Monday, May 22, 2017

An Eminently Quotable Book

It's been a few years now since A. sold the last of his sheep, and not a grass-growing season goes by that he doesn't mourn the waste of fine forage with no animals to set upon it. He gets particularly voluble on this subject when he has to mow grass that--in his opinion--sheep should be eating to provide him with lambs for the freezer.

Personally, I could happily go my entire life without ever docking another lamb's tail, but for A., that would be no kind of life at all. So I'm resigned to the fact that someday we will have woolly dependents again.

But I haven't forgotten what a pain in the ass they are. No, indeed. And a book that A. brought home from the library and I started reading is bringing it all back.

The book is Country Life: A Handbook for Realists and Dreamers, by Paul Heiney. It's published by the wonderful DK Publishing Company, which has my eternal gratitude for producing non-fiction books about every imaginable subject for children that both the children and adults can enjoy and learn something from.

Do you know how hard it is to find really good non-fiction books for kids? DK does it every time.

I'm digressing, though.

I started having reluctant-shepherdess flashbacks in the section with instructions for proper fencing. He notes that while a fence with three wires should be fine for cows, sheep will probably need five wires. And this is because, as he goes on to say in the section with advantages and disadvantages of all types of farm animals, sheep are "Famed escapologists."

Now you're singing my song, Paul.

He also lists the following for sheep diseases: "Blowfly strike, foot rot, and countless other diseases, the first symptom of which is often death."

Or, in the words of another well-known and very alliterative saying about sheep, "Sick sheep seldom survive."

The only thing he lists as a special need for sheep? "A good shepherd to keep them out of trouble."

As long as that good shepherd is A. and not me. I don't qualify. Maybe that's why ours were so much trouble.

Anyway. You should read the book if you can, even if you're not really into farming. If nothing else, Paul Heiney has a distinctive dry humor that makes the book fun to read.

P.S. Though not specific to sheep, I did also appreciate this nugget of wisdom: "Farm animals do not make good pets. If you can't kill them, get a dog or a cat and grow vegetables." For realists, indeed.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Motorcycles, Microgreens, and May Sprinkler Play

It's been an exciting Saturday for us. We kicked if off by driving all the way to the small city 45 minutes away to pick up a rental car for A.'s upcoming out-of-town trips this week*.

Well, technically I suppose we kicked it off with apples and peanut butter for breakfast and fighting over Star Wars toys when the kids woke up, but we'll skip that part and get to the exciting stuff.

When we got to the small city, A. decided he wanted to stop in at Harbor Freight--home to massive quantities of very cheap tools--to get a couple of sawhorses. The Harbor Freight store happened to be right next to the Harley Davidson dealership, and they had set up their parking lot for some kind of rally. Which meant there were motorcycles everywhere.

Much as my sons enjoy running wild through tool stores, the lure of shiny machines was strong. Therefore, we went to tour the motorcycles while A. got his sawhorses. Eventually we made it into the actual showroom, where a very enthusiastic lady swooped down on the boys with bandanas, helium balloons, and cookies. And then she tied the bandanas into do-rags on their heads.

Possibly my favorite picture ever of my sons.

Unfortunately, that photo captures the shining moment of happiness just before it all fell apart. Specifically, before we left and Charlie lost his balloon in the parking lot. He watched it floating high up into the sky, and when he realized he could not get it back, he was absolutely inconsolable. It was very sad. Not even the fact that Jack also lost his as I was getting him into the car could make Charlie feel that the loss of his beloved balloon was anything less than tragic. He cried for several minutes.

But after we picked up the rental car we took them to a playground and let them play for over an hour--despite the deceptively sunny but cold weather that made A. and me really wish we had brought our sweaters--so that cheered everyone up.

Also, the fact that Cubby popped his balloon accidentally in the car on the way home made Charlie feel as if balloons really are ephemeral delights to be enjoyed for a fleeting moment in time before they fly off to their inevitable end.

Or maybe something less philosophical.


When we got home, I decided it was time to thin the plants in the garden. The children's enthusiastic help with the planting of tiny seeds had resulted in what can only be described as clumps of seedlings coming up. Not so much with the careful spacing. But that's okay, because after I had thinned a few rows of radishes and arugula that had been planted by Cubby and Charlie, I was left with a large quantity of fancy-pants microgreens.

See? Fancy-pants.

They're not careless gardeners; they're foodies. 

I had to wash those greens a total of five times before they were clean, but it was worth it. I dressed them with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. The kids ate theirs just like that and, amazingly, actually ate them. Cubby even asked for seconds, and Charlie--Charlie who doesn't even like pizza--announced, "Our greens taste best."

Damn straight.

I added some pickled beets and feta cheese to mine and it was delicious. Also pretty, though I don't have a photo for you because, well, I wanted to eat it, not take a picture of it.

I do, however, have photos of the post-dinner sprinkler playing. And the reason I have photos is I wanted to document how insane my children are. It was 58 degrees. God knows how cold the water was. But A. turned on the sprinkler for the garden while he was planting some shallots and onions, and I couldn't convince the kids it was too cold to run through it. So they did.

They only stopped when Cubby announced he was so cold he couldn't run anymore and Charlie announced he was so cold that the rock he was standing on was shaking. Jack didn't announce anything except "ha ba," which means hot bath and told me everything I needed to know.

After their hot baths they went to bed. I can only hope that all the excitement of the day will mean that they sleep soundly and long. I'm certainly planning on it.

* A. very kindly conceded that perhaps he shouldn't leave me without a car for several days this week while he was gone. He knows I'm not down with the bike-as-substitute-car idea.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A No-Car Family

We still haven't replaced the dead minivan, which means that we're currently a one-car family. This is actually not a big deal for us, as A. works from home and I, uh, don't leave the house. Like ever. Sharing a car between us is definitely feasible.

But what happens when even that car isn't available? We found out.

See, A. had scheduled some maintenance work on the Subaru at the mechanic's shop in the village, and he really wanted to get all this little stuff taken care of before he was required to get the state inspection done next month. He had been meaning to buy a bike for himself anyway--because we bought bikes for the kids and already an adult has to have one too to keep up with Cubby--so he figured he could ride his bike to drop off the car and pick it up. It's only seven miles from our house to the mechanic's shop.

Well. Distance becomes a much different thing when one is on a bike. Seven miles in a car is not at all the same as seven miles on a bicycle. Especially, ahem, if one has not ridden a bike in approximately 20 years.

A. dropped the Subaru off on Tuesday morning and biked back. It took him about half an hour and he said it wasn't a bad ride at all.

The car was supposed to be done that day, but the mechanic called to say that when he test-drove it, he discovered a brake problem. Okay, said A. I can pick it up tomorrow.

We didn't really need it that night, and then he wouldn't have to make the bike trip again on the same day.

On Wednesday, the mechanic found more issues when he was working on the brakes and had to spend some time tracking down a used part. So the car wouldn't be ready that day, either. But A. had to go to the post office in the village to mail some documents for work.

No car, so that meant another trip on the bike. He left at 3 p.m. and called an hour and a half later to say he was at the post office.

I guess the heat (84 degrees), the hills, and the wind (15 miles an hour with stronger gusts) had a bad effect on his time. Just a little.

And then I compounded the misery by reminding him that I needed some sunscreen to send in to school for Charlie the next day for his "beach day" (sprinklers and popsicles on the soccer field). So he had to go up to the store just a bit outside the village. This seems like a trivial distance in a car, but on a bike, that long incline out of the village becomes much more noticeable. And it added another two miles to his trip.

Sure hope Charlie enjoyed that sunscreen.

In the end, he got back three hours after he left, after riding about 16 miles. His legs were done for. He took a really hot bath with Epsom salts that night.

The next day was just the same weather--hot and windy. And he had to ride back into the village to pick up the car. But at least this time the car was actually ready, so it was only one way.

I suspect that the drive home, sitting in a cushioned vehicle whizzing along at fifty miles an hour, has never seemed so luxurious.

At least now A. knows it can be done. He said he didn't mind it that much, it was just a little bit of a trial by fire to do so much riding so suddenly. But he does plan on sometimes using his bike to go to the post office on nice days.

I, however, am not planning on cycling merrily off to the grocery store with Jack in a trailer or something. A one-car family I can handle. A no-car family? No, thanks.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Of Fried Chicken and Unseasonable Heat

For various reasons, A. decided not to do his big fried chicken adventure on Mother's Day. So he did it yesterday instead. And it was definitely an Event.

There was a cutting up of a whole chicken, which then resulted in me making chicken stock with the leftover bits and then chicken salad with the resulting bits of meat from the stock making. There was brining. There was shaking with cornstarch, coating with buttermilk, and dredging in cornmeal*. And then there was the frying. In two pints of lard.

And after all that, there was the straining of the lard so it can be saved, filling the dog's bowl with all the miscellaneous greasy residue, and the dishes.

A. did the dishes. Good man.

It was really good chicken. Everyone enjoyed it. Well, except for Charlie, who objected to the crunchiness of the cornmeal coating and required removal of said coating before he would eat his drumstick.

Good old Charlie.

But was it worth it? Eh. Maybe if you're really into fried chicken. A. is, so he thought it was worth it. I'm not, so I certainly wouldn't do it again. Then again, it's really A. doing it--with some assistance from me in actually finding and assembling all the ingredients and equipment--so I guess he can have at it. Especially if he does the dishes.

I kind of wish he had made more, though, so we could have the leftovers for dinner tonight. Then I wouldn't have to cook. It's going to be 80 degrees, and I don't want to turn on the oven or stove.

I know. That's not exactly Georgia in July weather--and thank God for that, because I would just die--but it's hot for us. We could turn on the air conditioner, I suppose, but that seems sort of frivolous in May.

Maybe I'll just make some tuna salad and call it a meal.

It's really too bad we don't have any fried chicken left, though . . .

* We used this recipe, which definitely worked, but was also a pain in the ass. Both outcomes were expected, because it's from America's Test Kitchen.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Happy Mother's Day Interlude

We're not much for Mother's Day around here. I'm not entirely sure how one would really celebrate it, anyway. Going to brunch or out to dinner seems to be a popular option, but I like the food at home way better than anywhere else. There is also the point that eating in a public place with my three hellions is not my idea of a celebration.

Breakfast in bed is another seemingly popular tradition that I just can't get behind. I have zero interest in eating on my pillow.

So this morning I got up and had my pancakes just like any other Sunday. A. always makes sourdough pancakes or waffles on Sundays. I like pancakes better, so that was my special Mother's Day request. I did get the requisite and always-appreciated Mother's Day gift made at school by Cubby and Charlie. In Charlie's case, a craft proclaiming that he loves me to the moon and back, enhanced by glitter. In Cubby's case, a list of why he loves me, which includes the gem, "I know my mom cares about me because . . . she fills my water bottles."

But mostly it's been business as usual. Lots of preparing and serving of pancakes. Arbitrating disputes over the Tinker Toy pieces. Continuing Jack's toilet training, which involves spending a good part of the morning watching him like a hawk and racing him to the bathroom, where we then camped out until he produced a satisfactory result and was then rewarded with a chocolate chip (or two, depending on the, ahem, result).

You know. Mom stuff. Because if there's one thing you learn quickly with motherhood, it's that it never stops. Not ever. Best to accept that and find your happiness where you can. It's not always--or, uh, ever--going to be grand gestures and all-day extravaganzas.

But there will be moments. My moment today came courtesy of the fact that Cubby woke up with a cough yesterday and requested soup for lunch, which meant that I had my favorite cool-weather lunch on hand today: homemade soup and sharp cheddar cheese. Combine that with A. taking the older two to church and Jack going down for his nap, and we have . . .

The solo lunch with a book is indeed a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

You know my love for a quiet meal with a book. That's what feels like indulgence to me. Beats overpriced and underwhelming food at a crowded restaurant, for sure.

Plus, A. is going to make fried chicken tonight and I'm not planning on cleaning up the resulting mess. Happy Mother's Day to me!

And Happy Mother's Day to my sisters-in-arms, whether on active duty, retired, or waiting for the call-up*. I hope you get to do whatever makes you happy today.

* Particularly, of course, my very own mother, who is a pretty sterling example of motherhood and deserves much more than a footnote at the bottom of a post all about me. I don't think she'll hold it against me, though, because she's good like that.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Farewell, Old Van

Three years ago almost exactly, I was agitating for a minivan.

There are words that several years ago I never thought I would string together. Such is the mindset induced by the imminent arrival of a third child, however.

This was shortly after Big Red left us and A. wanted to get another pick-up truck. I wanted a minivan. He thought I could manage all three kids in the Subaru. I told him the Subaru is technically mine, and if he wanted to get a pick-up, that was fine with me, but I would trade in my Subaru for a minivan.

About two days after that conversation, A. called me from work to tell me he had bought a minivan.

Oh. Surprising, but YAY!

It was only eight years old, but he bought it for just over $2,000 (from a private seller) because it was rusty.

Kind of a lot rusty, as it turned out. But it also turned out to be an exceptionally good vehicle for us. We've had to do very few repairs on it in the last three years, and it never once actually broke down to the point that it was undrivable.

But still. Rusty. And that is a problem that is not improved by all the salt used on roads in upstate New York in the winter.

Finally this spring, we decided it was really time to look for another vehicle. A. has been looking around online, but the selection is pretty limited in our vicinity. Especially because the coming fourth child is going to mean that even a minivan won't be very big with all the seats in use. The cargo area in the back isn't big enough to hold the dog.

(Actually, the selection is mostly limited because we won't go to a dealer and pay many thousands of dollars for a new vehicle. That's not our style. Our style, apparently, is to buy a rusty van for $2,000 and drive it for three years as it slowly disintegrates. Works for us.)

So A. has been trying to decide if we should get a Suburban (which doesn't really seem that much bigger than a minivan, frankly), or a full-size, no-messing-around, 12-passenger van. With the van, we can remove the back row of seats and have a big cargo area.

I think we should get the big van, if only because I can't see our need for space in a vehicle decreasing in the coming years as the children grow ever larger. I mean, I don't particularly want to drive a small bus, but these are the results of choosing to have a family of six people and a dog.

Anyway, this debate will shortly be closed, because we need to buy another vehicle right now. Last night as I was driving Charlie and Jack to a T-ball game, I felt something go wrong with a wheel when I turned and then could hear (and smell) some serious friction thereafter. Luckily, I managed to make it home. This morning A. diagnosed a fatal suspension failure due to rust. It could be fixed, but when the undercarriage is as rusty as this one was, what can you attach a new part to that won't fail pretty soon itself?

So we called the local mechanic to come haul it away for us (both Randy and Andy showed up, which amused me to no end), leaving us with $120 in cash and only the Subaru as the family car* for the moment.

Guess A. got his wish of three kids in the Subaru after all. For the moment, anyway. And now the hunt is on for the next family bus. Should be exciting. Stay tuned to see what we end up with . . .

* But only after some serious cleaning out. A. does not maintain a car in a fit state for family use, as you may recall. In fact, when I remarked during my cleaning that there has been some irrevocable damage to the hatchback carpet, he admitted, "Well, there's been a few carcasses back there over the years." Indeed.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I Feel a Ramble Coming On

Let's start with today and work our way back through some random photos of the past week or so, shall we?

Yes. We shall.

It snowed off and on all day yesterday, and this morning I woke up to this.

I may have said out loud, "You must be kidding me." Except I didn't say "kidding."

But now I have some black-eyed peas simmering away on the stove, so I'm making the most of what I hope is the last snowy day we have for a long time. I know, it's not New Year's Day and therefore it will not do much perhaps for my happiness in the future, but simmering stuff helps to warm the house up. Plus, they taste so good they'll ensure happiness for the duration of dinner anyway. And I had half a bag of dried black-eyed peas to use up. So there you go.

Speaking of Food I Make (which I usually am) . . . behold, the only sushi just south of the Canadian border.

Well, maybe my neighbors eat this all the time, but I really doubt it.

They were very easy to make. I ordered most of the ingredients from Amazon, as my local stores don't carry anything like nori (the dried seaweed sheets everything is wrapped in). Honestly, the hardest part was getting the nori sheets out of their bag without catching them on the edges and tearing them.

So what I did was, I made the rice as instructed on my bag of rice and seasoned it as suggested in this post. While I was at it, I also made some quick-pickled carrot and cucumber sticks loosely based on a recipe from here, but with a little salt added, because a pickle without salt? No.

I did not use raw fish. There is no sushi-grade raw fish anywhere within two hundred miles, I'm pretty sure. Well, unless I had A. catch me a fish, and then I froze it to guard against worms or something, and sliced it reeeeally thinly, and . . .

Yeah. I used imitation crab meat.

I made a test roll with pickled vegetables and green onions in it and ate it all myself with pickled ginger and soy sauce while everyone else was either at church or sleeping. I found that even my relatively dull and cheap chef's knife sliced just fine, if I cleaned it off sometimes.

Test completed successfully, I then made one sheet with pickled vegetables and the, ahem, "crab," and one with those plus minced green onions. Then I made a sheet with cucumber and cream cheese, and one with those plus green onions.

My very professional equipment. I declined to buy a bamboo sushi-rolling mat.

Each rolled sheet resulted in about eight pieces. We had no trouble eating all 30 or so pieces I ended up with (not counting the test batch already in my belly).

Everyone except Charlie loved them. But then, Charlie told me last night that he doesn't like (homemade!) pizza, so you can't trust him.

Cubby ate most of the crab ones himself and brought the few leftovers to school for lunch the next day. I mostly ate the cream cheese and cucumber ones, which are my favorite. Jack and A. ate everything.

It was fun. They were good. Good thing, since I have about 45 nori sheets left.

And last but not least, baseball/T-ball season has begun!

And I have a really blurry picture to prove it.

Marginally better, if shaded.

This is the first year either of them has played. Cubby LOVES it, and shows promise of being a good player. Charlie . . . well, Charlie is "saving his energy for soccer."

He doesn't love it*. Not that I blame him because, let's face it, four-year-olds can't actually play T-ball, and it's about the most boring thing ever standing on the field watching eight kids in a row swing and miss or whack the T or hit it all of two feet or whatever.


Two games a week for both of them for the next month means a lot of time spent on ball fields for all of us. I guess it really is spring. Despite the weather.

* You may be asking yourself, "Does Charlie love ANYTHING?" Good question. The answer is: Not much. Though he was very enthusiastic about the desperation meal of scrambled eggs and tater tots I made when I was sick last week, so I guess that tells you a lot about Charlie's preferences. He definitely landed in the wrong family.