Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Westby Iditarod

It snowed all last night, and once again I awoke to a beautiful winter scene that filled me with inspiration. As I looked out on the pristine, new-fallen snow, my thoughts drifted naturally in one direction.

Dog Sledding.

See, if you hold the leashes of Hannah and Jackie and let Finley run free, they pull you quite enthusiastically. So I thought if I added a sled into the mix, fun things might happen.

I grabbed a sled while I was over at Noni's this morning, came back and got the gaggle of girls into their winter gear (Laura is home for Thanksgiving break), and went outside. Of course with something so unpredictable and potentially dangerous, I had to try it first, so I gingerly sat down in the icy sled, held the leashes, and gave the order to release Finley.

The 2 dogs gave one giant lunge forward.

And then stopped, because Mom has spent the last month teaching them not to tug on their leashes. Hmmmmmm. This time I tried it with the girls pulling, too. Worked great except Hannah kept stopping and getting her butt run over by the sled, and Finley ran in large circles around us, so wherever Finely was at the moment was the direction the dogs wanted to face.

The girls each got a turn as we worked our way up the little hill on my mom's road. Then it was my turn again before we headed back inside to let the sled dogs warm their little paws. If that happened right at the top of the hill so I got the best ride of anyone all the way down, well, sometimes these little coincidences happen. They don't mean anything significant.

It was great fun, but Mom has at least temporarily forbidden any further Iditarod training for the poochies. Some muttered comments about broken necks and shattered elbows. The dogs are sad they'll never be able to realize their full potential and chase their dreams.

The END (also known as my frostbitten butt after sitting on that icy sled in thin knit pants)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thrift Store Pillage and Plunder

What better way to spend a cold, snowy evening than playing dress-up with my latest thrift store bounty! I'm sure Noni could think of at least one better way in her opinion, since she wanted me to attend the choir performance she was accompanying. Hey, I had to do laundry, and if I did tried on a few clothes while the washer was going, I don't see a problem with that....

Last Friday I got to go to the thrift store in Plentywood. It's a wonderful place where they have "Fill a bag for $4" everyday. And let me tell you, I can stuff quite a lot into a paper bag! I was specifically looking for warm things to add to the winter survival conglomeration I'm putting together for my van. I found a few things for that...and a few other things, too.

My list of booty for the day ran like this: For the grand total of $34 I got.....

2 vintage jackets
1 pr. snow overalls
5 skirts
2 winter coats
2 shirts
2 sweatshirts
2 pr. gloves
3 ear covers
2 earmuffs
2 pr. sweatpants
2 winter hats
4 pr. socks
4 pr. snow boots
1 pr. khaki pants
1 sewing basket
Vintage picture in frame
1 corduroy sport coat
1 fleece jacket
4 winter vests

And a partridge in a pear treeeeeeeeeeeeee!

I wanted to get ugly enough things for my winter survival kit that I wouldn't be tempted to take them out, use them, and forget to put them back. I think I succeeded in the nondescript vests and rockin' 90's jacket. The snow overalls that I got turned out to be a little too small...more along the lines of a skin-tight cat suit than frumpy snow clothes (frumpy cat suit, perhaps?). I'm more likely to die of asphyxiation than hypothermia wearing those puppies! I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for something more size-appropriate, believe me!

Devon was kind enough to help model a few of my purchases, since his alternative was doing homework. He was also a willing, but not quite able, photographer when I tried on a few of my new clothes, so please pardon my appearance. It's hard to achieve a glamorous 'model face' when you're giving hissed instructions to a 9 year old. "The camera's crooked, push the button, are you pushing the button, hold it up straight, come on, Devon, hurry up.....etc."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Winter Wonderland

We had another snow storm in the middle of last week. It was a kinder, gentler snow storm this time, one that didn't involve no-travel advisories. The snow was wetter, the weather warmer (though as Noni pointed out, we'd still have been toastier in the average refrigerator than outside), and the new-fallen snow was just beautiful.

I'm still enough of a winter novice that I can face the charm of snow with poetic fervor and not the hacking and cursing that most natives produce when confronted with yet ANOTHER snow storm. It really is pretty, and the last two days have added a new facet to my experiences with this year's debut of freezing fog, or frizzle as it is called locally.

Frizzle occurs when it is cold. Really cold. And foggy. Really foggy. The fog freezes on everything it touches, coating the most mundane objects with a delicate dusting of crystal. The fog has no other socially redeeming characteristics than this, because when all's said and done, Montana fog is just as dreary as California fog, only 40+ degrees colder. But, oh, the things it can do.....

The picture at the top of the blog was the sunrise that greeted me Wednesday morning as I left for work. I wished so much that I had time to poke around Grenora a little and capture the scenes of freshly fallen snow, but time and work wait for no man or popsicle, so I contented myself with a few quickly grabbed shots as I drove out of town.

Since Noni was along when I took one of my pictures, I can offer a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of my blog. She was exacting revenge on me because I took a picture of her taking her Tree-of-the-Month picture. Then when I sank knee deep in the snow, she felt it was a good time to take the motto 'turn-about is fair play', and take this picture of me, covered, nearly up to my ham hocks, with "winter wonderland".

The rest of the pictures were taken this weekend up in or near Westby.

And finally, a view of the whole town of Westby as you come into it from North Dakota. Looks chilly!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dyeing for New Clothes

I have been haunting the local thrift shops for new items that match the dress code at work. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a huge selection of dark blue shirts and/or brown/khaki pants. At least not when I got there.

I had purchased a few blue shirts and some khaki pants in California 'just in case', and I've been able to find a few more, but my goal is to have enough of everything that I don't have to do laundry in the middle of the week. I'm getting closer to that goal, but have not reached it yet.

This isn't out of any laziness; it's just practical expediency. Since I don't have laundry facilities and can only do laundry twice a week, it doesn't take a "rocket surgeon" to figure out that if something went wrong (say a really, REALLY bad blizzard) to disrupt my opportunities, I might run out prematurely.

Of course a number of the things I've gotten need some altering to fit me, and the tailer fairy hasn't gotten them done yet. There's some sort of high-pitched tailer fairy whining about "moving", "unpacking", "Grandpa", "more to do than I can possibly get done, and you want me to SEW. But that's just how tailer fairies are... temperamental.

In light of all these facts, I was driven to a desperate choice. For the first time in my life, I was going to dye. It was actually quite fun, dying. The puns where hilarious, particularly since I dyed late on a Saturday night, and everything is hilarious when you're tired.

For those of you who like me have led a sheltered existence, where dyeing was merely mentioned and not something you personally experienced, I decided to blog about it. It turned out to be surprisingly easy, and I have already dyed again since then.

The first thing you do to dye is read, read, and reread the directions. You have two techniques to choose from. The washer method and the sink method. The sink method involves someone stirring the clothes non-stop for a half an hour, and since no children could be persuaded that sounded like fun, I went with the washer method.

The tools of the trade are a bottle of dye, a cup of salt to help the dye 'take' better, and some kind of metal stirring device. Stirring with your hands is not recommended unless you are going as a character from Avatar on Halloween. I've never done Halloween, so there was no need for me to experiment.
The next step is to fill the washer with water, and while it is filling, you thoroughly wet the clothes so the dye will soak into them at an equal rate.

After the clothes are wet and ready to go in, you pour in the dye and the salt, making sure to dissolve and mix things well. In case you are wondering why the water is yellow before I add anything, that is the natural color of the local rust. We don't have many white clothes around these least we don't for long!Then it is time to add the clothes. They are supposed to agitate for 30 minutes. You will have to reset the agitation cycle on your washer to make it long enough, but you will have your own personal agitation cycle upon finding out you missed the right moment and all of your dye has gone down the drain after about 5 minutes.
I quickly filled it up with water, hoping there was still enough dye on the clothes to do some good, and indeed, it seems there was. After agitating long enough, rinsing, doing a normal wash cycle with detergent, and being dried, there was a noticeable difference in the colors of at least some of them. And the others aren't ruined, so I count my first dyeing experience a reasonable success.

I don't know why my 'before' picture insists on being sideways, but it does.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Doggy Paradise

If Finley could ever remember his passwords, he would blog and tell about his experiences himself. Since he can't, I'll give you a brief glimpse into his experiences acclimating to a new way of life. Finley was born in a city. He lived his next 6 years in the "country", but it was a country with yards, fences and leash laws. He ran away every time he was off the leash, so he hardly ever got to run free.

Then we moved out here. At first, Finley was filled with trepidation at the drastic changes. Winter sounded fierce (and still does...nothing's changed there!), and he didn't like the idea of leaving his comfortable home and food dish to bunk with his Cousin Clancy for the summer.

Once out here, Finley quickly found there were some VERY nice benefits to living out in the prairie wilderness. He got to run loose on his aunt and uncle's property, go for bike rides with me, and best of all, make regular forays out onto the prairie and run to his heart's content.

Along the way he discovered his heritage as a bird dog. Unfortunately, his skill is not commensurate with his enthusiasm. Hunting for him usually consists of sniffing passionately amongst the grasses where moments before, birds had been. Now they were thundering across the fields, but he never noticed, being too busy scenting them. Point!

After the Great Blizzard of October 2010, we took the dogs out to another one of their favorite spots. An old house sits alongside a country road, empty, but still well-maintained by someone. Old barns dot the yard, and old, rusting pieces of machinery are sitting there for lack of a better thing to do. The dogs love to run around sniffing, since all the empty houses seem a winter haven for all sorts of wild creatures. Goodness knows, there's not much else for shelter around here! And the dogs get especially excited after a snow fall, which seems to hold the scent better.

We saw a big ol' raccoon in the house. John surprised the raccoon...and walking in on him. I guess he spends the winter there, because the next day we could still see him through the windows. And no, he wasn't in the same spot and position, he was moving. We also saw a hawk and an owl flying around, clearly annoyed to have their privacy invaded by rowdy, yapping interlopers.

I enjoy the chance to see our dogs so happy (because of course I take my mom's and my sister's when I can), and I like to explore and see all the cool old things. If you know me at all, you know I like old stuff, and I've moved to the Motherload of old stuff! If anyone likes to renovate old cars, this is the country for you. People have the coolest classic cars just sitting there rusting in their yards. This particular farm yard also has several vintage children's wagons and an old flour mill in varying stages of decay.

My mom and I spent a nice Sabbath afternoon walk there last week, so here are a few pictures from our adventures.

Mom wasn't too enthusiastic about posing for me, but she looks so cute there in the snow! Hannah and Jackie kept eating the snow when they weren't pouncing through it; I guess they thought it was a really bland snow cone. It really is great fun to see California dogs play in the snow! Now the snow is almost gone, after a week of warm weather. But not to worry, I've heard there's more where that came from.

The Blustering, Billowing Blizzard

The Grenora City Hall officials had left a notice on all the trailer doors reminding the residents that they needed to have their trailers winterized by the first hard freeze or the city would turn off the water to prevent damage to their own equipment. That was earlier in October, and my dad was still in California. He was confident that he'd be out in time to take care of things before it got bad. And he was. Sort of.

My dad arrived from California on Thursday. John got back from Mount Ellis on Friday. The storm arrived on Tuesday. Sunday was spent in manful bonding around the trailer. Progress was made. Not enough. Monday it began to rain. The after school hours were spent the same way, and further progress was made. We were getting somewhere. But we had not arrived. Tuesday afternoon the rain turned to wind-blown snow. And at last, sometime that afternoon, surrounded by the burgeoning blizzard, the underneath of my trailer was at last winterized.

Tuesday night is my night to go up to Westby for friends, family, and most importantly, showers and laundry. No piddling little blizzard was going to prevent that. No, sir! Driving the 20-some miles of open prairie in between Grenora and Westby was a fun introduction to winter driving for this California bred and born girl. But by going slowly and watching the edges of the road....and by assuming there would be no on-coming traffic because who would be stupid enough to be out on a night like that...we made it up to Westby and the warm welcome of the family home.

I hurried as fast as I could to do showers and laundry, but it was still a couple hours before I was ready to leave. There was a "No Travel" warning for our area and Jack was advising staying the night because he had barely been able to see to get home. You weren't supposed to travel unless it was an emergency, and then you were supposed to have emergency winter gear. I had neither gear nor emergency, but as a sop to safety, I threw a small sleeping bag into the van before John and I started out.

We nearly ran off the road before I even left town. That would have been humiliating! I couldn't really see in front of me. If I looked directly ahead, all I could see was vague shapes of rapidly swirling snow. But I could see the edges of the road through my peripheral vision. Only right there, there was a road that joined the one I was on and my edges suddenly disappeared. Thankfully, I was going slow enough that the few feet of grass and ditch I could see ahead of me was enough space for me to swerve back onto the road. After that, the going was much easier, although I have NEVER driven a more wearing and lengthy trip between the two towns. I was sooooooo glad when we arrived safely in town. No lurid "Stupid Californians Die in First North Dakotan Blzzard" headlines for tomorrow's paper!

As we went into the trailer, I could clearly see that the trailer was casting a snow shadow in the grass; where the trailer was blocking the wind had noticeably less snow than the rest of the grass. I decided to move my van into that shadow so it would be less likely to be snowed in in the morning. Then we settled in for a long night of heaters and harsh snow peppering the trailer's metal shell.

Morning's light revealed a harsh truth. Snow changes the rules in the middle of the game. Whereas the night before, the trailer was sheltering a small spot, now I saw that the night's wind had blown the rest of the grass virtually free of snow. Only in the sheltered spots behind all the trailers had snow been able to accumulate, and accumulate it had! It was with some foreboding that I opened my door, straining to hold it against the wind, and headed to the car to got to work. To my relief, I saw that my two foot tall drift started, oh, about 12 inches from my van tires. I was very thankful to my noble angels who spent the night shielding my van with their wings so my ignorance wouldn't result in an unusable vehicle. Because, of course, I didn't have a snow shovel yet.

Here are some pictures of what I saw that morning as I left the house. They were taken in haste, because the temperature was hovering in the 'teens, with a wind-chill of minus 50,000.

Then it was time for my first adventure in post-blizzard roads. Well, it was still a little blizzardy, but I could see the road most of the time. The roads weren't really bad until I got closer to Williston. I did get to experience something Noni had described to me over the phone last winter. She called it 'rivers of snow flowing across the road'. I never succeeded in capturing a good image of it, but it is very unique looking. You'll come to spots where the wind blows the fine powder across the road in unending rivulets of white. Very pretty to look at, but as a driver, you do stop to ponder if the pretty white stuff covers not so pretty ice patches waiting to snatch up your vehicle and hurl it into the ditch to be covered by snow and found in the spring and maybe they put up a little monument to remember you by. At least I pondered it. Quite a bit.

I didn't so much merge onto the four lane highway as I slid sideways onto it, having just experienced my first major patch of ice. Then it was over the hills to Williston and the discovery that the roads in town were solid sheets of ice. As I came down the straight stretch towards Walmart, the car ahead of me began to brake preparatory to turning. I lightly, oh so lightly, caressed my brakes, and began to slide all over the road. It was SO embarrassing! I have got to get the California plates off my car so people will stop saying, "Stupid California driver, doesn't know how to drive in the snow!" and start saying, "Stupid driver, doesn't know how to drive in the snow!" I'm sure you can see the difference.

I hear that we are expecting a big storm in the next week or so. I'm definitely better prepared this time, both in my now-vast experience, and in the further weatherizing of my little abode. "My" next task is to winterize my car. My dad should be getting here sometime next week. Perhaps he'd like to volunteer.....

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Long Way Home

Last weekend was Laura's first home leave that she actually came home for. The first one happened while I was in California so she went home with a friend. I had naively supposed the home leaves to be voluntary---you went home if you could, but if not, you could hang out at the dorm. Not so. There would be no sad little Ebenezer Scrooge in the boarding schools of today. You are out of there by 5:00 Thursday evening, and you'd better not get back until Sunday evening.

My mom went and picked Laura up in my van while I was at work on Thursday. That was an adventure in itself, since she took the loooooooooong way home and got lost besides. I wasn't picked up until nearly 11:30. By that time, poor mom was only a fragile shell of her former self after 13 hours of childish nattering, pooch wrangling, and brave exploration of little known and seldom used routes.

Meanwhile, John was on a bus, traveling home from Bozeman. He was able to spend the night at some very kind people's house in Glendive, so the next morning Laura and I headed down to pick him up. It was a lovely fall day. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, so we stopped at the Missouri River access on the way back for a puppy potty break and some scenery.

On Sabbath, we took the dogs to one of their favorite places for a romp. It's a place just outside of town where random piles of dirt and gravel have been heaped up. I don't know why, but I trust that at some point there was a reason for doing so. Now the handy piles of dirt are used for target practice, or on the odd days, doggy exercise courses. The dogs (and the kids) like to run up and down the hills. It does my stationary heart good to see them using up that much energy while I stroll below, or perhaps sit in the car if it's nippy. An added bonus is the train section sitting abandoned on the tracks just down the little valley. It's a neat place for pictures and a fun place to climb and explore.

Then Sunday, it was back to work for me, for Laura it was back to the salt mines of boarding school, and for John, working on winterizing the trailer and school at the local high school. They got it done just in time, too, since 2 days later we were having our first blizzard of the season. But more on that later!