Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Winter Fun

Some people might assume that people in North Dakota do nothing but sit inside, quilt, and catch up on their reading during the winter. Maybe order seeds from the catalog, drooling over pictures of summer plunder. I have to confess, there are elements of that picture that appeal to me, but as long as I have cabin-fevered adolescents under my roof, I am forced to get off my duff and go out into winter out of sheer self-defense.

I had planned on getting a snow mobile this winter (or at least snow shoes...whichever I could afford!), but it's a good thing I didn't scrimp and save for the purchase because there is no snow to mobile on. Every time we get a light dusting the weather warms up, melts the snow, and we have to start all over.

Last week we had managed to accumulate just enough to make sledding possible down one of the steepest hills in town. (You understand that's a relative designation!) The temps weren't that cold---in the 20's---but it was near sunset and the wind was a little past brisk and on into the freeze-valuable-body-parts-off zone. Still, such was our desperation that we managed to get several runs in before we had to call it quits.

I didn't allow snow boarding on the road because there was no cushion in case of falls except a thin layer of treacherous ice, but there was a little bit of snow on the edge of the road. If you stood on the board and did sort of a tap dance (heel, toe, heel, toe) you could propel it down the slope. As you can see, I totally rocked it.

After a few minutes, even the hardiest of us (read Devon, the boy with no discernible nerve function) had to make a dash for shelter. Of course shelter was yelling at them to get their rears up there while shelter drove off, but I'm sure that had nothing to do with it.

But that's not all we've been doing for fun. Oh, no. Why, the other night we had an exciting occurrence not possible while we lived in California---we got to see the Northern Lights. I love Northern Lights! Have for years, and I was always bitter that they didn't come visit sunny California. But now, once or twice a year, I get some in my own back yard.

Of course, it's not the most fancy of the varieties; you have to go further north for those. And the colors aren't as varied; I've only seen green so far, but as you can see, I still managed to get a reasonably decent shot.

Ha, ha. Just kidding. That was taken by somebody up in Alaska, but mine is interesting too, don't you think?

I found it very educational that if you are too cold and lazy to get out your tripod and if you don't know how to set a time exposure on your new camera, you can still get some beautiful shots of your frozen breath. (The aurora is right behind the mist cloud---isn't it beautiful?)

Alas, almost all of our snow is melted now. We had another warm spell where the temperatures got up to 50 degrees. That was the day we were in Plentywood and decided to see if the outdoor ice skating spot was usable. Before you laugh too hard, I didn't hold much hope, but thought it would be interesting to see what a skating rink was like at 50 degrees.

Muddy. It is muddy. Caleb, who approaches life with a lot more energy than my cautious self does, was several paces ahead of me and had a lot more momentum when we started to sink. The ice may have been fine, but the dirt around it was problematic to say the least. I backtracked out without getting any over the tops of my boots, but Caleb's white tennis shoes were not so lucky. I did get my workout though. Laughter is very good exercise.

It has gotten a little colder since then; no snow, but the ice has firmed back up well enough that I felt it was a good time to complete another one of my personal goals. I wanted to skate across the place where the road is flooded. Lest you think me totally insane, I had walked the whole distance in the summer and knew that it only came up to my waist at the most. If you stayed on the road---there were no promises on either side. And I took precautions. Caleb and I both carried inner tubes.

The ice was very sound, but it was a little disconcerting to see the white, thick ice turn dark and forbidding on each side of our narrow path. Sort of like crossing the Red Sea, but a lot colder. The skating was a little tough, too, because the ice had waves still frozen in it. My mom was so unkind as to comment afterward, "You seemed to spend a lot of time crawling during the skating part. What was up with that?" Sigh. Crawling was my secret strategy so I wouldn't stress the ice with too much speed. Obviously.

It was fun, but one member of our party most definitely did NOT approve. Finley spent the whole time in the van howling. I didn't want him to run out onto the untested part of the ice and fall through, so he had to suffer in safety. He did not suffer quietly. When my mom came back to the van, his side of the window was all fogged up from the frenzied yodeling.

All in all, it was a very satisfying experience. I can't wait to see what other joyful things winter may hold. ( I still want to try ice sailing....)

From this....

To this....

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Grow a Beard

Well, it's finally happened. Winter figured out that it's running several months behind; now it's in a hurry to catch up! To think that only two weeks ago we were lounging around in 40 degree weather. Today it is -14 (feels like -40), dropping to a low tonight of -22.

As you can imagine, these kind of temperatures can make a house feel a tad chilly. Especially one that's built over an ice skating rink. Before the ground froze for the winter, the fall rains raised the water table sufficiently that it flooded back under my house again. And then it froze. Some houses have heated floors--I have a basement iceberg to keep my floors chilly in spite of the best my heaters can do.

It all got to be too much, and the day before the cold was supposed to really set in, I decided to bring some carpet down from upstairs. Our neighbors had given me their old carpet--still in good condition--after they had theirs replaced. Due to a certain unreliable feline whose name rhymes with Blazarus Ooopsie, I didn't want to put the carpet down until I was sure he was cured of his bad habit of viewing the world as his own personal litter box. And as soon as it got cold enough, I decided I was sure.

Caleb helped me move out all the furniture, then I swept and scrubbed the floor. You would not believe how dirty that floor can get in so short a time. Besides being warmer, carpet has the advantage of being able to be vacuumed. We unrolled the smaller of the two pieces and I was pleased to discover how big it was--it covered nearly all of the larger living room area. I will have enough of my scavenged carpet to actually install it someday.

How cozy it is to have carpeting under our feet. The animals approve also, though the cats seem to feel that it should double its usefulness as a whole-room scratching/chewing thing. As long as they don't experiment on its value as a combination litter box/tushy wiper!

Temperatures have dropped steadily all this week, but we are reaching the deepest part of the trough before the highs are forecasted to climb again. Can't happen a moment too soon! This morning, I ran some water and all of the sudden lost all water pressure because SOMEWHERE in the line there was a frozen place. Time to do what all hardy, independent pioneer women do when confronted with these types of situations.


My most wonderful dad was able to come out and help me figure out the problem. My pump house was barely 30 degrees even with my electric space heater on full blast. The first thing was to get the propane furnace hooked back up to a tank and turned on. The cold was bitter and I was dressed and wrapped anywhere dressing and wrapping could fit. Was it only yesterday I was wishing I could grow a beard? And see, I did!

I helped a little with wrestling the tank into place, but most of the time I stood there and handed him screws, tools, and things. I looked like a young veterinarian in a calving suit (see James Herriot if you don't get that). Then it was time to turn on the furnace and see what that accomplished.

Thankfully, almost as soon as the furnace turned on the pump started working again. What happened was the switch on the tank was sitting there doing its thing. I had enough water pressure in the pipes, so it was in the open position. The temperature in the well house dropped just enough to freeze the switch open, and when I used up the water in the pipes, it was still stuck there thinking I had plenty of water. When the room warmed up, the switch melted enough to snap shut again and activate the pump. Whew! Glad it was so easy to fix!

Tonight is the big night, with temperatures dropping to almost -30. The house is certainly holding more heat than last year, but I had to break down and block off my stairs with blankets to keep more heat downstairs. There's a certain morbid fascination to watching the heaters struggle to keep pace with the encroaching cold. Will they make it? I don't even WANT to see my electric bill next month!

Yes, boys and girls, that is what -14, feels like -40, looks like!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Neither Snow Nor Sleet...

Nor hail nor tornadoes,
Nor really, really hot days,
Nor windchill that makes random body parts fall off,
Shall keep us from our appointed path of ice skating.

At least I think that's how it goes....

We've been planning this for weeks; ever since Tiggy's birthday party, in fact--the whole hoard getting to go skating on a nice day when we had plenty of time to skate and on ice that had hardened acceptably.

The first day we'd planned to do it, Noni and her brood went into Williston for errands. That is always quite an undertaking, but they still would have made it out in time if SOMEONE hadn't decided that they needed a perm. Four hours later (I kid you not!), SOMEONE had changed her mind, but it was too late.

Caleb and I managed to get out on the ice one of the days, but it was tricky. After many layers of snow falling, then melting partway into the ice, the surface was pitted with, well, pits. It was hard to really let yourself build up momentum when the next second might find you stopping rather unexpectedly. At least your feet would stop. The rest of you would keep on going. I'm sure there's a physics lesson in there somewhere!

Last week the weather was much too warm for skating, but on the 50-degree day, the ice melted nicely and leveled out all the terrible rough places Caleb and I had struggled with. This week has had cold temperatures, and the ice re-froze smooth and beautiful. We made a firm commitment. The weather forecasted a high of 40 degrees for Sunday. We were going skating.

Somewhere along the way, quite behind my back, the forecast changed to a high of around 8 degrees, with significant windchill. Even a few wind-blown snow pellets added in for kicks and jollies. Stupid weather. I think it is toying with me! But we were undaunted. The serious windchill of 30 below didn't even start until evening, so what wasn't to like?

The first tiny hint of trouble occured earlier in the day when I jumped out of the car to take a quick picture. It was a VERY quick picture. The wind was bitter, bitter cold and even though my hands were only outside for about a minute, I was already experiencing significant pain. Hmmmmmmm. Oh, well, we will just bundle up. With a sigh, I relinquished all hope of attractiveness while skating. Sometimes it is better to be intact than attractive.

That philosophy was not shared by Tiggy, who showed up in tight jeans and a cute sweater. SOMEONE was hoping to recreate the cuteness of her birthday party skating trip. I wouldn't even let her stir out of the house until she added gloves and a pair of sweats that made her look like a wannabe rapper. At least she was sensible enough to bring a long coat.

Damon was prepared for a blizzard. If you didn't know he was in there, you might have been alarmed to observe a moving mountain of Carhart gear! Poor Devon was feeling sick and could only languish on the couch while we made our excited preparations. He was the lucky one, as it turned out.

We hiked out to the pond and were immediately confronted with our first difficulty. How do you put on skates while wearing the bulky gloves necessary to keep your skin from freezing? The answer is, you don't. You choose to have warm hands or ice skates. Poor Noni had to drop out right there because her skates needed a whole re-lacing and her hands just couldn't take it. And in a regrettable example of survival-of-the-fittest, none of us loved her enough to take our hands out of shelter and help her. I at least tried to soothe her disappointment by letting her hold the camera and take pictures of us while we skated.

She seemed grateful, but judging by some of the photos, she may have held a bit residual resentment.

We skated on the big pond for a little, but Caleb and I wanted everyone to get to see the other pond before the cold became unbearable. We were the only ones who'd ever skated on the small pond because its ice was too unstable the day of the party. It's FUN, though, all nice and smooth and round. To get there, you engage in the little known sport of cross-country ice skate hiking. I don't think it will ever make it as an Olympic event. Damon and Someone-Else-Whose-Name-Shall-Not-Be-Mentioned-To-Protect-Her-Privacy gave up and crawled the last little bit.

Tiggy and I skated, but the boys quickly became distracted by all the cracks in the ice. You could see down through the ice for many inches, so it wasn't thin, but it had many deep cracks running every which way across it. Scientific discovery demanded experimentation to answer the burning question, "What will happen if you spit in an ice crack?" The answer is that the spit be sucked run down through the crack and you will be able to observe its progress through the ice. SIGH!

We did find one new diverting game to play, at least us girls with the long coats. The wind was blowing briskly the whole time, so I decided to harness its energy instead of fighting it. We would skate to the far side of the pond, open our jackets, and sail across. Good fun, but not very graceful in appearance, to put it delicately.

All together, we probably spent about 30 minutes outside before the cold drove us to surrender. I hope we can eventually achieve the serendipitous meeting of available time and good skating weather. Until then, I think we will have to confine ourselves to more indoor sports.

In search of a large city to decimate...

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Due to certain delicate events having to do with elder care, my mom does a lot of laundry. A LOT of laundry. As in a complete bedding change every day, and sometimes more. In addition, I bring all my laundry there, since my septic is not up to the daily grind of...well, just about anything, but that's a different story. It all became too much for her old washer.

I mean, who can blame the poor old thing. It lived a happy, complacent life, meeting the needs of two childless retired school teachers. Then, in spite of years of faithful service it was left behind in the move, and, with no warning whatsoever, had to assume a gargantuan task of almost institutional proportions.

The first signs of a complete mental breakdown were subtle. It stopped spinning reliably, but my mom was able to jiggle the load sizes around so that it still worked. Then it started overflowing on certain load sizes because the water sensor was unreliable. Eventually it got to the point where you had to fill it on medium or it would overflow, but you'd better switch it back to high for the spin or the engine would burn up trying to spin a washer that wouldn't.

The proverbial last straw was reached at the end of December when the poor washer finally gave up completely. Feeling that life just wasn't worth living, it tried to drown itself. A veritable fountain of water poured from it and covered the floor of the laundry room....the carpeted laundry room. Thankfully, it was a fairly mild day---well above freezing---so we got busy with brooms and swept as much of the water outside as we could.

But it wasn't enough! Not nearly enough. The floor squished for days when you walked on it. And the washer, now shuddering and mumbling to itself things like, "NO! No more! Make it stop!" was banished into the cold to make room for----HER.

The beautiful, new High Efficiency General Electric Washer. With a glass lid so you can see it working. And the fancy, computerized instrument panel. And the large, stainless steel tub that fits twice as much as the old washer. If this were a movie, a choir would be singing right now.

Now, one ot the most popular shows at my parents' house is the washing machine in action; you can often find a group of people gathered about the lid, admiring the production.

But there is one thing this washer CAN't do, and that is to combat operator error. My mom has gotten on my case for years; she seems to feel I am a sad failure at laundry sorting because I often put fuzzy things like towels in where they hadn't oughta be. But I don't ever want to hear another word about my shortcomings as a laundress after ....well, see for yourself.

This is a photo of a beautiful berry-red tablecloth and my (formerly) white Battenburg lace tablecloth. Washed together. I don't really mind. It's a small price to pay for the freedom to explore my own laundry artistic expressions without commentary.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Wisdom Tree

We have one more poorly placed natal celebration in the family. John's birthday is right after New Year's, a time when the adults of the family have not yet fully forgotten the excesses of Christmas. But at least it comes in another month, so if one shops at the last minute, one can have fresh income to meet the occasion.

This year was a little trickier because, it being John's 18th birthday and wanting to do something special, I decided to have a surprise party for him. Of course, I came to this decision very late, as I couldn't even THINK about birthdays until after Christmas. This left very little time to pull a party out of my hat, especially since the intervening week also held Tiggy's party.

In order to surprise him, I held his party December 31st. I did as much of the preparations as I could ahead of time, because I wouldn't have much time Saturday night to prepare. As it turned out, my preparedness turned out to be sadly, sadly lacking. But for the grace of God and the spontaneous help of most of my guests, we would NOT have been ready at zero hour. Thank you again, each one of you!

Our menu was decidedly Mexican influenced. We had fajitas, chips and salsa, rice, and taco salad. There were rivers of punch (literally--I think someone greased the cups!) and sparkling grape juice in plastic champagne glasses for our toast. Desert was a German chocolate cake and ice cream. John asked me if I picked it because it was his favorite. Honesty compelled me to confess that I chose it because it was fast. But I'm glad it was his favorite, and that has to count for something!

No 18th birthday party would possibly be complete without embarrassing photos, and of course, John had his fair share. My personal favorite is a photo of him, just barely potty trained, doing his...er....business while reading the Sunday comics. It's a great example of photo journalism, but out of respect for his birthday request, I'll not post it. But I'll tell you about it! That wasn't covered by his request....

I can also tell you, strictly confidentially of course, that if you click on the picture to make it large, you might be able to enjoy some of the photos. (Psssst! It's in the lower left-hand corner)

Since John is learning--too late as most of us do--of the wisdom of saving for a rainy day, the games were all themed to fill a jar with money for him. The kids had a ping pong ball and bean bag toss that earned him coins, and throughout the evening I asked random questions such as, "The first person to tell me the name of the governor of Montana can put a dollar in the jar." But the highlight of the evening was the game show styled "How Well Do You Know John?"

Not very well, as it turns out in some cases! If contestants got the answer right, John would get one prize, such as a towel set, and if they guessed wrong, he'd get a smaller gift, such as a wash cloth. Personally, I think John was helping them cheat a little, but he got a storage tub full of items for his new, independent lifestyle.

My favorite part of the evening was the Wisdom Tree. More than any amount of money or gift of "stuff", your average 18 year old needs wisdom. In this respect, John has been known to leave average behind and go on to gifted! So rather than have a money tree, which would teach him nothing but that his family members are soft touches, I had a tree on which each guest was encouraged to hang his or her best advice. There were many pearls of wisdom, but a few grains of sand in the mix, such as Tiggy's offering, "Eat like a quilt." Though that is the one that has stuck with me anyway, so at least it had staying power going for it.

In spite of a surprising amount of whining for an 18 year old, it was some time into the evening before we got to the presents. John enjoyed the birthday cards that kind friends had sent him, but his favorite of all his gifts was the pair of insulated overalls. He's been needing it desperately in his work, so much so, that in his own words, "I was about to break down and buy it with my own money!" Reality will strike this one hard.....

The evening wound to a close, for some of us, that is. Noni stayed for a bit to help with the clean up, and it was then that the party began to go down hill. See, a couple days before, I'd read an article on how young ladies of today were leaving behind the time honored "Cheese!" as a technique to get good pictures. It just won't work to produce that sexy pout everyone wants. The new method for flattering, modern photos is to say....wait for it...


That's right, gaze into the camera. Don't forget the smolder. Ok, good. Now slowly mouth the word "prunes". No, more enunciation there. Proooooooooooooones. Quit laughing. That ruins the effect.

Each of us tried it, and I have to say that I think this article was a little bit off. All saying "prunes" did was make it look like we were in dire need of them, if you get my drift.

Noni came the closest, but then she had to ruin it by trying to improve upon things. She decided to see what other fruit would do for her. Just a little tip here, but the word "banana" said slowly and seductively will never do much for your looks. It will do much to amuse your companions, however!

Eventually, we had to give up our lives of riotous amusement and get back to the work of cleaning up. Digging ourselves out from the party dregs didn't take forever, in spite of my initial predictions, but did last long enough that I was still awake to ring in the New Year. Of course, it also helped that Caleb and I are an hour ahead of the rest of the family so we got to greet 2012 while everyone else had an hour more to pry their eyelids open! It was wonderful to finish out the old year surrounded by friends and family, building more happy memories to be remembered and enjoyed for years to come. I truly felt blessed.

Happy birthday, Sweetie!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Christmas Miscellania

I know, I know. You are sick of all things Christmas. Out with the old, in with the new, that sort of thing. Well, toughsies. I was busy all December and didn't get to post a few things, so I am going to do it now.

I have mentioned our unseasonably warm and mild weather. I never thought I'd see a brown Christmas in Montana/North Dakota, but we had one this year. The warm weather has only continued. We've had days in the high 50's this past week. For those of you who wondered, that's in JANUARY! I'm sure the weather will shift at some point, but it's been nice while it lasted.

Westby, Montana on Christmas Eve!

Another cherished memory of the season was Tiggy's foray into Christmas responsibility. See, Tiggy has friends. Tiggy wanted to give her friends Christmas goodies this year. Noni is working. Noni felt that Tiggy was old enough to help out if she wanted to have something to give. Noni had Tiggy make sugar cookies.

The whole process was fraught with charming moments of mirth (for the adults, that is), but one of my favorites was when, having overcome the obstacles of salt chunks in her already mixed dough---a dough that resembled a crumb topping more than anything else--she was at last ready to roll out the cookies and put them on the sheet.

Noni and I were busy with our own cookie baking and didn't notice anything amiss until Tiggy started struggling to pry the cookies off the counter. Now, I hate making sugar cookies because I have a hard time making it all work...the dough chilled just right, a workable consistency, the counter properly floured--not too much, not too little.

"You mean I have to put flour on the counter?"

Yes, Tiggy, you do. Smirk. That's OK. I can laugh because I had my own cooking disasters when I first learned. My nemesis was oil. I didn't make cakes, I made oil spills. The Exxon Valdez had nothing on ME!

Tiggy flees rather than have her picture taken.

Our Christmas Eve was lovely. It was on Saturday, so we spent the morning and afternoon in church having a Christmas program and then a wonderful Hawaiian themed potluck. After church, the kdis and I spent a little while passing out cookie bags to people we thought might enjoy a surprise pick-me-up, then after sunset, it was time for presents. A more complete account of those festivities is available on my sister's blog. It was a wonderful evening, but little did Caleb and I know that the most memorable part of our evening was still ahead.

We arrived home late---having the rest of the family one hour behind us tend to keep our evenings long---and let the dogs run for their evening private time. It was almost midnight for us, and Finley was just not showing back up. Anika was already inside and had "gone to bed" in the other room, but on a hunch, I called her to me. She came very reluctantly, because rather than going to bed like a good girl, she'd been hiding so I wouldn't see the 3 porcupine quills in her snout. Oh dear. This did not bode well for the missing Finley. Well, perhaps he was staying far enough back to avoid trouble. After all, last time he'd only gotten a couple.

Caleb and I threw on our coats and walked across the cold and icy field, following the sound of one very excited poochy. When we reached him at last, lo, what a sight to our wondering eyes did appear. One prickly pooch, from his head to his rear. Actually, I only said that to make a rhyme. It wasn't that bad, but plenty bad enough for a dog not gifted with...ahem...spartan qualities.

We hurried back across the fields and into the car. Caleb kept Finley from pawing at his mouth, and I prayed that it wouldn't be as bad as last time with Anika. Why do my pets only have health problems on weekends and holidays. Or holidays ON weekends?

Jack came over, and he, my mom, and Caleb, held down Finley while I pulled his quills. Thankfully, due to Caleb's success at keeping him from pawing at them, they weren't in deep and I was able to pull many at a time. When all was said and done, we'd pulled 52 quills from his protesting lips. Whew!

We arrived home for the second time around 1:30, but we'd had a Christmas Eve that we'll never forget! I hope each of you had a blessed, wonderful, crazy, MEMORABLE Christmas as well.

Finley's nemesis.

And Mom, if you're wondering why I'm getting in late this morning, the blog is taking longer than usual to write.

FOR SOME REASON!!!!!!!!!!!

\| (kitty typing---I managed to catch and delete all the rest)