Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cabin-fevered Cats

Now that it's winter, the cats are spending more and more of their time outdoors. I still serve as their doorman on any nice days, but if the weather displeases them, they will go stand in the door for several years before deciding it doesn't meet their standards. At which time they will sniff snootily, stalk back inside, and meow at me as if I was the cause of  it all.

You have no idea how much fun this all is.

But now and again there are occasional bright spots in their noble suffering. Bright spots such as catnip. A few nights ago I took all the cat nip I'd dried, stripped it from the stems, and stored it in a container. The entire house was billowing with heady fumes, and it seemed to affect the cats somewhat.

Most of them contented themselves with rolling around in the stems on the floor, or fighting with the other cats trying to roll around in the stems. Catnip makes them scrappy. Snickers wanted to get closer to the Basket-o-Happiness, so he would jump on the counter every time my back was turned.

Boopsie is notorious for his inability to hold his catnip, and this time was no exception. He spent the evening staggering around, hiccuping softly, before trying to go to bed in the now-empty Basket-o-Happiness. But the Basket-o-Happiness has a rounded bottom and kept tipping over. Finally Boops just gave up and passed out on the floor, half in and half out.

But getting extremely "relaxed" isn't the only entertainment available to cabin-fevered kitties. No, they also have Indoor Tree Climbing. And now, the tree comes complete with sparkly, glittery, entrancing toys dangling from every branch.


They're actually being surprisingly good about the tree. It hasn't fallen over even once yet, which is pretty impressive if you ask me. I do have to re-decorate the same branches several times a day, but I love Christmas anyway, so what's the difference.

I'm sure I'll still be just as excited about trimming the tree for the 1,347th time as I am now.


Dashing Through the Snow

The Christmas season is upon us once more. Of course, around here it's been upon us since mid-October. I believe Christmas is much to big of a holiday to do justice merely from Thanksgiving to December 25. So as soon as the weather cools past a mild inferno I start in with the Christmas music.

But out of a sense of propriety, I still don't put the tree up or decorate until after Thanksgiving. This will be our first Christmas having the festivities out at my house, so our preparations are especially important this year. Where goes the Grandpa, so goes the celebrations.

Friday, as soon as we'd tidied up from Thanksgiving, Caleb and I hauled out the Christmas tree. Last year I put it up in my room for safety's sake, but I really want to have it out in the living room this year where Grandpa can see it. We'll see how it goes.

After we assembled the tree, we left it up over the weekend to let the cats get used to it for a while in the hopes that they'd soon tire of it and we could put the decorations up in peace. So far it is not looking really good for living room trees. The cats seem to think it is a special gift to them to make up for the annoyance of winter.

How happy they are to be able to climb and frolic again, even if the needles are plastic and the branches are wire. 

Our once-proud tree now lists rather alarmingly to the side and the branches droop downward, reminiscent of a weeping willow. And we haven't even tried to hang the ornaments on yet. I fear we won't be able to keep very many on the tree, but I have an idea for the ornaments if the cats prove too much for them. I'm just not telling you yet so I can surprise you...and so if it doesn't work out, you'll never know what it was.

Meanwhile, Caleb and I have discovered yet another amusement to while away our rural hours with---

Driveway Ice-skating

After several snows and as many episodes of freezing rain, our driveway is getting pretty slick. Sunday was a beautiful day of nearly 30 degrees, with bright sun and mild wind. Just right for getting outdoors and enjoying a bit of skating. I wouldn't let Caleb on the pond because the last few days had been warm, but there was no falling through the driveway.

Falling ON the driveway, maybe....

Somehow, by the time I got the camera outside Caleb had decided his ankles hurt too much to skate. Sissy. I'm not ashamed post my pictures, even though I looked approximately like an over-weight dill pickle, with no grace to speak of----on stilts.

Skating on the driveway is not a very  elegant proposition. The ice is very bumpy and is dotted with little gravelly patches waiting to seize you and hurl you to the ground. Pretty soon even my ankles had to cry "uncle", but we managed to extend our play a bit more by doing some arm sledding.

What's arm sledding, you ask? Arm sledding is what you do when you have no hills to sled on. Simply lie down on the sled and scoot along the slick snow using your arms. It's possible to go quite quickly using this method, but be aware you will not even be able to shut a door without pain for almost a week.

Oh, winter is wonderful. Filled with fun and delight.

I wish it were over.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Well, we've lived in the Wild West for over 2 years now. It was bound to start rubbing off on us eventually. Last week, us girls got to let our hair down and have some fun being cowgirls. In name only, of course. No actual cows or horses were harmed in the making of our rough-and-tumble personas. Except possibly the cow that was involved with the creation of my leather cowboy boots. That cow may have experienced some negative effects.

I needed to do something for my Little House blog, something involving cowboys, since that's what the chapter was about. I decided to get some nice boots and have my picture taken in a Western-style outfit. Since my mom is working on a Super Secret Project that involved needing Western wear, I decided she had to be part of it, too.

And then when we got back from our Mommy-daughter shopping date (you've never HEARD such whining!), we were both so doggone cute that I had to get Noni in on it, too. So that is how we came to be standing out in a field, in the snow, trading the beaut-i-moose cowboy boots back and forth so we could each have a turn in them.

We did the group pictures and Noni's portraits first, since she had to do a U-haul rental at 1:30. We didn't start until 1:00, so we were a tad rushed. It didn't help when, after running back and forth from starting the timer for all of our group shots, I discovered I hadn't put a memory chip in the camera. That's OK, we liked doing them all twice.

Noni barely made it to the finish line before she got the call for her U-haul. In fact, she was standing on one foot, with one boot on and one boot off when her cell phone rang. "Westby U-haul Rental....," she answered so professionally---while my mom and I snickered in the background.

Then it was my turn for a couple---or 500--beauty shots. My mom was the lucky photographer who got to retake each one that didn't meet my standards of flatteringness. What---you thought I looked like this naturally!?

And of course, my mom got her turn. Photographing her is nearly as thankless as photographing me. I can't blame her....I'm already whiny enough about the aging I've done, and she's had a 30 year head start. But I think she looks great.

 It was a very fun afternoon, but let me tell you, those boots may have been made for walkin', but they weren't made for walkin' in the snow. We had some chilly feet, especially my mom, who brought slipper socks for warmth---only to discover she couldn't fit the boots over them and she had to go sockless.

 We had a great time, though. Even if we did have frostbite by the end.

The End

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It's a Beautiful Morning

Just a quick freebie to make all you Californians jealous.

THIS is what we woke up to this morning.

Oh yes, be jealous, you flip-flopped, shorts-wearing winter wannabes.

Dead Men Don't Itch

The sun set Sunday night on a sub-zero landscape. When we woke up in the morning, it was -9 degrees---inside.

Just kidding. It had only dropped to about 60 degrees indoors, but that was after throwing nearly everything I had at it, heat-wise. Obviously some improvements were in order. Over the last two years, quite a bit has already been done. Just this fall, my wonderful dad built a better door over the underneath part of the house. Now I don't have to drape carpet, insulation, and boards over the opening. But there are still two main heat drains in this rundown wonderful antique house.

My two doors don't have good seals---hint, hint, Dad, but the biggest drain of all is my attic space. They say you're supposed to have 12 inches of insulation, and for a good share of my roof space I'm about, oh, 12 inches short of that. Last fall, I got Laura's room insulated and half of the roof in the other part of the house. Sadly, the ceiling space of the two rooms is unreachable, but I was determined that I would get the accessible parts done this year. After all, my bales of insulation weren't doing me much good leaning against the wall of the store room.

The super-exciting day of insulating got off to a late start due to some Very Important Things that needed doing first. Caleb had always wanted to try the trick of throwing boiling water in the air when it's really, REALLY cold.  If the temperature is cold enough, the water will freeze into a crystalized mist before it hits the ground. Well, Monday morning was really, REALLY cold enough, sooooo..........

Science is Very Important.

The other thing that delayed progress was me messing around with Picmonkey, a photo editing website. I spent quite a while happily turning pictures of me into mutant, plastic, 18 year-old Barbie dolls. The politically correct thing to do would be to say how the experience showed me my inner beauty and the shallow and ridiculous cultural obsession with youth. Love your wrinkles. Embrace your flab.


I love me some photo editing!

Art is Very Important, too.

At last, even I had to admit that it was time to face the fiberglass. I couldn't find the package of masks, but a nice, Western themed bandana worked very well, too. I looked like a snowman bandit. With safety goggles.

Working with insulation hasn't gotten any more enjoyable since last year. Caleb did the cutting, and I installed the pieces. We got both walls done in the storage room and the other roof done---with the exception of one area I had to leave until some very creative wiring gets fixed. I don't want to shock you (Get it? SHOCK you....snort), but it involved duct tape.

Have you ever insulated an attic? It rivals the most demanding workout video. It was in the low 30's in the attic, but I was working up a sweat. You do lots of squats while standing/crouching/standing/crouching/standing/crouching to staple the insulation on. Then there are the lunges---stepping carefully from beam to beam, trying not to come crashing through the ceiling on Grandpa's head. And of course, no workout video is complete without an ab-burner. Your abs will be fit and toned after hours of laying on your back doing crunches to put the staples in. At one point I had my toes tucked under a beam for stability, and was lying back, balancing along the narrow length of a 2x6 board. And would you believe it? By that time, it even felt comfortable!

Yes, I had quite a workout. And lucky Caleb got to figure out one more career that he doesn't like. If it had been up to him, we would have quit back at the very beginning. This was his first experience with the deceptive softness of fiberglass, but he quickly figured out that it was itchy. And even though he claimed to be near death from itchiness, we pressed on. As I told him, dead men don't itch.

.But it was worth it to get some insulation covering our thin roof boards. Before we started, you could see daylight all along the edges of the roof where the flashing was rotting away. Now you can't see it anymore! Much better.

It's such a good feeling to have that done. Insulating is of those  few things (unlike dishes or laundry) where once you get it done, it stays done. There are still a few details to finish once I get some more insulation, but we're almost done, and at least the next blizzard won't be able to whistle through my attic quite so easily.

Now if I could just get those doors fixed....

The Pee-pee Blizzard of 2012

This weekend marked the first blizzard of the season. As blizzards go, it didn't turn out to be much, but it was still a very nice winter storm that dumped a lot of snow on the area. It even rated a name---Winter Storm Brutus. But to me, it will always be remembered as the Pee-pee Blizzard.

It all started when my mom befriended a stray cat we named Fulton Montmorency III. He was a tough, scrappy little thing, surviving on his own for at least a couple winters. Independent. Resourceful. Unfazed. Ruggedly at-home in the great outdoors. Right up until he found out what was in the large, strange box his people lived in. Once he discovered things like warmth and ease, the palatial igloo and warm, cozy quilt we'd provided for him the previous winter were no longer good enough. He would sit, shivering by the door rather than demean himself to enter That Slum.

Well, that couldn't continue, so when temperatures dropped this year, poor Fulton came out to stay at my house for a couple weeks while his parents pimped his 'gloo. An electric bed was ordered, and my dad put in carpet and constructed a doorway that kept out the weather.

So far, so good, but unfortunately, some of my cats chose to take offense at the interloper. It wasn't so bad until the storm hit and they couldn't go outside at all. At that point, a random, anonymous cat we shall call Plazarus-You're-Gonna-Find-Your-Fluffy-Entitled-Butt-Cooling-It-Outside-All-Winter-If-You-Don't-Knock-It-Off-And-I-Mean-It-Ploopsie developed a distressing habit of taking out his deep emotional issues by spraying various corners.

Somehow, I just couldn't get behind the new decorating scheme of Ew de Urine, so I spent the blizzard following him around with vinegar and Febreeze. Boy, was it a happy day when the sun peeped out again! Fulton's bed was finished, the weather was warming, and Someone felt a little better about the world.

Blizzards are fun as long as you're inside and the power stays on. There's such a coziness about being safe and warm while the wind howls angrily outside. I count my blessings even more than the average person because of how bad things used to be. Two winters ago, when I first moved in, I used my living room as a refrigerator and my entry as a freezer because it stayed cold enough out there. Now I was sitting in the same room, snug and warm. What a difference!

 After the storm dies down a bit, it's time to suit up and head out to play. This storm had a large amount of light, fluffy snow. It was like wading through cattail fluff everywhere. Caleb spent a great deal of time jumping into snow drifts, but at my mature age, I can't get that excited about wet snow-melt trickling down my neck, so I stayed out of the deep snow in favor of more demure pursuits.

By Sunday night, the storm was spent, and we went to bed with temperatures falling into the minuses. My house is built along the architectural lines of a colander, so it was getting a little chilly inside. Not that it was SO bad, but it wasn't SO cold yet either. However, sub-zero temperatures bring their own activities, as the morrow would show.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The NOT-Halloween Party

Our family has never been much into Halloween. My older siblings went trick-or-treating a few times, and I have a vague memory of passing out candy one year, but mostly Halloween has been the day we must get through in order to get to the 50%-off candy sales.

Last year was the easiest Halloween yet----for me, anyway. I had no kids at home at the time, so it was a breeze for me to sit home in happy anticipation of cavities-to-come. But 'twas a little more difficult for Noni and her horde of discontented munchkins in town. So at the end of the evening, we made a solemn covenant to meet out at my house the next year. A solemn covenant I promptly forgot.

A week or so from the Big Day, I impulsively suggested to Noni that she bring the kids out to my house on Halloween.

"I thought that's what we'd already decided to do."

"Heh-heh. We did?"

"Oh, yes, of course. We did.....How did we?"

Good thing I thought to invite them again, or we all would have had a little surprise Halloween evening!

I wanted to do something a little different from past years. Usually we would just rent a movie and sit around stuffing caramels into our faces, but the older I get, the more important memory-making becomes to me. I wanted an evening that would be worthy of a place in my guests' Roll of Memories; something they would remember (hopefully with fondness) for years to come.

My first decree for a memory-filled evening was to ban the candy. After all, what could be more memorable on Halloween than zero candy? Besides, we were inviting our neighbors, a family with 3 wonderful little girls who eat an extremely limited amount of sugar. All of our previous parties have been sugar-paloozas, so I wanted at least one time where they weren't having to say "No, thank you" all evening.

The second decree was no movie. We were going to spend time together and enjoy it, or die trying! I planned a quiet evening of board games until supper was ready, then a treasure hunt in the dark, in the snow, and a few more games before calling it an evening.

The boys played nicely out in the living room while the supper finished baking. Not so with Tiggy and Noni, the evil pumpkin doughnut fiends! They stayed out in the kitchen and "helped" by "filling" the vegetable tray, and "safe-guarding" the doughnuts, a process that left things emptier than when they started. The Andersons weren't due until after supper, so there was no social pressure for good behavior. Tsk, tsk.

After a delicious meal of spaghetti, home-made pizza, garlic bread, and a lick each of the empty vegetable tray (I think I got some broccoli crumbs!), our company arrived and it was time to suit up for the highlight of the evening. Tiggy had helped me earlier by hiding the clues and maps. We divided up into two teams, the "Intermediates" and the "Challenge" Teams.

Each team was responsible for following the clues and bringing back their treasure, but, it being North Dakota, dark, snowy, and cold, each team was also required to stay together and stay on authorized paths. Before heading out into the dark, our crew gathered for a picture. Winter wear isn't slimming, OK?!

The Intermediate Group (because no one wants to be called a "beginner") had to tromp back and forth in the farm yard area a few times before finding the treasure map that led out across the field. The treasure was hidden in a brushy area part way across our neighbor's harvested wheat field. Tiggy had put it out there, but in the dark she couldn't even find it, so we formed a human chain and walked north until we saw the dim outline of the treasure against the snow.

 One of MY favorite memories of the evening was of Avonly Rose running up to the old tin washtub to see the treasure it contained, only to stop short when she saw it was empty. The "treasure" WAS the old washtub!

Meanwhile, the Challenge Team was off to a great start, picking up their first clue clear at the end of the driveway. It led them back up to the house, then a stop or two more before they found their treasure map. Which directed them back down to the end of the driveway to where their treasure was hidden about 20 feet from their first clue. Insert evil chuckle here.

I had already informed everyone that the two treasures would have to work together, so our team hauled back the washtub (which turned out to have a hole in the bottom) and their team brought back a bag of green apples. After getting a smaller, though intact, washtub out of the attic, we were ready for our next bit of fun. Bobbing for apples.

We went youngest to oldest. Shayla was first, and everyone spent several minutes bombarding her with a loud cacophony of advice. Then, while people were still calling to her on how to push it up against the side, or use the bottom, and don't be afraid to get a little wet, she darted her head down and daintily pulled out an apple by the stem. What a problem solver!

Not Devon, however. He had to go the whole enchilada.


Of course.

Once the fun of apple-bobbing was over, we had dessert. The evening may have been candy free, but you can't have a fall party without a few goodies. Everyone got to cut up their apple and have it with caramel dip, and---the few---the brave---the proud---pumpkin doughnuts that had managed to survive were brought out of hiding. Unfortunately, I didn't see the doughnut with THE LARGE BITE TAKEN OUT OF IT until after I'd offered them up to company!

After all that excitement, everyone was more than ready to chill out a little with some relaxing games. Snort. As relaxing as a full-contact sport! Those games can get intense! The Andersons' had brought the games of Giant Spoons and Balderdash, neither of which I had ever played before. We had a great time, and I'm sure that it was one for the memory books of each person.

I know I'll always remember it. After all, it's not every night that your oven melts down, sends out sparks, and threatens to burn the whole house down. RIP dear little harvest gold kitchen range. You sleep with the trash bags now.

The recipe that brought my oven to its knees:

Pumpkin Doughnuts:

1/2 C oil
3 L eggs
1 1/2 C sugar
1 1/2 C pumpkin
1 1/2 t pumpkin pie spice OR 3/4 t cinnamon, 1/4 t nutmeg and ginger (this is the amount the recipe calls for, but increase for yummy spiciness)
1 1/2 t salt and baking powder
1 3/4 C + 2 T flour

Grease doughnut pans. Beat oil, eggs, sugar, pumpkin, spices, salt, and BP. Add flour. Fill pans 3/4 full. Bake 15-18 min. Let sit for 5 min. Remove, and when no longer fragile, shake with cinnamon and sugar.

I had to use brown sugar because I was out of white, so mine were a little, er, odd-looking, but they tasted very, VERY good.