Tuesday, April 25, 2017

On the Kindness of Neighbors

Remember the super-plow that swooped in after the monster snowstorm and plowed us out? Well, we never did get a bill. And then when we were visiting Ms. Rita's chickens and rabbits just last week, she happened to mention that she had seen the tractor go by after the storm and wasn't it nice of the farmers to plow us out.


Turns out, it was one of the two bachelor brothers that run a small dairy farm on the corner of our road. I had never seen that particular John Deere tractor out and about, but I took a close look in their farmyard and saw the very same tractor that had plowed our driveway.

Oh. Well, don't I feel like an ass.

I mean, he plowed us out over a month ago and we never even said thank you. Granted, I've never met either of the brothers and didn't even know their names. But still. Some gesture was in order.

So I made them some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. That appears to be my go-to "thanks for removing snow for us" token of appreciation.

I brought the cookies over this morning and met the brother that was currently working in the barn. He wasn't the one who did the actual plowing, but he was happy to take the cookies. We had a nice chat about his farm and taxes and the future of dairy farming. His retirement plan consists of selling his 70 dairy cows and instead just producing small square bales of hay for sale.

Not many retirement-age people are planning on baling hay in their golden years, but I suppose if you've spent your entire life milking cows twice a day in this climate, haying might seem like a restful second career.


Also on the topic of neighborliness, there was a surprise in our mailbox yesterday. It was a self-delivered envelope from Emma-Friday, the dog that wasn't a stray. Actually, it was from her owner, Joe, but he had addressed it as from Emma, which I thought was really funny. Inside was a thank-you note from Joe expressing his appreciation for our kindness to his dog, and a $20 gift card to Tractor Supply*.

This was very unexpected. Nice, but unexpected. I mean, we did find and take care of his dog, but we also found her only a mile from her house, then drove her 250 miles away and kept her for a week. I was actually sort of embarrassed about that, and I was thinking if I was Joe, I might be kind of irritated about the situation. And here he is, dropping off a thank-you note and a gift.

Way to be, Joe. And Mr. Dairy Farmer. We lucked out on neighbors with this move, for sure.

* Tractor Supply is a farm store. It's like Target for country people.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Entirely Delegated

Well, the garden has been started, and no thanks at all to me.

Because of debilitating but hopefully temporary back pain, there was no way I was going to be hoeing, raking, and planting seeds yesterday. Luckily, I have three willing helpers.

Jack would have helped, but he was napping. Just as well, as the help of a two-year-old is negligible at best and destructive at worst.

A. was willing mostly because he would be happy if I never again announced that I needed to drive to the Big Village for perishable food. Or, as he so eloquently put it, "I'll do it if I never have to hear about you driving 50 miles for five calories worth of leaves."

The man does have a way with words.

Whatever the reason, he did all the work, with Cubby and Charlie's enthusiastic if inexpert assistance. I sat in a plastic chair outside the garden and managed the operations.

In the end, the work itself was laughably easy. Accustomed as we are to the heavy, clay-based soil in the garden at Blackrock, which is choked by weeds even at this early stage of the season, prepping the light, sandy, and almost weed-free soil here seemed like a game instead of a chore.

At least, that's what A. tells me. I didn't actually wield the rake myself, but it sure looked a lot easier. He didn't even use a shovel to turn the soil over. Before I knew it, there were several rows planted to carrots, radishes, lettuce, arugula, snap peas, shelling peas, and "a lot of that gross-ass kohlrabi."

That was A.'s comment anyway. He just doesn't have the soul of a true vegetable gardener. Probably because he would always rather eat a lamb than a vegetable.

Lucky for him, I happened to have a large quantity of lamb already cooking for dinner that night (hooray for after-Easter sales!), so he was suitably rewarded for his labors.

And I will be rewarded for my excellent labor management skills by many pounds of fresh vegetables right outside my door in just a few weeks. Yay.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Spring Tonic . . . with Bacon

On Friday morning, the day after we got back from our trip to Blackrock, I was sitting there watching Jack mess around outside and idly wishing I had more vegetables in the house. I had used up the more-perishable stuff before we left so it wouldn't go bad, which left me with carrots and cabbage and not much else.

What I really wanted, though, were some greens.

I was planning on going to the grocery store in the Big Village the next day to stock up on the exciting things they carry there that aren't available in the small grocery store in our nearest village. Things like the good cottage cheese*. And loose-leaf lettuce**. So, no greens until tomorrow.

But then, my eye fell upon the small dandelions just starting to grow in the rocks around the front steps.


I had remarked to the MiL when we were at Blackrock that I hadn't seen anything forageable (I think that's not a word, but you know what I mean) at our house. Not even dandelions. The dandelions were in full effect at Blackrock, of course, it being 250 miles south and therefore about three weeks ahead of us in spring growth. Also in full effect was the garlic mustard, which I used in some pasta sauce I made one night when we were there.

I suppose the week we were gone was enough to get the dandelions started here, though, and I had fortuitously brought up my bag of garden tools. So I grabbed my weeding tool, gave Jack a trowel to play with, and we went foraging for dandelions.

This takes awhile, as you have to wander around to find ones with good leaves, and then pick through them for some time to remove the bits of grass and leaves that always end up in there, and then de-stem them some. Plus the washing. Always multiple washings for anything that grows low to the ground like that.

After chopping them all up, I ended up with maybe 3/4 of a cup of greens. Not much on their own, but added to bacon, onion, carrots, frozen green peas, and a few of the last frozen tomatoes . . .

Vegetables (and bacon) for the win.

I mixed that with some of the rice leftover from the night before to make a kind of pilaf for lunch and man, it was good. I even shared it with everyone else, and they all thought it was very exciting to have a cooked lunch.

Well, except for Charlie, but I don't pay any attention to him anymore. And he ate it in the end.

Today we're going to do some planting in the garden, including lettuce, arugula, and radishes. Which means salads will soon be just feet from my door, rather than many miles.

Hooray for spring and growing things.

* The good cottage cheese is Daisy brand. It's the only one that doesn't have gross added stabilizers and junk, so it's the only one I'll buy. Too bad I have to drive 50 miles roundtrip to get it.

** The small grocery store does carry some bagged lettuce, but I won't buy that. It always tastes like bleach to me, and I'd rather go without lettuce than eat that crap. You may have realized by now that I'm really picky about food. Yup. My taste buds have been spoiled by too much good food to settle for a sad imitation.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The New Dog That Wasn't

Do I know how to set up a cliffhanger or what? Not intentionally, though. I just got busy with our wild spring break at Blackrock* and never sat down to tell you about the dog.

Now I will.

A. took all three boys for a walk on Friday after dinner while I was doing the dishes, and when they came home, Cubby burst in to announce that a brown dog had followed them home. The brown dog was shortly thereafter in my house, because Charlie let it in.

Woah there, cowboys. What just happened here?

What just happened was that this lab/pit bull-ish mutt more or less moved into the family.

We assumed it was a stray. It wasn't wearing a collar. It had been running on a road near us literally on the Canadian border that's pretty unpopulated. We thought it had been dumped.

The dog certainly was happy to be part of our crew. It played with the kids as long as they were outside before bed, so we had the opportunity to note that it wasn't aggressive in the least, which was good. When the kids came in for bed, it sat on our front steps for a couple of hours, then started scratching at the door.

A. felt sorry for it--"it" was actually a female, so "she"--and gave her some dinner. When it was time for us to go to bed, A. decided to put her in his garage/office, because it was going to be near freezing and the dog didn't have much of a coat.

The next morning, I let her out hoping it would find her way home, if home was nearby.

She didn't.

I made up some "Found Dog" signs and posted them at the dump, the post office, and the general store. We knocked on a few doors on the road the dog had been on, but there was no one home anywhere. When it was time for us to leave at 3 p.m. for Blackrock, no one had called, the dog seemed unwilling to go anywhere, and A. didn't want to leave her to fend for itself.

So we brought her along to Blackrock. By this time, the children had named her Friday. Because she was found on Good Friday. Also, like Robinson Crusoe, though they didn't get the literary reference. What are they teaching kids in school these days?

Friday the dog seemed quite happy at Blackrock, as all dogs are. She and Sky became fast friends and played non-stop. She found some ancient deer bones to gnaw on and sniffed out some rabbits in the hollow.

And then, on Monday, her owner called.

Turns out he lives on the road she was found on. He said the dog runs off a lot (which begs the question of why the hell he doesn't put a collar with tags on her). And then A. had to tell him that yes, we still have your dog, but, uh, we're 250 miles away. And we took her with us.

Kind of embarrassing.

Anyway. Friday's name was really Emma. The children were sad to hear that Emma-Friday would not be a permanent member of our family. I was not too sad when her owner came to pick her up after we got home today. I really don't feel the need for another dog at this moment. Although I'm afraid this whole episode may have accelerated our timeframe for getting another dog.

But at the moment, I'm enjoying the peace of having only one old dog to deal with. And the old dog is pretty happy about that, too.

* It really was wild. One night A. and I left the kids with the MiL and went to dinner at a Turkish restaurant. At this stage of our lives, that's equivalent to tequila shots in Rocky Point.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter at the Madhouse

Happy belated Easter, my lovelies! Did you all have a pleasant day filled with chocolate bunnies, hysterical children, and even more hysterical dogs? No? Just me then.

I do not have photos (sorry, Mary in MN and Mom), but let me paint you a word picture and you will perhaps understand why.

We acquired a new dog on Good Friday. This is a long story that will be told soon, but the end result was that we made the 250-mile drive to Blackrock on Saturday in a minivan crammed with two adults, three small children, and two dogs. Because of some work A. was frantically trying to finish up, we didn't end up leaving until mid-afternoon, which means we arrived at Blackrock around 9 p.m.

After throwing the children in bed, I assembled Easter baskets--the contents of which were brought in the Minivan of Insanity, with additional items provided by the MiL--and fell into bed at 10:30 p.m.

At 6 a.m. the next morning, A. got up to go to an early Mass in the Small City and I got up to hide the Easter eggs that the MiL had kindly purchased, boiled, and dyed for me.

I mean, that the Easter Bunny had left.

But then I did a mental full stop. Because how was I supposed to hide the eggs outside with three dogs running around out there, all of whom were hungry and would probably very much appreciate a hard-boiled egg breakfast? But if I didn't do it soon, the kids would be awake. But maybe they would sleep in (HAHAHAHA--I'm so amusingly optimistic sometimes) and then if I shut the dogs up to hide the eggs they would have to stay shut up for too long.

The mental effort of thinking about all this made me too tired, so I didn't do anything. Except I did put the eggs in the shop so I could sneakily grab them at some later point and hide them when the kids were distracted and the dogs were inside.

Is this sounding far too complicated for a simple Easter egg hunt for 11 dyed eggs? Yes. Yes, it was.

In the end, the kids woke up 10 minutes after A. left (OF COURSE) and I didn't hide the eggs until they were getting ready to go outside awhile later. The MiL was preparing to feed the dogs, which meant they were all inside, so I ran out to the shop and grabbed the eggs. Jack followed me out, letting the new dog out as well.

I herded them both back inside and told Jack to help Grandma feed the dogs. Then I ran back to the shop to get the eggs again.

Charlie came out next, letting Mia out at the same time. I shooed them both back in and told Charlie to help Grandma feed the dogs. And I grabbed the eggs yet again.

This time I managed to frantically throw some eggs around the flower beds before racing back inside to intercept the children and casually mention that hey! You think there are any eggs outside?

And just as I was getting everyone's shoes on to go outside, there was a dog fight in the kitchen (my fault--I hadn't told the MiL not to feed our two dogs in the same place) and poor old dog Mia ended up with a bloody ear.

Anyway. The children found the eggs, and while they were showing Grandma their eggs outside, I hid their Easter baskets inside. And cleaned up the drops of blood on the kitchen floor.

So that was our Easter morning. You can maybe see why I wasn't prancing around happily snapping photos of our photo-worthy egg hunt.

Holidays at Blackrock may be crazy, but they're never boring.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sweet Freedom

I'll tell you one thing about living in a place with a long and severe winter: That first day when you can send the (my) kids out to play in just rubber boots and a light jacket is very exciting. Especially if it's sunny with no wind and all you (I) have to do is sit there in the sun on the front steps and watch* them. Maybe plant some basil seeds, too.

They made a catapult, and, this being the far north, there was still enough snow in the snow mountain for ammunition.

Dorky hat, sunglasses, and a big spring smile. Whee.

* Mostly to make sure Jack doesn't decide to go walkabout on the road. A good decision this morning, as our mail lady stopped to deliver mail and also handed out lollipops, which resulted in a free-for-all at the mailbox. I've never lived in a place where the mail person somewhat regularly leaves candy for kids. It may not be the most nutritionally sound gesture, but it sure is nice. Of course, our mail lady is also the kids' principal's mom, so basically it's all like one big family around here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sugar and Spice/Snips and Snails

Oh hey, guess what? It appears I can make a girl baby after all!

This fourth baby (due, incidentally, on October 16) is a girl. Sugar and spice, here we come! Though with three big brothers, I suspect she won't be able to avoid the snips and snails* part.

* A not-very-definitive explanation of what "snips" might actually be is here if you're interested, which I was.