Friday, December 27, 2013

It's Two Days After Christmas! You Know What THAT Means!

Happy birthday to meeee.

Yes, I am indeed turning 34 years old today. It's kind of weird to be marking such an advanced (ha) age in the home of my parents, surrounded by all the things I remember from when I was, like, Cubby's age.

I was all set to sleep in this morning, reminding A. that he would be getting up the with kids. HAHAHAHA. Apparently, I've learned nothing in my 34 years.

I don't sleep in. Ever. And I especially don't sleep in when there's a two-hour time change and my body thinks it's after 6 a.m.

So I got up at 4:30 a.m. I could have stayed in bed, but I get bored just lying there. And frankly, I need the half hour or so in the (very) early morning when I'm traveling with my children before they get up so I can have my coffee and just . . . not talk for awhile.

Later my brother will be arriving with his wife and two daughters; the older one is two years older than Cubby, the younger just three weeks younger than Charlie. I can't wait for the cousins to meet up and circle each other like dogs before joining forces to create bedlam in my parents' home. It's going to be loud and frenetic and completely insane.

So for now there is silence and coffee and sleeping children. Later there will be lots of family and food and shouting. Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Upstate New York to Tucson Is a Long Way

In case you weren't aware of that. And it is exponentially longer with two little kids.

Not that I can complain about those kids. They were amazing. Even Charlie, who used to be such a misery in the car that I thought twice about driving longer than 20 minutes away from the house. He slept a total of maybe 20 minutes yesterday, but he did not cry. It was amazing.

Even in the car on the way from Phoenix to Tucson--the last leg of the trip and an interminable two hours--he would not fall asleep. It was dark for part of it, he was so tired he was staring vacantly into space, but as soon as we got off the freeway and into the city, he perked right up and started babbling about the lights.

Cubby whined some, because it's kind of hard to sit still for ten hours when you're three (or thirty-three . . .), but he was good too. I continue to be amazed at how they never really live up to my worst expectations.

I love those kids.

And now we're here, with ten days of merriment and good weather ahead. The best Christmas present ever.

Monday, December 23, 2013

I'm Dreaming of a Desert Christmas

We're leaving Christmas Day for Arizona. My father has instructed me to pack swim suits for the kids, so they can swim in my parents' heated pool. It took some doing to locate swim suits--those not being items we have used or will be using for some time--but I did.

My mother sent me an e-mail saying she was going on a liquor run. She was already planning on getting me gin and tonic, but she wanted to check if there was anything else she should get.

It's going to be 65 degrees (or warmer) and nothing but sun the entire ten days we're there.

I'm anticipating a very merry Christmas. And I wish the same to all of you, my lovelies, wherever you may be.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Santa Claus Is Comin' To Blackrock

The Santa Question has been hovering with renewed urgency this year: Will Cubby believe?

Of late I've been getting the feeling that he kind of wants to believe in Santa. Other, random people have already talked to him about it, asking if he's excited for Santa to come, if he's been a good boy, etc. I have no doubt that if I played it up, talked about it all the time, left out the cookies or whatever, he'd be all over it.

But I can't. My mother asked me the other day, "You can't just lie?" Not really.

So I figured it was time for a talk. Just me and Cubby, mother to son. Just to feel him out a little on what he's been thinking about it.

It went like this:

Me: So, Cubby, tell me about Santa Claus.

Cubby: Well, you can't really see him at night. But you can sometimes hear him.

Me: What does he sound like?

Cubby: I can't really explain that.

Me: Well, what does he look like?

Cubby: I can't really explain that either.

Me: Um . . . so, what does he do then?

Cubby: I can't really explain any of it, Mommy.

Me neither, son. Me neither.

At this point, since there did seem to be some sort of belief already there, I told him that Santa Claus is a part of Christmas for a lot of children, that he sometimes brings surprises for them. I did not say that he brings presents; that Cubby could petition him for gifts; that Santa flies around with reindeer. I just couldn't get into it that far. But I did ask Cubby if he thought Santa might come to our house.

He said yes. So Santa will, some way.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Season of Giving

The super-secret gift making has been in full swing at Cubby's preschool this month.

Except, since we're dealing with three- and four-year-olds here, the secret part goes by the wayside pretty quick. So every day when I asked Cubby what they did at school that morning, I would hear he made a necklace for me. Or a bracelet for me. Or whatever.

Presents! Hooray!

Yesterday was the last day of preschool before the holiday break, and we were all presented with a large box full of crafts created by our very own precious babies.

When I asked my own precious baby who all of these things were for, he informed me, "Those are for me, myself."

Right. I think you missed the point there, Cubby.

After we got home and he started pulling all the stuff out to display it to us, I suggested maybe it would be nice if that splendidly decorated soup can went with Daddy to his office, so he could put it on his desk to hold his pens and pencils and think of Cubby all day while he was working. Cubby said, "No. That's mine. It came to MY house, and it is MINE."

So much for the generous spirit of Christmas giving.

P.S. Cubby's teacher made ornaments for all the families with a photo of that family's kid on them. I cannot tell you how much I love her for this. My own parents' Christmas tree is adorned with no less than three photo ornaments of me from various preschools and kindergartens that I attended, so it's like a (narcissistic) family tradition.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


As is my way, I've been spending the last couple of weeks kind of stressing out about when to do the Christmas decorating. I was trying to find a time when at least one of the children wasn't present (i.e. preschool time or nap time) so I wouldn't be wrestling breakable things away from both children at the same time while maintaining my festive cheer.

And then, as so often happens, I just up and did it. One morning at 7:30, I announced to Cubby, "Hey, we're going to put up some Christmas decorations!" Then he and I raced upstairs all the way to the small attic in the very back bedroom to grab a box of decorations. I tore him away from all the fascinating junk stored in there ("Look! It's my old bassinet!") so we could get back downstairs before Charlie even made it out of the equally fascinating parlor and ascended the stairs.

I highly recommend splitting your home into zones and controlling your kids' access to some of them. When normally forbidden zones are opened to them, it's guaranteed distraction.


That one box was the only one I ever did end up bringing down, but it had enough in it to spread some Christmas cheer.

First out of the box were the hats. Unbreakable, wearable, and immediately commandeered by the children.


Next I found this random string of big decorative lights the MiL bought a few years ago. I could never figure out a good spot for them, because the bulbs are so big but the string is actually really short. But in my quest to find a spot to hang them where they would be near a semi-concealed outlet and wouldn't get yanked down by destructive gremlins (CHARLIE), I inadvertently stumbled across the perfect place.


The kids LOVE these lights. It's the first thing they comment on every morning when they come downstairs. Though "comment" is a generous word for what Charlie does. He points and says, "Ba?" Which is what he says for everything, so I don't know.

I hung up some (unbreakable) stockings, strewed around some random (unbreakable) other stuff and called it good.

But what about the tree?

I wimped out this year and went with a tabletop tree again, so I wouldn't spend the holiday season shadowing Charlie to save the tree from imminent disaster.

Because we needed what A. termed "a micro-tree," he just went into the woods and whacked the top off of a pretty small one. I stuck it in a vase filled with broken flowerpot shards and wet sand and once again, called it good. Are you sensing a theme?

O Christmas shrub.

It's actually a pretty terrible little tree, all sparse and weirdly shaped and I don't even have any decorations on it yet, because that requires another trip to the distant attic, but you know what? The kids don't give a damn about any of that; they only see the lights. I think if I put up nothing but randomly looped strands of lights, they would be happy. 

You'd think I would have learned by now that trying to do things the way I did before I had kids by doing them without the kids is so not the point. The point is that I do have kids and so should do these things with the kids, however random and chaotic the result.

I'm a slow learner. And that really is a ridiculously ugly tree, but who cares? Not them, and therefore not me. 

Merry pre-Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Snowy Celebration

Birthdays are all about doing what the birthday person wants to do. So when I saw that the forecast on A.'s birthday called for cold temperatures and many inches of snow, I arranged a special outing for his birthday.


We went snowshoeing in a forest preserve in the hills about an hour from us. There was even more snow there, plus a big pine plantation to block the wind, which is what made the 19-degree temperature bearable.

I was there, too.

I'm wearing the MiL's snowshoes. I do not own snowshoes, not being a really big proponent of voluntarily leaving the woodstove in such conditions.

So we shoed.

And it was achingly wholesome.

We only snowshoed for about ten minutes--which is quite long enough for a three-year-old's legs--before leaving the path and going a little ways into the woods to light a fire.

And when I say "we," I of course mean A., with Charlie's supervision.

We released Charlie from the pack in which he had been hanging out quite happily. 

He was not quite so happy standing on his own tiny feet in eight inches of snow, but he was brave.

Cubby, on the other hand, was very happy. He suggested we go home to get the Pack 'n' Play for Charlie so we could all camp out there. An interesting suggestion, but no.

Then Charlie soiled himself, so we had to go back to the car, where he got changed in the unheated back of the Subaru and cleaned up with literally frozen wipes.

I'm sorry, Charlie. This is life with the Family Blackrock.

It was a good time anyway, though. And a perfect way to celebrate A.'s birthday.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Get Those Voices Ready

In honor of A.'s 33rd birthday today, it's time for yet another rendition of  "The Woodchuck Man Can."  It's a tradition.

Who can take a rifle and bring home tasty meat?
Who can build a spit to roast a lamb that all our friends can eat?

The woodchuck man
The woodchuck man can
The woodchuck man can 
'Cause he uses what he has and makes it work for him

Who can take a small boy to camp in a canoe?
Who can make tomato stakes with the locust that he hewed?

The woodchuck man
The woodchuck man can
The woodchuck man can 
'Cause he uses what he has and makes it work for him

Who can build a wood crane to operate by hand?
Who can make a boat for stones to haul across the land?

The woodchuck man
The woodchuck man can
The woodchuck man can 
'Cause he uses what he has and makes it work for him

Happy birthday to A., the woodchuckiest man of them all.

P.S. As always, you're welcome to contribute a verse to the song if you're so inclined.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Those Boys

If you'd like to hear some adorable stories about my precocious children and their endearing habits . . . well, maybe some other time. Instead, let me share the following:

Charlie is developing into quite the little comedian. So far his best routines are raspberries on any exposed bit of skin on the lucky receiver--usually me and my cheek, which is simultaneously hilarious and gross, what with the attendant slobber--and pooping in the bathtub.

Yeah. That last one is so not a hit with me. There are few things I enjoy less than cleaning feces out of a bathtub. But it's so much worse when the poop is deliberate. And I know it's deliberate, because the first time it happened, it was an accident. But there was so much ensuing hilarity--thanks to boys and their appreciation of anything scatological--that Charlie now does it on purpose to make Cubby laugh.

This does not make me laugh. In fact, it makes me swear freely while I scrub the tub.

Cubby's latest little quirk is "I can't." As in, "I can't take off my snowpants; they're too tight."

Five minutes and a lot of screaming later, the snowpants are off with no assistance from me other than repeated statements to the effect of, "You can and you will, because I'm not."

Or from Cubby today: "I can't walk up the driveway to the house. I'm too tired. I need to lie down in the snow."

My response was something along the lines of, "You can and you will, because we have been out in a blizzard on the beach for an hour at your request and Charlie is cold and miserable and we are going inside right now."

Obviously, "can't" is not a word I have much sympathy for.

I also don't have much sympathy for pooping in the bathwater, but that's way more disgusting.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

This Could Be Bad

Lately I've grown somewhat disenchanted with my beloved peanut butter. The issue I've been having is with the texture. It was too . . . smooth or fatty or something. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until I read this book called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.The author compares commercial peanut butter to Crisco.

Bingo. And gross.

She then went on to give a "recipe" for peanut butter, which was all of three ingredients (unsalted peanuts, neutral oil, and salt) and one direction (pulverize in a food processor). So OF COURSE I had to make it.

And now I really, really wish I hadn't.

Not because it was bad. Quite the opposite. The damned stuff is so good I can literally eat it with a spoon. I added a very small amount of maple syrup to it, because I do not enjoy peanut butter with no sweetening at all. I realized after the, uh, third spoonful (maybe fourth . . .) that it's so intensely peanut-y and delicious that I essentially made pureed peanut brittle.

I have no control around peanut brittle. None whatsoever. The combination of salt, sweet, and fat is much too addicting. The only thing that stops me from eating all the peanut brittle in my reach (whenever it comes within my reach, which is not often for this very reason) is the fact that it's so chewy and sticky my jaw starts to hurt after awhile.

But if it's in a paste form, like this homemade peanut butter? This does not bode well for my jeans.

* I straight-up loved this book. I don't really agree with all her conclusions about what's worth making at home and what isn't, but it was very, very fun to read.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Mustard Verdict

Remember when I ground mustard seeds in my molcajete like some crazy peasant person? So I could make my own mustard like a crazy peasant person?

Well, that mustard is CRAZY PEASANT HOT OWOWOW.

It's delicious, but it is really, really spicy. And I used the white mustard seeds! It's the mildest kind! Thank God we didn't happen to have brown or, God forbid, super-hot black mustard seeds around to make it with. I probably still wouldn't be able to taste anything.

So I could never eat it on, say, a sandwich. But if it's cooked, it loses most of its heat and just tastes good. It's like a ready-made sauce for meat. Pork, particularly. And who has a whole pig hanging out in her freezer? Why, the same person who has a jar of mustard that needs to be cooked to be edible. Hi!

I've stirred it into soup, added it to sauces, and mixed it with honey to make, uh, honey mustard to coat pork chops and ham steaks. It's really, really good. Cooked. And if you're into spicy, it would be good uncooked.

I've almost used up the half pint of mustard I made a week ago. Guess I'd better limber up my grinding arm and haul out the molcajete. We're gonna need some more mustard.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

It's a Very Meh Christmas

The holiday hoopla is in full swing. Glittery junk all over the stores, holiday books prominently displayed at the library, people talking endlessly about gifts and decorating and baking and whatever else it is that makes them get all frazzled but determined to paste a merry smile on their faces FOR THE CHILDREN.

Not into it.

This year particularly I'm not into it because we're leaving Christmas Day for Arizona. I'm very excited to spend part of the holiday season with my family there, which has not happened since I moved from Arizona eleven years ago. It is making it kind of hard to get into it here, though.

In a normal year, this would be the weekend we would head to the woodchuck Christmas tree back forty to get our tree. I'm not too gung ho about doing it this year, however, since I won't be here to take it down until well after New Year's, so there's no point in getting it early only to have it dry out and die before I can take it down.

Plus, I have no doubt whatsoever that Charlie is going to rip off any ornament he can reach (and that boy has Go-Go Gadget Arms if he sees something he wants) and throw them. He's in a throwing phase. This does not mesh with Christmas trees. So I'm in no hurry to have that particular temptation set up.

Ditto on a lot of the decorating. It has to be high enough that he can't reach it. And anything HE can't reach, Cubby will find a way to reach, and anything Cubby sees that is new and shiny must immediately become his. He's like Gollum with his precious. Not looking forward to confiscating ceramic trees and candleholders from him and dealing with the ensuing shrieks of, "But I'll be CAREFUL!"

There was also the conversation I had the other day with Cubby in which he asked me over and over if Santa is real, and like an annoying, cynical parent I kept coming back with, "What do YOU think?" He said no.

We seem to have a conspicuous lack of Christmas magic around here.

Not to worry, though! Next weekend we'll make a pilgrimage with our hacksaw to get a tree, throw some unbreakable cheap ornaments on there, hand out the (real) ancient horse sleigh bells that are sitting on the mantle, and sing "Jingle Bells" on endless rotation.

Because who wants to be the Christmas killjoy for two small children? Not me. Well, not much, anyway.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Baby's First Butchering

Fair Warning: Dead deer photos ahead. 

Hey, anyone remember that deer A. shot a long time ago? I wouldn't blame you for forgetting; I almost forgot about it too, since he actually shot it on November 22. Yeah. Over a week ago. And it's been hanging in our shed ever since. But why, you ask, did it not get all putrid and foul?

Because the damned thing froze rock solid.

Seriously. It could have been used as a (very heavy and unwieldy) club. We obviously couldn't butcher it when it was a solid chunk of flesh encased in hair. So we waited for a thaw. And waited some more.

Yesterday was the big day. And do you think I tried to shield my precious, innocent children from the sight of death?

Bet you saw this one coming, right?

I couldn't have kept those feral small boys inside if I had tried. They wanted to be right where the action was.

In this case, the action was at the deer's hindquarters, where Daddy was threading the gambrel through its legs to hang it for skinning.

Charlie looked a wee bit concerned in that first photo, I know. He looked a lot more than concerned when the knot on the gambrel gave way the first time A. hauled the deer up on the tree branch and the deer plummeted very unexpectedly and indelicately to the ground. 

But he got over his concern pretty quickly once he found a stick.

Yup, definitely dead. 

A. did manage to suspend the deer successfully the second time. He skinned it and cut it into quarters while I was putting Charlie down for a nap and getting Cubby to preschool. I managed to cut up one of the forequarters yesterday and most of the rest of it today. We ate the backstraps last night and some surprisingly good chicken-fried (venison) steaks tonight. Much venison chili is in our future. And A. is going to try to get at least one more deer.

Cubby and Charlie approve.

Monday, December 2, 2013

For My Sister

About five years ago when my sister was coming to visit us from Tucson, she asked if there was anything she could bring me. Why yes, I said. I want a molcajete.

A molcajete, for those of you who are not from Arizona or another state with a big Mexican population, is a kind of mortar and pestle made out of very rough stone (traditionally basalt, a volcanic rock). It's the traditional Mexican tool for grinding spices and stuff like garlic for salsa or whatever. 

I think at the time we had a big bag of cumin seeds I was using to make salsa and I needed a way to grind them. Small stuff like that can't be broken up in a food processor because it just slips under the blade. In retrospect, I do not know why the hell I didn't just buy a spice grinder like a normal person. Probably because I'm not a normal person. I'm a person who thinks nothing of smashing seeds in a rock vessel.

So I requested the molcajete. And my sister, being the stand-up gal that she is, made a trip to South Tucson to secure one for me and then hauled it in her suitcase all the way to New York. This was a significant feat, because HOLY HELL are molcajetes heavy. They're solid stone, and they're not really something you want to be lugging cross-country.

But like I said, my sister is swell that way. I asked, she delivered.

And then, uh, I never used it. Shame.

It's been sitting in our guest bedroom downstairs--quite decoratively, I might add--ever since then. And the reason I never used it is because of the initial preparation necessary before the molcajete can be used. See, because the stone is so rough, it has to be kind of seasoned and ground down or else the food you make in it will have little bits of stone in it.


So it has to be soaked for awhile, then dried, and then you have to grind white rice in it over and over until there's no more gray in the white rice. That's when you know it's done shedding bits of rock into your food. I never did this, so it was unusable.

Then I decided to make mustard yesterday. The mustard seeds needed to be ground a little, and like the cumin seeds, the food processor was useless. I tried putting them in a bag and whacking them with a cast iron pan. Nope, no good. 

So I prepared the molcajete: soak, dry, grindgrindgrind. Then I ground up the mustard seeds. And it worked perfectly. Plus, it was kind of fun to stand there like a peasant woman in my kitchen grinding away in my molcajete. Kind of fun for a short time; I wouldn't want to do it for long, I'll tell you that. Those peasant women must have had some incredible arm muscles.

Anyway, the point is, the molcajete has finally been put into service. So thanks again, sis, for hauling it cross-country for me. Next time you come to visit, I'll make you some mustard.

* I used this recipe. It's still aging in the refrigerator, so the jury's still out as to whether it will be any good.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Baking in Bed

It was 12 degrees the other night, a temperature sure to strike fear into the hearts of those of us with unheated bedrooms. Despite the insulation A. has put in the attic above our room and over the stone walls behind our bed, our room is still without heat.

But now our bed isn't.

After talking about it for many months, A. bought an electric mattress pad. I wasn't aware such a thing existed, and I was skeptical of having heated wires under me. But A. bought one anyway, just to try.

I stand corrected.

After shivering through teeth flossing and brushing in the unheated upstairs, then taking off nice warm clothes and putting on cold pajamas, being able to slide into a heated bed is about the best thing ever. I hear angels singing every time I get in bed and instead of icy cold sheets that take an hour to warm up there are toasty heated sheets. It is bliss. And we fall asleep faster because we aren't lying there clutching each other for 45 minutes, waiting for the bed (and us) to warm up.

I turn the pad on when I put Cubby to bed so it has an hour or so to heat up before we go to bed, and we turn it off when we get into bed. It's perfect because we don't want to sleep in a heated room, we just don't want to get into a freezing bed.

So props to A. for forging ahead despite my reservations and solving our problem. He's a smart one, that guy.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Steamworks

A little while ago when we were all clustered around the woodstove absorbing its blessed radiant heat, I heard a um, suspicious noise from Cubby.

"Cubby," I said, "Do you need to go to the bathroom? Because it sounded like you just tooted."

"Yeah, like a steam train whooshing out steam!"

And much hilarity ensued.

Thursday, November 28, 2013



Now let's eat.

Happy Thanksgiving, my lovelies.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Kraut Is On

Or maybe that should be "in." Whatever, I spent some time yesterday shredding and salting those enormous cabbages the MiL brought me and then stuffing the resultant weeping shreds into a gallon jar to start the process of controlled decomposition.

It sounds so appetizing, doesn't it?

Oh, but it is. Homemade sauerkraut is so, SO much better than anything you can buy, even the "fresh" stuff in bags. Do not even speak to me of the canned atrocity.

Sauerkraut is one of A.'s favorite vegetables--along with leeks, of which we also have a large supply--and he asked me somewhat longingly the other day while looking at the as-yet-unprocessed cabbages how long it takes sauerkraut to, uh, sauer.

Point taken, sauerkraut begun. With 200 pounds of pork in the freezer, sauerkraut is more or less mandatory. Pork chops and sauerkraut? Yeah. Bring it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

He Is Not Amused

Cubby came barreling down the stairs this morning yelling, "THERE'S ENOUGH SNOW TO PLAY IN!"

Indeed. Along with 19 degrees and a stiff wind. Not that that makes the slightest bit of difference to Grizzly Cubby. So I pulled on all of Cubby's many layers, all of my many layers, and then spent a really unpleasant, scream-y five minutes stuffing Charlie into HIS many layers.

To be clear, he was the one screaming. I just felt like screaming. Infant snow gear is not my friend.

After that good time, we went outside. And Charlie was all:

What the hell is this?

He just froze. Not in the literal sense, but rather in the sense that he would not take a single step unless I was holding on to him. After a few assisted steps, he decided that was enough and thereafter insisted on being held.

Not exactly the gleeful experience we were going for.

So he sat in my lap on the front porch for awhile:

This is an eloquent face if ever there was one.

We watched Cubby play snowplow very happily:

No snow sulks with this one.

Cubby tried to help Charlie play in the snow:

A nice, if rare, moment of brotherly love.

But Charlie was having none of it:


About this time we gave up and went inside, much to Cubby's displeasure. Charlie's afternoon outing, however, was much different. No crying, some attempts to play despite his awkward trussing, and a return to his general good nature.

So we'll just chalk up his initial displeasure to a bad morning and carry on with the snow play. Good thing, because Cubby won't have it any other way.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

8:30 a.m.

The revelry continues.

The requisite explanation: This is Captain Cubby of the ill-fated SS Edmund Fitzgerald. Which did indeed suffer its historically unfortunate end . . .

The captain went down with the ship. First mate Charlie was bunked down for his morning nap and missed the tragic events.

6:15 a.m.

Let the circus begin.

P.S. Since it may not have been obvious to you--or to me--what exactly is going on here . . . the toybox is a boat. Cubby is fishing for little Jack Sharp the stickleback (please see The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher for an introduction). Charlie is awaiting his chance to purloin another of those fabulous necklaces. And no, I do not know why the necklaces are crucial to this fishing expedition. I don't ask questions like that. I just laugh and take pictures to embarrass them with later.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bringing Home Bacon (and Venison)

A. is even now driving to a farm on the other side of the lake to pick up a whole pig. In boxes, I mean, not a whole live pig. This is a pig I ordered about four months ago. I gave the farm my butchering instructions, and then I never heard from them again. After a month or so, I wrote them off as flakes and forgot about it.

Imagine my surprise when Smitty (yes, that is his real, honest-to-God name) called last Friday to tell me my pork was ready to be picked up. Surprise and delight, because REAL HAM. That pink, wet stuff you can buy at the grocery store? I'm sorry, that is not real ham. It is a hideous, nasty, completely unappetizing imposter that I can't even eat anymore.

But real ham . . . oh, real ham. I love it so. We're having ham steaks for dinner tonight, and I am unreasonably excited about it.

As if you couldn't tell from the previous two paragraphs.

In addition to the 200 pounds of pork that will shortly be residing in my freezer, we also have a deer hanging in the shed right now. It was the result of A. coming home from work early yesterday and deciding to hunt the last couple of hours before dark. He shot a six-point buck in the gully and dragged it home just as it was getting dark.

Cubby was very excited and tried to commandeer the gutting knife and hatchet (used to hack through the tough rib cage). He had to content himself with his flashlight, however, with which he very helpfully illuminated the deer so A. could see to gut it. Charlie stood there contemplating the deer. He tried to grab its nose, but I stopped him. Not that a dead deer's nose was going to hurt him or anything, it just seemed wrong somehow. He did like the antlers, though.

With the aid of his car's headlights illuminating the shed, A. got the thing hung up to age for a week or so before we butcher it.

Oh! AND! The MiL came home yesterday with the exciting news that she stumbled across some kind of food market at work where she found two organic kraut cabbages for me. I've been looking EVERYWHERE for non-pesticide-laden cabbage to make sauerkraut, and failing. We usually grow enough cabbage for sauerkraut, but this year the cabbages pretty much just rotted from all the rain we got early in the season. And apparently no one else grows it (organically) to sell. Except this one guy the MiL happened to find.

So pork, sauerkraut, and venison. We're ready for winter.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Woodstove Scene

Dogs, kids . . .

And a headlock masquerading as a hug.

Just a couple of quick snapshots of the view from my chair by the woodstove. What's your view right now?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

To Coin a Phrase

Or maybe there already is a  phrase for this: That particular kind of irritation bordering on rage that results from telephone transactions with banks, health insurance companies, cable companies, computer support lines, and pretty much any other business that requires the caller to press numbers, wait on hold, and listen to Muzak.

I spent an hour today being shuttled between various departments to fix problems that should already have been taken care of. Things that were a result of incompetent handling the previous times I spent an hour on the phone listening to Muzak. It's a not-uncommon fact of modern life, but holy hell, is it ever bad for the blood pressure.

So what should this feeling be called, do you think? Customer service rage? Muzak anxiety? Not that giving it a name makes it any more bearable, but at least it gives me something to ponder as I wait. And wait. And wait.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Butter Monkey

Charlie has recently entered The Climbing Phase. It is a phase that strikes fear into the hearts of parents everywhere, because you're liable to leave a room in which your child is safely and happily playing on the floor and re-enter the room thirty seconds later to find that the child has shinnied up the rocking horse and onto the long table, from whence he can reach the quite pointy letter opener that you thought was out of reach.

To use a not-so-random example.

How about another not-so-random example?

Last night I was putting the leftovers from dinner into a container for A.'s lunch and I turned around just in time to see Charlie had climbed up onto the table via my chair. He had taken the remaining tablespoon or so of butter out of the butter dish and proceeded to down it in two bites.

So of course I took a picture, because it was kind of cute, albeit also kind of dangerous and a LOT gross.

Maybe in future I should save myself the effort of feeding him a well-balanced meal and just put a stick of butter on his tray.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Good Impressions

We attended an event at Cubby's preschool last night* that included a potluck dinner. I signed up to bring pork (and then ended up also bringing squash because I had cooked one of the enormous blue ones a few days earlier and figured I might as well share the bounty--and get rid of some squash). We had a pork loin roast in the freezer, all tied up nice and neat and ready for cooking.

So I made that. I sliced it all up, poured the sauce over the pieces, and put the whole deal in my Crockpot to keep it warm. Which is when I remembered that my Crockpot does not actually have a handle on the lid and was therefore not really useful for public purposes.

The plastic one it came with broke off long ago. A. carved a new knob for me a few years ago and attached it to the lid, but that eventually split from the heat and I just . . . never bothered to get anything else on there. So at the last minute yesterday I jerry-rigged a handle from aluminum foil so people could at least get the top off without just flipping it off with a fork.

A Crockpot with an aluminum foil handle. I bring the classy where ever I go.

Then, when we were all eating later, our friend Jodi, whose younger son also attends this preschool, told me the pork was really good. The string, not so much.


I forgot to take the string off when I was slicing the meat. It was a little hectic right before we left the house, with excited and hungry children racing around (and crying) and I was trying to pack up dishes and food and finish MAKING the food and I just totally forgot about the string.

I thought about making a general announcement of my ridiculous mistake to the room so no one would choke on twine, but I figured it would be noticeable enough that no one would actually eat it. Also, I didn't particularly want to publicly admit to my idiocy.

Not exactly my finest moment. I'll try to make sure the next time I provide food for a potluck, everything included is edible. Low standards: I am all about them.

* A celebration of St. Martin's Day, which is pretty cool and should be more widely celebrated in the U.S., in my opinion.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Twists and Turns (and Almond Meal)

Although I am an (over-) enthusiastic consumer of baked goods, I really do not enjoy doing the actual baking. So why do I find myself baking every damn week now?

Because Charlie has gone over to the dark side.

I am sad to say that my younger child seems to have inherited his father's digestion and can't deal with gluten. It makes for far too many diaper issues, so it's really easier to just avoid giving him anything wheat-related.

Except it's not very easy. Because what do you reach for to feed a kid that is relatively non-messy and good for self-feeding? Bread. Or crackers. Or pasta. Or . . . bread.

We're tried the gluten-free stuff. Not only is it not very good and sometimes loaded with weird ingredients, but Charlie just doesn't like it. He doesn't want to eat bread. He wants eggs. Or cheese. Or meat.

And I want to have something--anything--that I can grab one-handed from the counter and toss on his tray at 5:20 in the morning so I can make my coffee.

Enter almond meal.

I started making a zucchini bread recipe from a gluten-free cookbook the MiL bought along with a large bag of almond flour this summer. It was pretty good. But then the zucchini plants froze and the bag of almond flour got used up.

But we did have insane amounts of squash on hand, plus a huge bag of raw almonds. Almonds in the food processor make almond meal. Not quite as fine as the purchased almond flour, but good enough for pumpkin bread. Or, in our case, squash bread.

It also works with bananas, I've found.

So now I bake almost every week, but instead of starting by whisking flour with other stuff, I start by pulverizing almonds in my food processor (which is HELLISHLY LOUD, OW) before dumping in the other ingredients and processing it all to oblivion. I also have to grease a non-stick loaf pan, because non-stick is not non-stick enough for this heavy, sticky kind of bread.

Look at me, all full of tips and tricks for almond meal baking.

Never in my life did I imagine I would spend any significant time fussing around with baking, much less to turn out a product I don't even particularly love myself, but such are the twists and turns of this surprising life.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


This morning as I was sitting in the chair by the woodstove with Charlie, letting him (and me) wake up a little more before facing the preparation of breakfast, I caught sight of Belle the Devil Cat slinking around the dining room. I just had time to think, "It looks like there's something in her mouth," when she flung her head and a dead mouse soared in a graceful arc halfway across the dining room and landed next to the woodstove.

The best part of waking up is a dead rodent at your feet.

But it doesn't end there! Oh no!

This evening after Charlie was in bed, the rest of us were once again all in the dining room--because of the woodstove, which is the only heat we have going at the moment--when we heard a thump and a squeak from the kitchen. Cubby, ever alert, demanded to know what that noise was. His query was answered visually by Belle running into the dining room with another mouse in her mouth.

She retired with it under one of the chairs, where it lay pathetically and she stared fixedly at it. Cubby also stared fixedly at it. He is not, as you may remember from the bunny episode, a squeamish child.

I managed to tear him away from the riveting scene to pick up his toys in the other room in preparation for bed, but only by promising he could look at the mouse again when he was done picking up. He was duly rewarded for his diligence by another look at the grisly tableau, and then we went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Upon exiting the bathroom, he requested that he be allowed to pay his last respects to the mouse before bed.

Except it had disappeared.


As I write this, Belle is stalking around the living room, presumably in pursuit of the injured mouse. It will probably hide in there somewhere, no doubt expiring in its hiding place, only to be discovered by Charlie or Cubby who will probably do something horrifyingly disgusting with it.

Because this, my lovelies, is Blackrock, and this is just the way we live.


Update: Just when you thought it couldn't get grosser . . . I heard a squeak from the living room, so I went in there to see if I could take the damned mouse away from Belle and make sure it wasn't lurking in the house anymore. It was hiding in a cardboard box on the floor. I caught a glimpse of it before it scuttled farther into the box. A. came into the living room, I informed him of the mouse's whereabouts, and he promptly stomped heavily on the box with his booted foot and then dumped the finally-dead mouse in the trash. Well. That takes care of that.

Monday, November 11, 2013

For the Veterans . . .

Thank you.

And for my father in particular, who is a veteran and whose greatest entertainment in life is watching his grandchildren behave like the small children they are . . .

Cubby and his Cheerios box wish everyone a happy Veterans Day.

Friday, November 8, 2013

I'm Not Sure How To Take This . . .

Cubby continues to enjoy his time at preschool. So much so, in fact, that he's started going on Tuesdays as well as on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Thankfully, his teacher, whom I like very much, seems to appreciate his more, uh, unusual personality traits. At least I think she does. When I picked him up yesterday, she told me he always has the best ideas*. And then she said, "Sometimes I just look at him and think, 'Is he from the Middle Ages or something?'"


I think that was meant as a compliment. I hope so, anyway. And if it isn't, I'm not going to ask what she meant because I don't want to know.

* She was kind enough not to mention how he tends to be somewhat forceful in his insistence that HIS ideas are the ONLY ideas worth considering. Perhaps she figured I knew about that already. Or perhaps every three-year-old is like that, so she doesn't even pay attention to it anymore.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Weird Great Minds Thinking Alike

There was a day last week when Charlie was all about doing this:

And I almost made myself ill laughing at him.

Then, later that same day and completely independently . . .

Cubby went with a bag instead of a box, but same idea.

And of course, when Charlie saw him, he was all, "Awesome! Someone else to play my game!" So . . .

Needless to say, this was one of the more entertaining days I've had recently.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Killing the Joy

Is there a child in the world who can resist the loud, joyful noise of popping bubble wrap? None that I've met. My children are no exception, so when the MiL got a box with a sheet of bubble wrap in it, Cubby commandeered it for a good popping session.

It had nice big bubbles on it, which of course make the best noise and are also easier to pop, so I figured he'd manage okay. But after a minute of no popping, he brought it to me requesting help.

Which is when I discovered the existence of un-poppable bubble wrap.

Yes. There is now a kind of bubble wrap in which the bubbles are all interconnected in horizontal rows, so instead of being able to squeeze the bubble hard enough that the pressure makes the plastic pop, the air is just pushed into the next bubble in the row, thereby rendering it un-poppable. What a screw.

I don't know who is responsible for this "innovation," but I can only hope it doesn't catch on. Because un-poppable bubble wrap is an abomination. And no fun at all.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

In the Library at Blackrock

We have a room in our house that is called--somewhat grandiosely and inaccurately--the library. It is not, as the name would have you imagine, a large room filled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on many levels, with one of those movable ladders to reach the upper shelves and big leather chairs and a fireplace that's always burning and Oriental rugs and . . . well, and all that.

I've always wanted a library like that. But it's probably a good thing I don't have one, because I also don't have any servants. And with no servants, who is it who has to remove every damn book from the shelves, dust them all individually, and then scrub the shelves?

Yup. That would be me.

So it's a good thing our library is just this*:

Seriously, where are my servants? What a mess.

The top shelves are all very old books that have been here since the world began. Or at least since the turn of the 20th century. I know we have some rare and valuable books in there, probably more than I know about, actually, and they should really be taken care of more. Or, uh, at all. They're never actually read, which means they just sit there collecting dust and making it really difficult to clean the shelves.

The bottom shelves hold the children's books, so at least those shelves have been cleaned recently. The top shelves, though? Never cleaned since I've lived here. And that's over seven years now.


So I steeled myself for an alarming amount of dirt and dove in.

First I removed the books from the top shelf and dusted them all individually with a damp rag, putting them on the dining room table as I finished. 

You can maybe imagine the layer of dust on the top edge. Or maybe you can't. Gross.

This part was accomplished while Charlie ran around downstairs pulling the phone off the hook, climbing up on the kitchen table, chasing the cat . . . you know, the usual.

Then, when he went down for a nap, I hauled in the ladder.

It is possible I could have reached the top of the shelving without using the ladder, but I wouldn't have been able to see what I was doing. And I really, really did not want to reach up there blindly. For all I knew, there would be a mummified mouse or something up there. We have a history of unexpected rodent carcasses, you may remember.

So, the ladder. There was a layer of dust on the top part about a quarter inch deep. I scrubbed and wiped and scrubbed and wiped some more on all the surfaces of the top shelf until it was as clean as I could make it. 

Only five more shelves and about two hundred more books to go! Yay.

* This is but a small fraction of books in our entirely-too-literate household, which is why it's kind of dumb to call this the library, as if all the books we possess are in this one room.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A.P.D.--The Wretched Weather Edition

We have a high wind advisory today. I saw the wind in the forecast a couple of days ago and thought to myself, "Well, Friday is going to suck."

I hate the wind. Hate hate hate it. Much as I dislike the label "highly sensitive," (it sounds so high maintenance), that's what I am. This manifests itself in many ways, mostly in my reaction to physical stimuli. And there is no weather so unpleasantly stimulating as wind. It's loud. It's often cold. It pushes against me relentlessly. It's like it gets inside me or something and makes me crazy. I feel like the wind is assaulting me and I can't stand it.

I can't escape it by just staying inside all day, because Cubby claims to LOVE the wind. My older child is most assuredly NOT highly sensitive. He actively seeks out stimulation.

We don't mesh well sometimes. Especially when he wants to go outside when it's windy and doesn't understand why I have to come inside after an hour or so. HAVE TO. It makes me feel as if I'm in the middle of a warzone and my insides are spinning around and I'm going to go completely insane if I'm out there one more minute oh my god . . .

Not that I'm dramatic or anything.

I can deal with heat (albeit whiningly). I can deal with snow, with rain, with absurdly low temperatures. But the wind? Forget it. It makes me want to curl up and stay in bed all day.

How about you, poppets? What's your least favorite kind of weather?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween

My props pretty much ruin my costume:

Sure are cute props, though.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Failure

There are many things at which I excel, but Halloween costumes are not one of them. In fact, I unequivocally suck at Halloween costumes. It was kind of a relief to me when I realized I was old enough that I didn't have to worry about it anymore. Adults don't have to wear costumes. And I don't. Ever.

Then I had kids. And kids need Halloween costumes. Especially if their preschool class is going trick or treating at the village businesses. Today, which is obviously not even actually Halloween, but Cubby doesn't know that.

Good thing my mom totally randomly sent Cubby this astronaut suit last year that fits him perfectly now. If I were clever and good at costumes, I could probably figure out a way to attach this Earth ball thing we have so it looks like he's floating around the Earth. Or at least find the little NASA cap that goes with suit. But I can't find the cap and I am not good at costumes, so just the suit it is.

Charlie has no costume whatsoever. I thought about putting him in one of his plaid shirts and his denim overalls and calling him a farmer, but then I remembered I have to take him to the doctor today for his fifteen-month checkup and I do not want to be wrestling a post-vaccination screaming child into a button-up shirt and overalls. He's currently wearing a hoodie sweatshirt. Maybe I can just put some sweatpants on him and call him a gym rat.

As for me, I'm currently wearing black dress pants, black shoes with a heel, a non-stained, fairly dressy turtleneck sweater, and earrings. I showered this morning and did my hair. So you know what I am? My pre-child self.

I know. Lame. I told you I suck at costumes.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


A. recently vacated his home office, leaving us with a mostly empty room upstairs. Good thing, because we need the space for squash storage.

Guess I know what we're bringing to Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Squash, unlike most other vegetables, likes to be stored in a warm, dry place. I was unwilling to have any significant square footage of our downstairs living space taken up with a ridiculous amount of squash. But most of the rest of the house is unheated.

A.'s former office, however, has a pass-through vent in the floor through which heat rises from the woodstove directly underneath. So while it's not exactly tropical in there, at least it doesn't actually freeze. Good enough.

The only problem with this storage area is that it's upstairs. And not that close to the stairs, either. Which is why I spent at least twenty minutes today ferrying hundreds of pounds of squash from the garden wall, into the dining room, through the library and living room, up the stairs, through the back hall, and finally into the office. It took me eleven trips. Eleven long, arduous trips. And there are still a couple of squash I haven't removed from the vine in the garden yet.

But! The majority of the squash have been safely stored away from the frost we're supposed to get tomorrow.

At least we know we won't starve this winter. Or lack potassium.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Owl Gets Mean

We have a new and maybe not entirely welcome variation on The Owl Game. This one can be played day or night and involves Cubby the great owl hunter swooping down on a hapless lemming.

You'll never guess who the lemming is in this game.

Oh wait. You did guess Charlie? How clever of you. And how unfortunate for Charlie.

This is why if you were present in my house at 6:30 this morning, you would have heard me yelling across the downstairs, "Charlie is not a lemming! Knock it off!" as Charlie Lemming got knocked off his feet for the fifth time.

We have so much fun around here; you have no idea.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A.P.D.--The Real Housekeepers of Wherever Edition

The Great Mildew Eradication continues apace. I am currently working my way around the downstairs bedroom, which is always horribly damp and even in a relatively dry summer requires some serious attention. Since this was not a dry summer--at all--serious is an understatement.


This room was last very throroughly cleaned last summer. Not that you could tell based on its current condition. Which made me consider as I was scrubbing: How often would it need to be really thoroughly cleaned to be acceptable?

When I say "thoroughly," I mean in the sense of a good old-fashioned spring cleaning: All furniture moved and cleaned, all surfaces--walls, baseboards, window frames, floors--scrubbed with a scrubby sponge and a tub of water and wood cleaner. By hand. Then dried with a cloth. All curtains and other fabrics washed if possible. Everything.

It takes me about eight hours of this kind of cleaning to completely clean one room in my house. That's a full work day (which of course I do not actually have, so I have to do it over several naptimes). I have eight rooms just downstairs. Another eleven rooms upstairs. The scale of it is literally impossible for me.

That's why even the most-used rooms only get this thorough cleaning once a year. If I'm lucky.

But enough about me. I'm extremely curious about your experiences with this.

So, my lovelies, how often do you do a balls-out, no-holds-barred scrubbing of your house? And how long does it take you to get just one room really, really clean?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Great Minds

A. noted a couple of days ago that soon we're going to have a stretch of cool days with nights at or just below freezing. "You know what this means," he said.

Yes, I thought. I do know what this means. It means I need to get the basil bushes whacked down and make a second batch of pesto. It means I should cut the rest of the never-ending squash off the plants and put them up on the stone wall to cure. It means I should get the garlic planted.

"It means we can start slaughtering lambs," he continued.

Oh. Not what I was expecting him to say.

But that pretty much sums up the differences between us: I think of the vegetable garden; A. thinks of meat.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Soul Mates

The following conversation occurred at the dinner table tonight . . .

A.: So Cubby, do you think we should set some traps next weekend?

Cubby: Yes! Or Daddy, we could set traps, and go hunting, AND go camping!

A.: You think we should have a whole outdoor weekend? Exactly what I was thinking, Cubby.

It's so nice they've found each other, isn't it?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wild and Free

Cubby's newest favorite activity is looking at the stars and the moon--oh, and Venus, also a favorite--through Grandma's binoculars. Unfortunately, star-gazing requires him to be outside when it's dark. And more to the point, it requires ME to be outside when it's dark.

But only if I can't get A. to go instead.

That's why it is currently 6:20 a.m., pitch black outside, and both of my children are running wild outside under A.'s supervision. At least Cubby is dressed; Charlie is still in his footie pajamas.

Okay, so really they mostly stay in the circle of light cast by the patio light, with occassional forays into the near darkness by Cubby.

Charlie is climbing on a chair. Cubby is chewing on the green part of leek I left out there yesterday when I was prepping some leeks for dinner.

So, one toddler in pajamas climbing a chair and one three-year-old chewing on raw leek greens. In the semi-illuminated dark.

Good morning! It's another fine day at Blackrock!