Saturday, December 17, 2016

Two Turkeys With One Stone

For those of you who are on my Christmas card/letter list:  you've already gotten this letter so you can click delete ......... UNLESS you want to see the photos I've added.  For those of you who are not on my Christmas card/letter list:  This year's Christmas letter was so much like a blog post I figured if I'd gone to all the work to write it, I might as well post it.

December, 2016

Autumn lasted so long this year I was beginning to wonder if we’d be eating Christmas dinner out on the deck but as it turned out, one day I was digging in the garden, bits of compost sticking to my sweaty skin, and two days later 12 inches of snow fell.  I fretted because we still had half a row of potatoes to dig up but Dean was fretting about his 30 or so wild turkey “children” because they weren’t eating.  Earlier in the day, as he had walked around the yard shaking his can of birdseed, they’d followed him like he was the Pied Piper of Turkeyland and watched as he spread the seed over an area he had lovingly cleared of snow so they wouldn’t have to punch their ugly little beady-eyed heads through the snow to find it.  But instead of eating the seed they just hopped around it, bobbing their heads up and down, squawking.  I suggested that maybe they just weren’t hungry but he assured me that they had to be hungry.  He hadn’t fed them the day before when it was snowing so they’re probably starving!! I thought they were just stupid.  After all, once they fly over the eight-foot high fence into our garden there’s almost always one bird too stupid to remember how to fly out.  When we see Mr. or Ms. Dim-Wit stuck in the garden, we open the gate and shoo it toward the opening, only to watch the pea-brain run right past that wide-open gate, poke its head through the fence, discover its body isn’t following, run further, shove its head through the fence, and on and on, until finally! the dingbat flies over the fence to freedom … or the next fenced in garden.    

Fortunately winter hadn’t arrived yet when we went to DC to visit Abby or I might have had to find a turkey-sitter who would send Dean daily updates of his gobblers.  She was there working on a three month temporary detail as Acting Deputy Chief of Staff for APHIS (Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service) and we thought, what a great opportunity for Abby to share her small one-bedroom apartment AND every minute of her free time with us for ten whole days!  While she was hard at work Dean and I went to museum after museum after museum and we only got yelled at by a museum guard one time each.  I was just glad there were only a few other tourists around each time it happened so it was only super embarrassing – not super duper embarrassing.  When we weren’t in a museum we were in an art gallery, and even though art galleries aren’t my thing and I didn’t “get” a lot of what I saw, or understand why some exhibits were even considered art, I tried really hard to appreciate it, and most especially tried not to yawn when Dean was looking my way. 

When we walked into this gallery the room was filled with objects made of antelope, deer and elk bone and my first reaction was, “seriously?”  I came all the way to DC just to see more animal stuff?  But it was all really pretty cool. 

Really?  This is art?  Do YOU “get” it?

We also learned how to ride the metro to where we really intended to go, and even got to experience the fear, racing heart and barely contained panic when, on one trip, the train door opened and a metro policeman bellowed “evacuate the station!  Evacuate the station!” 


Addendum to original letter ~~~~  We did actually do more than just go to museums and art galleries.  The first weekend we rented a tiny (and from the groans we heard in the back seat apparently shockless) car which we drove to Chincoteague Island so Abby could get her beach fix ....

.....and Assateague Island to see the wild horses.

The next weekend on Saturday we metro'd and uber'd to Mount Vernon and a street art festival and then on Sunday rented another tiny little rattle-trap car (which was upgraded to a Mercedes!) and we drove to Great Falls on the Potomac River....

..... and finished the day by pulling up in style to a winery.

And now ... back to my original Christmas letter.

Jorge was only able to visit Abby once while she was in DC because he’s been busy finishing up the final statistics, lab work, analysis, writing and everything else he needs to do in order to complete his PhD in the fall of 2017.  Who knows where they’ll live once he finishes and finds a job (if it’s DC we still have our metro cards!) but wherever it is, we’ll be brightening their lives with our visits.      

Leslie and Ryan will be going to DC themselves for a week in April because a few weeks ago Ryan was chosen as the Wyoming State Teacher of the Year!  They’ll be participating in all kinds of activities, one of which will be a black-tie dinner at the White House, but what they’re really excited about is that all five of them will get to go to Space Camp!  As exciting as that is, I think Leslie was even more ecstatic when, after a year and a half of taking classes, studying and writing papers at the same time she was teaching full time, she finished her Masters in Special Education. 

That means that I am now the only non-nerd in the family.   If I was a nerd, I would develop a spreadsheet of the composition, size, shape, texture and weight of every object Baxter has thrown up.  Or I would analyze the dog food that Angus had been eating to determine why it gave him seizures.  Or I would calculate degree days to determine the average date of arrival of Box Elder bugs so I’d be armed and ready for the annual massacre.  Or I’d write a program to model the average placement, circumference and sliminess of the turkey poop left in our yard so I’d know where to step.  But instead I think I’ll just accept my non-nerd status and go bake some Christmas cookies.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!


Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Brothers Grimm Had A Sister – AKA Construction With Cookies Round Two

Once upon a time in a land where men not only listen but actually hear what their wives are saying, and dogs don’t bark and vomit at three in the morning, there lived a husband and wife.  And it so happened that one day the wife said to the husband, “oh, my dear sweet husband.  I know it’s only been about 3 ½ years since we paid those worker bees to install new windows and oak flooring but do you think you’d have time to frame the windows and put on new baseboards? 

Oh, and as long as you're at it, would you frame those four doors too?  You are so skilled and so meticulous that I know they would be perfect when you were finished.  Plus it would save me lots and lots of money.”  The wife’s husband puffed up his chest with pride and said, “why yes, of course my beautiful wife.  I would say do anything to keep you off my back make you happy because I do love you so.”  And within days all the windows and doors were magically adorned with beautiful frames, baseboards graced the floors and the husband and wife lived happily after.

And now … here’s how it really went down.

So Dean, do you have any idea when you’ll be able to frame these windows and doors put on the baseboards?  I’m happy to help in any way I can. 

I thought you already HAD organized your garage.  No, no.  That’s okay.  If there’s anything I’ve gotten good at during the 44 years I've been married to you it’s being patient.  

What?  You’re taking out the wood-burning barrel stove and having a gas furnace put in?  Really?  You hate noise and a gas furnace is going to blow hot air – and that will be noisy.  And anyway, I don’t think taking it out is going to free up as much space as you think it will.

Wait a minute.  You’re taking off the sheets of metal from the walls?!  But I thought you were so happy the walls were covered in metal because you want to do some welding.  Don’t you think hanging plywood instead of drywall just so you won’t have to look for studs and can hang your tools anywhere you want is a little extreme?  HOW many coats of varnish are you putting on those walls?

Now that’s just not fair.  I understand that the wood around the windows was rotting and they were old and leaky.  I completely agree that you needed to put in all new windows.  But you FRAMED them?!  Yeah … okay … right.  It probably is good practice for you before you come inside and frame windows I really care about.

Hey!  You already have TWO workbenches.  Just because there’s more room without that barrel stove doesn’t mean you need another workbench.  I really don’t think you need one that humongous just to lay out all the framing wood so you can stain it before you cut it. 

Seriously?!  You're painting the ceiling???

Okay, you’re right.  Your no-cars-are-allowed-in-here-garage/workshop does look very neat and organized.  No, no.  I understand.  I just wasn’t expecting it to take four months.  But I’m so excited that now you can begin framing the windows and doors and putting on baseboards. 

What?!!???!!!!  What do you mean you’re going to refinish that antique dental cabinet you got at the auction before you begin working on the windows?  I don’t care if it takes up space in your garage and you need to get it stripped and sanded and stained and shellacked so you can move it into your art room and free up space to work on the wood for the windows.

You know what?  Since you haven’t framed those doors yet I decided to have them replaced.   Because I don’t like them, that’s why. 

Of courses I didn’t NEED to but you didn’t NEED to put in a gas furnace, build a humongous workbench and stain a dental cabinet either.   That’s right.  You smell lemon because while my bees were hard at work putting in the doors I baked them lemon cookies.  Oh, you wanted some?  I'm so sorry.  I gave the worker bees all the left over cookies when they left.

Guess what?  I decided as long as my worker bees were here hanging new doors I’d also have them open up the doorway between the dining room and the family room because a couch won’t fit through that narrow doorway. 

You don’t remember we talked about buying a new couch for the family room?  Huh.  All the fumes from the stripping solution probably killed some of your memory cells.  Maybe it killed your sense of smell too since you didn't smell the chocolate cookies I baked the worker bees.  Nope.  Sorry.   No cookies left.

It’s not my fault they ran into electrical wires when they opened the doorway and they had to call an electrician. 

You should just be glad you weren’t the one who had to crawl around in a sweltering attic rerouting wires.  That electrician really deserved those oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I baked him.  Oh, sorry.  Did you want some?  He took the rest of the cookies with him when he left.

Oh, sure.  I know I could have probably done the drywall work on the door opening but YOU could have also been framing the windows.  I didn't think you’d want any of those frosted lemon cookies so I gave my drywall bee all the rest when he left. 

Oh, I'm sorry.  I forgot to tell you my drywall bee came today to do the final sanding and left before I could give him the rest of the zucchini bread.  Of course you can have some!

You know what?  I’m not going to have the floor where they removed part of the wall patched.  I’m going to have the whole family room laid with oak flooring. That way it’ll match all the rest of the house.  Don’t worry.  I’m saving all that money by having you do all the trim work on the windows and doors, remember? 

Yes, I was a little concerned about not being here to bake for my floor bee since we'll be on vacation when he lays it but I think it will be fine if I bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies and leave them for him.  I've heard we get a snack on the flight out of Sheridan so you don't need to worry about bringing any with you.  Yes, I’m sure he’d love some of your chokecherry jam and syrup.

When we get home from our vacation, since you’ve finished your dental cabinet, I’ll be more than happy to help you any way I can when you put back the family room baseboards and start the trim work.  Yes, yes.  It IS gorgeous.  I was just surprised it took you nearly 12 weeks to finish it. 

Whaaaaat?!!!!!  You think the baseboards you removed from the family room need to be stripped and sanded and re-stained before you put them back????!!!  What do YOU think?

Really.  I feel much better now.  I’ve adjusted to having the very large two-piece china cabinet, file cabinet, liquor cabinet and computer printer stored in the living room and our bedroom.  No, really.  I don’t mind waiting indefinitely to unpack and replace everything that had been in them until you’ve stripped, sanded and stained those baseboards.  

Well since you ask.  I’ve been looking at that counter in the guest bathroom.  If I had that replaced it would sure spruce it up in there.  But I noticed the cabinets are sitting on the counter so I’d need to have those removed first and heck, as long as I have to do that I might as well replace them.  Do you think new cabinets and counter would make the bathtub and tile look old?

Oh, sure.  I know having you trim all those windows and doors for me isn’t saving enough to completely renovate a bathroom.  But ever since we’ve moved in I have been wanting to strip the wallpaper from our bedroom and bathroom and paint the walls.  Although ... if the walls aren’t in great shape I might need to have them textured because I don’t think I want to put wallpaper back up.

Did you say something?  Oh, sorry.  I didn't hear you.  I was sorting through my cookie recipes.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Chokin’ On Chokecherries

Based on her first and last visit here about three years ago, my sister, Shelly, would tell you I refuse to turn on the central air – no matter what.  Just because I responded, “it will cool down tonight,” when she politely hinted, “it’s a little warm in here,” as the sweat trickled down her temple and pooled in her ear canal, I’m pretty sure she thinks I wouldn't turn it on because I’m too cheap to pay the higher electric bill.   I don’t know where she could have gotten that idea.  I buy the almost highest quality box wine I can find and I don't cover the holes in my gardening gloves with duct tape because I'm too cheap to buy a new pair.  I do it because it makes them sturdier. 

Anyway, that’s in the past because this summer has been so hot I actually turned on the air conditioning for a couple of hours – twice!  And Dean turned it on a bunch of times – sometimes for several hours at a time.  I would have survived without it but it does feel pretty okay to walk into a cool house and have the sweat on my body quickly dry leaving only an imperceptible layer of salt on my skin.  

The heat hasn't been good for my mood but it has been good for ripening the berries our 5,628,173 chokecherry trees.   

The birds and deer have been feasting on all those fat juicy berries, and even Angus grabbed a mouthful of berries once during his search for the perfect place to hike his leg.  Last year Dean picked and processed the chokecherries all by himself but this year I magnanimously offered to help.  And he took me up on my offer.  Wait, what?!  He made us each a high-tech chokecherry container (patent pending) out of an old milk jug and off we went into the chokecherry jungle.  Even though it felt like 125 degrees outside, we girded our loins, donned our armor and bravely got scratched, scraped and gouged as we picked pounds and pounds of fruit. 

I was carefully picking each berry one by one, gently dropping them into my special chokecherry vessel when Dean walked over and said, “no, no, no, no, no, do it like this,” grabbed a branch with one hand, grasped a handful of berries with his other hand and stripped them off straight into the special chokecherry container. 

Boy that speeded things up.  It wasn’t long until my special chokecherry container was so full I had to waddle into the house cradling it just like a pregnant belly. 

Then the real work began.  It broke my heart when Dean, aka Mr. Smucker, told me he wouldn’t let me stir the boiling pot of splattering berries or scoop the simmering liquid into scalding jars ...

Splatter burn and beard splatter.  Yech.

but he would let me help sort the berries with stems from the berries without stems. 

It was okay if the berries he used to make jam and syrup had stems, but the 20 pounds of berries Abby asked us to bring her so she can make chokecherry mead this winter ... they had to be stemless. 

My alcohol supplier.
I hope this winter Dean invents a special chokecherry sorter. 

When the cooking and processing was in full swing the whole house was so steamy and hot I felt like I was back in the Ecuadorian Amazon, except there were no monkeys chattering at me as they jumped from branch to branch.  Not that we didn’t have our own wildlife.  Our wild animals were just so hot they sprawled out like road kill, the only movement being their oscillating eyeballs as they kept a lookout, hoping for random chunks of food to drop miraculously right in front of their noses

Angus thinking maybe a carrot will drop out of the sky.

Baxter hoping a currant muffin or the box the currants came in or a piece of rubber ...
or a hair tie, or anything, anything at all will fall from the sky and land by his mouth.

Sophie is waiting for her dinner to appear on a silver platter.  And Maisie ...
the lump under the blanket ... she's part ostrich and just doesn't care.
Mr. Smucker suffered some complications during his jam processing.  There were remarks about where that liquid pectin could go and how it could get there, disparaging comments about poor directions and other words and phrases I feel are best left unprinted.   Those jam batches that stubbornly refused to thicken and set were renamed syrup. So now we have lots of chokecherry jam and lots and lots and lots and lots of chokecherry syrup. 

There's even more.  I was just too lazy to take a more recent picture.

Dean was driven to find relief from his jam and syrup stress through fire and alcohol.  I'd recently read that any webworms growing on the chokecherry trees should be removed and disposed of.  Next thing you know he was outside, evil glint in his eyes, brandishing his loppers.  He piled up the branches with squirmy worms encased in webs, poured gasoline on them, lit them on fire and chanted and hooted as he danced around the flames. 

Can you picture it?  Dean dancing and hooting around a fire? 

Dancin' and hootin'!

You know that didn’t happen.  He just burned them up, meticulously cleaned up the charred worm bodies and ashes and then, inside a cool air conditioned house, he made chokecherry brandy, gin and vodka.   

In a month or so we can try it.  I hope it’s good, because if my sister ever does come back out to visit me, if I ply her with enough of that chokecherry liquor, maybe she won’t notice if I haven’t turned on the air conditioning.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mary Mary … How’d That Garden Grow?

Way back this spring I decided to turn a patch of grass in the front of the house into a wildflower garden.  I had this vision of masses of flowers so colorful and so thick that it would feel like I was looking at a painting by Monet.  We got rid of the grass, brought in top soil and wheel barrow after wheel barrow full of compost, and raked and smoothed until the soil was just crying out for seeds. 

I gathered all the seeds I’d saved, bought and been given, mixed them all together in a bowl, sprinkled them all over the soil, raked them in a bit and watered.  And waited.  And watered.  And waited.  And finally….lots of things began to pop through the ground and grow and the more they grew the more excited I got imagining how spectacular this garden was going to be.  So I kept watering and watching and waiting for blossoms.    I didn't do any weeding because I was afraid I might pull up a flower.  The plants kept growing and I kept watering, but nothing bloomed.  And then one day Dean said to me, other than those couple of poppies and the four volunteer tomato plants, there’s nothing growing here but weeds. I was crushed.  How could that be?  I thought I'd done everything right.  I'd given them good soil and made sure they had enough water.   Why wasn't that enough?  I had to start over.  We got rid of the weeds and I planted already growing plants to replace my flower-weeds and those plants are doing well – so far.  I’m still not convinced all those plants we pulled up were weeds.  I have a sneaking suspicion some of those "weeds" were really flowers, but that could just be my hurt pride refusing to accept that I was a complete failure as a seed planter.

I suppose I should admit that I was defeated by garlic starts also.  I prepared the soil, gently planted all the little green shoots of garlic, watered and waited and watered and waited.  And … nothing.  Not one garlic poked its little green head up out of the soil to say hello.  It was an even bigger failure than my Monet garden.  I know we didn’t need all 48 starts to grow.  It’s not like we live in vampire land and are changing out our garlic necklaces every day.  But not one?!  Really??

The onion starts I planted came up and looked good for quite a while until, one day, they just laid their little green bodies on the dirt and never stood up again.  It looks like the bulb is growing but the plant just lies there looking limp and lonely.  I suppose that’s not a total failure but I don’t think I can call it a success either. 

I also planted beets, a couple of types of lettuce and some mustard.  Really?  I planted mustard?  What was I thinking?!  Thank God Dean didn't realize it was out there until it seeded or he would have been trying to slip slimy green stuff in everything he cooked.  The lettuce was doing well until I pulled up the seeded-out mustard, which exposed it to the rabbits, who were ecstatic we’d planted it for them.  The beets look like they’re happy and producing baby beets underground but we haven’t tried digging them up yet.

My only real success has been the potatoes (once the turkeys stopped digging them up).  They grew like, well, like potato plants.  And produced potatoes.  Which we’ve been eating.  We have enough potatoes to see us through til the next millennium I think!

A guy at the local greenhouse said he’d heard that stringing fishing line around a garden would keep deer out because they can sense the fishing line but not see it, so I put it around the potato garden and it seemed to work.  No deer tracks.  No chomped off potato leaves.  Know why?  Because I discovered deer don’t really LIKE potato plants!  Oh, well.  It seemed to keep the turkeys from scratching the potatoes up which was even better.  It’s not there now though because the other day I tripped trying to get through it and ended up tangled up in a mess of poles and fishing line.  Once I got the line unwrapped from my legs I wadded it up in a ball and jammed it into the garbage.  At that very moment turkey heads popped up everywhere, their internal radar began emitting beeps and blips and they showed up  – this time with their little turklets in tow. 

I didn’t need to speak turkey to know what was going on out there.  Listen up my chicklets.  This area has just been opened up to summer grazing but don’t forget to come back here when it’s cold and snowy because last winter the guy threw out seed – lots and lots of seed.  Until that cranky lady made him stop.  Trotley?  Are you listening?  Trotley!  Pay attention!  Stop pecking your sister.  Now follow me everybody and I’ll show you where I found a nice selection of yummy slugs.

Even though I don’t really believe it’s going to work, I deer proofed the tomatoes up front using the same fishing line system. 

Can you see the fishing line?  No?  You must be part deer.
I figure if a fishing line system protected gardens from deer as well as an eight foot tall fence nobody would have eight foot tall fences around their gardens in deer country but what the heck.  It has to work better than the two systems Dean used last year.  The first system he tried was to plant six stinky Marigolds near the tomatoes because deer don’t like to go near stinky things.  Ha!  The second thing he tried was this: 

When he realized we actually needed to use the car now and then he added more old fencing, the wheel barrow, hunks of metal, empty metal garbage cans, a huge tree stump, car parts, and any other old, dirty, rusty and ugly pieces of metal he could find.  That pretty much worked but I held my head in shame every time I walked out of the house. 

The Marigold plants that failed in protecting the tomatoes from death by deer last year, succeeded spectacularly in reseeding themselves this year and exploded into a massive orange Marigold garden.  Even after transplanting dozens and dozens of them to other areas in the yard, pots and barrels, there are still hundreds of them growing and blooming.  My little volunteers aren't exactly the vision of a Monet-like wild flower garden I had this spring, but if I can get a garden like that without even planting a seed, just think what I can get if I ever figure out how to get any seeds I plant to grow!