit this year took its sign down early. I think maybe some of these guys sell enough trees to make their profit and then stop. So, we weren’t quite sure where we were going. We finally decided on a large U-cut fairly far from our house. But when we got there, we saw that they had severely trimmed all their trees to look like perfect cones. I thought they looked bizarre. They were also about twice as expensive, or more, than they were elsewhere. We went back to a smaller U-cut we had passed on the way.

Last year was the first time I ever got a tree at a U-cut and while the tree was being cut, I went off to ask to use the people’s bathroom. I am only saying that because I had no idea that my niece’s husband had had to lay down in the snow to cut the trees with a hand saw. Okay, now picture us, no snow but three geezers. My husband is five years older than I am and has trouble with his knees. I am heavy and also have trouble with my knees. My sister, bless her heart, threw herself down on the ground and began to cut. She is six years younger than I am, but she is also heavy and had her knee replaced last year. She did a good job but had to get up after a while, at which time my husband tried it. I could tell just by the sound of the sawing that he was not using his muscles at all. It was probably the difficult position. I kept saying I would try it, and he kept telling me I wouldn’t be able to get down there. Finally, my sister came back and finished the job. That poor woman. I told the younger generation that next year it would be the tree lot for us, at which point my niece’s husband said he would take us next year as long as he wasn’t sick. He’s a sweetheart, but he hasn’t been feeling well. We took my sister out for prime rib the next night to thank her. I felt totally guilty, because I didn’t have to do anything except help drag the tree.

When we got home, we put the tree in the stand. That is an understatement. It was a noble fir, and they are heavy. It’s not as tall as the one we had last year but very fat and solid. My husband tends to get aggravated easily at Christmas, since he has no interest in it, so after we got it in the stand, even though it was tilted at about a 20 degree angle, he said, “If you want to straighten it, do it yourself.” Of course, it’s impossible to straighten a large tree by yourself. You have to have one person pulling it into position while the other person adjusts the screws. My sister came over the next night and helped me with it, but it is still tilted, just not as badly.

Getting the tree was tough, but that’s just part of the story. On Saturday morning, I took my niece to tae kwon do. Afterwards, I made a quick trip to the hardware store in town, innocently thinking it would be easy to get what I needed, replacement bulbs. They didn’t have any. Can you imagine? I just bought these lights from them last year, and they already don’t have replacement bulbs for those strings. In fact, I have been quite a few places since then, and I can say that no one has them.

This got worse. When I started trimming my tree later Saturday morning, the first thing I found out was that one of my strings of white lights didn’t work at all. The fuse was out, but we couldn’t get it to work even after replacing it. I am a little anal about my tree. I first cover it in white lights, then I start again at the bottom and do colored ones. I don’t put any ornaments on until the lights are on, so I was stalled.

In the afternoon, I went over to my niece’s house to help decorate cookies. This wasn’t as fun as it was the year before, when the entire family did it together. First, my niece wanted to wait until her friend arrived. She had told me to come at 1 PM, and it was 2 before we got a text from the friend saying she had just left the house. So, we got started. My sister and my niece were decorating cookies for some school events, and they said they had to be identical or the kids would fight over them. So, they were working sort of assembly line style on a whole bunch of identical cookies at once. My great niece and I were doing the other ones. That went well until the friend dropped her daughter off instead of coming in to help. The two little girls got into a competition with each other about who could put the most junk on her cookie, so that by the time I had finished a couple of dozen cookies, they had only done three apiece.

In the meantime, my niece and sister finished their assembly line cookies and just stopped working. Then the friend came back and showed no inclination to decorate cookies, but took a cup of tea and began talking to my niece. I started to wonder how I got landed decorating cookies with a couple of nine-year-olds, so having filled up my tray with decorated cookies, I quit. My sister started to protest that there were still some cookies to do (only about six), and I said, “I’ve done enough.” Maybe I was being Grinchy, but I remembered too many times as the oldest girl in the family when my brothers and sisters begged me to bake Christmas cookies. I would say, “Okay, but you have to stay here and help me decorate them.” They would always agree, and then they would do a couple of cookies apiece and disappear. I would get stuck decorating dozens of cookies all by myself, which is not fun.

I had to run into town to try to find C6 LED white lights and a wreath holder. My sister decided to go with me because she was trying to find eight red bows to hang on the fence on the way to the house. She and my great niece had already done a great job putting ornaments and bows on the trees in the yard. It looked really pretty, all of them red, gold, or silver. I think I might do something like that in my orchard next year if I can find some inexpensive but nice looking ornaments. My niece is getting ready for a huge family dinner next weekend for her husband’s very large extended family. We are invited to “drop by,” but we won’t go, I’m sure. We only know a couple of members of the family, and this is precisely the type of situation that makes us feel uncomfortable. We are introverts.

At the hardware store, I got the last package of C6 white lights, but they didn’t have a wreath holder. They said they were out. It’s more than two weeks before Christmas and the local stores are no longer stocking Christmas stuff. I took my sister a few places looking for bows. No bows but a wreath holder, much chintzier than the one I had, at the Fred Meyer.

We got home. Who knew that now the LED lights come in more than one kind of white? I plugged them in and they were warm white. They looked ridiculous with my bright white lights. Then I went to hang my wreath. Guess what? My wreath hanger was for an interior door, not an exterior one. It of course did not say this on the package, but I defy anyone to fit that wreath hanger on an exterior door. So, I went to bed with my tree in the same state.

The next morning, early, my husband and I went to Home Depot, where we found what we thought was the last string of C6 white lights in town. This one was fancy, it could blink or not blink, had a controller, so it cost more. My husband found this string, so I did not check the color, but he knew the problem with the other string. I guess you can already tell what’s coming. Still no wreath holder. I got back into the car and said to my husband that I was sure the Michael’s would have a wreath holder. This store is another 10 or 15 minutes away (the Home Depot is 40 minutes away from our house, in Vancouver), but we went there and found a wreath holder, actually lots of them, and they were plainly of better quality and designed to fit on an exterior door. We also found red bows for my sister.

After having a nice breakfast out, we went back all satisfied with ourselves, dropped the bows off, and came home. I plugged in the new lights. You guessed it, warm white again. I put the lights back in the box with the receipt and got back into the car and drove right back to town, where I went to the dreaded Walmart. I hate to shop there, because I don’t like their policies. But I finally found what actually was the last string of C6 LED bright white lights in town. They are oddly shaped, smaller than my other C6’s and pointy tipped instead of rounded, but by then I just wanted to finish my tree.

Hah! I got to the colored lights. I had two strings from the year before that had no working blue lights. I’m not sure why it would be, but even though we know all the lights are white with just a colored bulb covering around them, for some reason on all my strings, the blues burn out first and then the greens. All of these LED lights are oldish, not the kind where you can replace the bulb. So, I had one very long string of lights and two shorter ones that I was planning to use without using the two strings that had no blues. However, just like the white lights, one string would not light even after my husband replaced the fuse. At this point, I decided to heck with it and distributed the working strings to cover the tree. Next year I plan to replace all my colored lights, because on my working strings about every third bulb is burned out. However, they still look okay.

Here is my tilty Crhistmas tree, still without its top. This year we can’t put it by the window because the wood-burning stove is there now. But it looks nice next to the staircase.

I finally got to the ornaments on Monday morning. No problems there, just a few broken ornaments from sheer clumsiness. I still haven’t put out all my decorations through the house, but my tree is done except for the topper. I need my husband to cut off part of the treetop (we forgot to do it when it was on the ground) and then put my Santa on top. It is too high for me to reach.

This is a very long article just to be about decorating the tree. I hope your Christmas decorating goes more smoothly!


Trees, Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas concert, and art

I realized that last week I forgot to talk about trees. Several months ago, we joined the Arbor Day Foundation, whose mission is to encourage people to plant more trees. Around here, we go out and see more and more logged lots every month, so planting trees seems like a good idea. With a donation, you have the choice of either receiving a bunch of trees to plant or telling them to plant them for you. Since we had very little spring color on our property last year, just a couple of apple and cherry trees, and all white, I decided that we needed the trees. All that was specified was that we would receive ten flowering trees and two crepe myrtles.

We received these trees the week before last, so last week, we set about planting them. We actually received five white flowering dogwoods, five redbuds, and the two crepe myrtles, all very small plugs. We planted all of them along the edges of the orchard in places where I thought they would be least likely to get mown over by my husband. Then we went around and stuck stakes in the ground next to each one (the trees themselves just look like sticks right now) to make it more noticeable for my husband. I still have not replaced the lilac bush that my husband mowed down, because I’m waiting for a landscaping box to put it in.

My Friday Thanksgiving dinner went well. I made Russian wild mushroom and cheese soup, turkey, green bean casserole (my husband’s favorite), squash casserole, stuffing, and gravy. My niece brought a raspberry pie. Only the mashed potatoes were a problem. I had bought a bag of Yukon golds a couple of weeks ago, but when I removed them from the drawer, they were a bag of liquid, leaving behind a puddle of goo that was 1/4 inch thick. It was disgusting. The only potatoes that escaped the devastation were the three older ones that were in the drawer by themselves. I never buy potatoes by the bag, so this will teach me. Neither my niece or my sister had potatoes, so we were forced to put the gravy on our meat and stuffing. Not exactly a disaster. My sister told me afterwards that my niece remarked what a treat it was to eat a holiday dinner that she didn’t have to cook herself.

Of course, that meant that Friday was a busy one for me. In fact, I was so tired afterwards that I was lying on the couch feeling like something was pressing me downwards. But Saturday was busy, too. We took my great niece to her new yellow stripe belt class first thing in the morning. This was our first class to take her to since she belt tested, because the day after the belt test she was sick. Unfortunately, they were closed. If they told people ahead of time that they were going to be closed, they certainly didn’t put it on their web site or anything. My niece was already mad at them, because they posted the wrong class schedule on their site, so that my great niece missed her Tuesday class because she went at the wrong time. So she hasn’t attended class since the belt test.

After we got back from the non-class, I had just about enough time to finish the hand wash from Friday before my sister came to pick us up for the Christmas concert. This was a concert with the Portland Orchestra and Choir. My niece’s husband’s stepfather is in the choir. We went with my sister, my great niece, and my great niece’s other grandmother (in case, you didn’t follow that, my niece’s husband’s mother). The concert was very nice, with traditional and not so traditional Christmas songs. A particularly nice touch was the inclusion of the Bells of the Cascades. I always like to do at least one Christmassy thing before Christmas. In past years, that has been difficult, because my husband is not into it, but the Christmas spirit has captured my niece big time (she used to dislike it, before she had kids), so it is no longer a problem. After the concert, we met all my niece’s husband, his brother, and my great nephew for dinner.

Here is my color exercise, with its much too blue sky. Each petal is a slightly different color.

In art class, I finally finished the second color exercise, a simple picture of some flowers. As I mentioned before, my last teacher had misunderstood the intention of the exercise, which was to match the colors on a sample, so, my sky was much too blue. When I went back to my original teacher, I fixed the rest of the picture, but it was too late to change the color of the sky. I also found out that I had missed another color exercise that was supposed to come before this one, so next week I’ll start on that.

This weekend we have another Christmas experience coming up. I’ll tell you all about it next time.