Saturday, December 31, 2016

A New Year's Day Christmas

What's that? Christmas is supposed to be on December 25? Sure, maybe the first Christmas. But the second Christmas? That's tomorrow. At least, it is here in the frozen north.

Lemme 'splain.

See, lots of gifts from far-flung family members (which is pretty much ALL of our family members) were shipped to the children here at our cabin in the woods. But we went to Blackrock for the actual day of Christmas. I could have packed all the gifts up to bring to Blackrock, let the kids open everything on Christmas Day, and then packed everything back into the minivan and brought it back here.

This seemed impractical in many ways. Besides, they get so many gifts every year, it seemed like a good idea to spread the opening of them out over time so they'd have time to appreciate some of their gifts before they got new ones.

Okay, so mostly I didn't want to have to load them in and out of the van multiple times, but whatever. That other reason sounded convincing, right? Right.

So tonight I spent some time carefully wrapping the gifts that came straight from Amazon unwrapped. And by "carefully," I mean I swaddled the gifts in the brown packing paper from the boxes and secured it with a bunch of tape.

Luckily for the aesthetics of the Pile of Presents, some of the gifts came to us already wrapped in actual wrapping paper.

You think those boys are going to notice what the gifts are wrapped in as they're hysterically tearing the paper off their Star Wars action figures? No, they will not. So I get to re-use useless paper one last time before it gets recycled AND I don't have to buy wrapping paper. Works for me.

We're celebrating New Year's Eve by . . . well, A. is making the kids some wool mittens from old sweaters.

It's terrible the way we spoil them.

The whole family went snowshoeing earlier today so Cubby and I could try out the new snowshoes we both got for Christmas. Then we had some tamales for dinner that my sister sent us as a Christmas gift.

So now that we've started using gifts from Christmas #1, it's time for Christmas #2.

Merry New Year's Christmas Eve! Or something.

Friday, December 30, 2016

'Tis the Season for Improvised Weaponry

Actually, it's always the season for creative weaponry around here, it's just that--thanks to generous gift-giving relatives--now there are more things to get inventive with. Which means more things to fight with (and, of course, fight over.)

First, we have kazoos. My mother very kindly bought one for each boy. Although they are excellent for interminable kazoo renditions of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," they can also be attached to form either a battleship or a sword, depending on how menacing you want to be.

Jack's taking careful notes for his future weapons manufacturing.

And then there's the set of pieces resembling giant Tinker Toys that's supposed to be for building forts, but has so far only been used to make enormous starships and various lances and swords.

They look kind of cool, until they start flying around, at which point they're a danger to eyes everywhere.

It's so nice to see them exercising their creativity.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Birthday Celebrating

So how do I celebrate reaching the wise old age of 37?

By sitting by the woodstove early in the morning with coffee.

No kids. No noise. Just chicory coffee and quiet.

Of such things are a happy 37th birthday made.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Little Nostalgia for Christmas

We're leaving for Blackrock in about three hours, if I'm efficient in getting this insane clown posse out the door this morning. It's a six-hour drive if we're lucky and there isn't any bad weather on the way.

Well, if there isn't a LOT of bad weather. There is ALWAYS bad weather somewhere between here and Blackrock in the winter. Too many lakes that attract too much snow.


A long drive today with children means that I've already got my bag of carrot sticks* ready to go.

Most of you are probably all, "Carrot sticks? What the hell? Why don't you just stop at a gas station like a normal person and buy some chips to throw at the kids in the back of the minivan?"

Whereas my brother and sister are probably nodding their heads and thinking, "Bellows Beach road food."

See, when I was a kid and we were living in Hawaii, we would somewhat frequently make the long drive to the beach at Bellows, and my mom (or possibly my dad; I can't actually remember) would always cut up a large bag of carrot sticks for the drive.

Also, we always made our own sandwiches and wrapped them in aluminum foil so we could scratch our initial into the top and identify them before unwrapping.

Also also, there were always Fritos or potato chips.

I'm even less fun than my parents, however. I make popcorn to bring as a Big Treat instead of chips, and the sandwiches are all the same (because every one of the small ones likes peanut butter and jelly and it's just easier that way**) and all packed in one big plastic container so as to avoid the aluminum foil.

But there are still those carrot sticks.

It's road trippin' time. Merry Christmas Eve, my lovelies.

* That's right, I said carrot sticks, not baby carrots. Baby carrots are an abomination that taste like bleach and I absolutely cannot stand them. Not that I have strong feelings on this subject.

** A. and I don't eat the sandwiches, anyway. We subsist on the carrot sticks and almonds until we arrive at our destination. It is just now occurring to me that possibly I wouldn't hate long drives so much if I entertained myself with junk food instead of carrot sticks and almonds. But it's hard to defy that early childhood training.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Showing Up

Today was the Christmas program at Cubby's school, featuring Santa reading "The Night Before Christmas," interspersed with the children in each grade singing appropriate songs.

The auditorium at the school was literally standing-room only, despite the fact that the roads looked like this:

In the spirit of the season, we'll call this Christmas-y.

As I've said before, you can't live in a place like this and be afraid of driving in the snow. Who cares if it's a twenty-mile drive on nominally plowed roads? I have to watch a bunch of kids sing "The Reindeer Pokey" ("Put your antlers in, take your antlers out . . .") and "Up on the Rooftop"!

I felt obligated to show up if only to acknowledge the incredible dedication of the music teacher, who coached all six grades through two entire songs each with hand motions and props.

All blessings upon you, Mr. Music Teacher. You're a rare spirit among men.

Plus, I would have been sad to miss the little girl in the front row of the second-grade group who clearly has a future in the entertainment industry, if her enthusiastic finger-shaking and twirling during "Jingle Bells" is any indication.

And of course, Cubby's face when he saw me, Charlie, and Jack waving at him from the audience was the whole reason we made the snowy effort to be there.

Worth the drive, without a doubt.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Two Unrelated Things

First, because I'm sure you were all consumed with curiosity about what I brought the plow guys: Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. And it was a supreme effort of will for me not to eat them all. I do not ever make cookies. Because it's always a supreme effort of will for me not to eat them all.

Now I just have to make a few loaves of bread for teacher/mail lady/neighbor gifts, buy some office supplies for the children's stockings (what, you wouldn't be thrilled to receive tape for Christmas?), and Christmas is good to go.

Second, I took Jack to the pediatrician yesterday for his two-year check-up and discovered that our pediatrician has a resident puppy. Name of George. Five months old (though surprisingly calm for such a young dog), half standard poodle, half Burmese mountain dog, all curly fur and big paws. Apparently, the doctor lives on the top floor of the building in which his practice is located, and the dog comes downstairs with him in the morning to hang out all day.

I thought this was swell, and so did Jack and Charlie, but I did wonder if all children are so happy to see an enormous black dog come wandering into their exam room.

Whatever. It was fun to see a random fluffy dog in a place that is not normally so fun.

And now I must go read a book to Charlie. I'm out.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Third-child Birthday

So the third kid turns two? Whee! Here, have some leftover cupcakes from Daddy's birthday with a single candle to blow out!

Obviously, standards get lower.

Not that Jack cares. You know what he cares about? The rule I made that when he opened his presents, his brothers were not allowed to touch anything until he chose what he wanted to play with. And if he wanted to take one of the birthday toys that they were playing with, they had to give it to him.

For the littlest brother, power over the toys is pretty much everything he wants.

Animal sounds toy? Mine.*

Monster truck? Gimme.

If only he turned two every day. Sorry, kid. Back to the toy struggle today.

* Apologies for the dark photos. Not so much sunlight on December 18 here in the far north.

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Happy birthday to Smiley Jack.
Long may you prosper.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Three Banditos

Yesterday we took all three boys to the post office in the village to apply for their passports. They need them in February when we fly from Montreal to Tucson. Both parents have to be present to apply for a child's passport, so the whoooolllle happy family picked Cubby up from school and went across the street to the very small post office for the paperwork and photos.

Dude. What a nightmare.

The kids were wound up. Cubby is always insane after school, no doubt because he behaves perfectly all day (not sarcasm--I get glowing reports from every authority figure he has ever encountered), and his hysteria infects Charlie. The two of them were literally racing around the small post office, with Jack running gleefully in their wake.

We did our best to contain them, but it was a losing proposition.

It was made worse by the fact that I have never seen so many people in one place in this village. We must have been in the post office at the busiest time of day, so more than a dozen people* encountered my crazy children when they came in to mail their holiday packages or check their mail or whatever.

Luckily, this community is a VERY kid-friendly place. Everyone either has kids themselves, or has little brothers and sisters, or has grandkids now. Even the ladies working in the post office were astoundingly cool with the disruption in their workplace. The one lady spent some time showing them the pictures on the stamps, and the other lady who took their photos let them look at the camera and walk around behind the counter.

Child-tolerance is alive and well on the Canadian border.

Anyway. We got it done eventually. And I was given the keepsake of a mugshot for each child.

Personally, I'd think twice before granting these people admittance to your country. Revolutionaries in the making, for sure.

* I realize that a dozen people in a fifteen-minute time period would not be considered "busy" in most post offices right before Christmas, but this is a good indicator of how small a community we're talking about here.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Coldest Spot in New York State . . .

Was right here are six o'clock this morning. Specifically, it was right under our elevated porch, where the mercury thermometer read 23 degrees below zero*.

Yes. Below. WAAAAY below.

I really could not explain how thrilled A. was with this. I actually woke him up at 5:45 a.m. to tell him it was 17 degrees below zero, which was the reading on the indoor read-out of the weather station. The sensor for this is up high on the porch, so I guess that's why it was warmer.

Anyway, I poked my head into the darkened bedroom and announced this to A. His voice came out of the darkness, "No way. You must be shitting me."

And then he rushed out in his boxers to look for himself. And then he exclaimed, "I have to go outside!"

This is a fundamental difference between me and my husband. Nothing about 17 degrees below zero inspires me to go outside. Quite the opposite, in fact.

But outside he went--after putting on some clothes, obviously--where he checked the mercury thermometer and came upstairs with the momentous news that it was actually six degrees colder than I had thought.

Do mornings get any better? YES, THEY DO! If you get on the computer to check the readings in every other known coldest place in New York state and find that we are currently colder than all of them.

All of A.'s dreams have come true.

I'm less than thrilled by the extreme cold, if only because it results in this:

What the hell is up with me and houses with ice inside?

Yup, ice inside the house. Just like Blackrock! Except not at all like Blackrock, because this house is actually 64 degrees inside, not 34 degrees, and the ice is just the inevitable result of cold glass and accumulated condensation, not freezing walls.

But still. It's cold. Welcome to the north.

* With wind! Whee! But not really.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Maestro, Ready the Choir

Thirty-six years ago today, the infamous A. of Going Country was born. And now it's time to sing the equally infamous The Woodchuck Man song. (Here are versions one, two, three, four, and five.)

Aaaand, GO!

Who can turn a failed wreath
Into something nice?

Who can clear the driveway 
of a ton of snow and ice?

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 climb a mountain
Bearing double boys?

Who can carve a spoon
To bring his wife some joy?

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 turn a rooster
Into table fare?

Who can bring me dinner
In the form of a snowshoe hare?

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 woodchuck man of the Great White North.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Woodchuck Dinner Prep

If meal preparations start with going to the barn to bring in a deer haunch, you are 100% a woodchuck. There is no "might be" about it.

At least I didn't have to skin it myself. We should always be grateful for small mercies.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Unsung Heroes

This morning as I was sitting in the living room enjoying my coffee, the blissful quiet that comes from sleeping children, and the Christmas lights, the snow plow went by on the road. And I thought, for the 20th time, "Man, those are some impressive plow guys."*

They really are. The plowing in this township is incredibly diligent and prompt. Our tiny, very unpopulated street here is plowed much more promptly than the busy main road we lived on at Blackrock. I suppose it's because there's just so much snow here that the plowing is a regular thing and scheduled for accordingly. But I tell you what: I really, really appreciate it.

In fact, it occurred to me that it would not be amiss to bring some kind of holiday treat to the town barn where the plow guys are based. They do at least as much for quality of life here as the mail lady or the dump lady, both of whom will be receiving a loaf of homemade bread or a jar of jelly as a Christmas gift.

What do you think the plow guys would like? Probably a day off, but I can't give them that.

* In the interest of fairness, I suppose there could be plow women too, but it's unlikely.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Weather Watch

One thing about moving to the Canadian border is that after about December 1 (or, uh, maybe even before that), traveling any distance becomes a game of chance. Winter weather is Weather with a capital "W."

I've noticed already that we always get at least the amount of snow predicted for our location, and often more right here where our house is. It's usually colder and windier than the national weather site forecast, because the closest official weather station is actually 13 miles away, off this plateau we live on. And this is a place with severe weather.

Whenever I know I have to go somewhere, even just to the large village 25 miles away to get the kids to the pediatrician, as I did on Monday, I start checking the weather as soon as I can. In the case of my pediatrician's appointment, that meant the first forecast I saw for that day, ten days out, was 5-8 inches of snow with ice pellets.


The forecast changed the closer the day came, though, until eventually it said 1-3 inches. No ice pellets mentioned. Okay, I thought, I can deal with 50 miles roundtrip in 1-3 inches of snow.

Except almost all the 3 inches--which ended up being more like 4 inches--fell in the morning just before and during my drive. And the plow hadn't gotten to our road yet. So when I left, I was driving on unplowed roads for the first five miles, and then on a road that had been plowed, but still had a significant amount of snow and slush on it. And it was still snowing.

The drive home was better. But I figure this is the way it is here. Things are not cancelled because of snow, unless it's a real doozy, so I'd better get used to it.

But when people are flying to Montreal specifically to come to visit us in December--as my parents are today for the boys' triple baptism on Sunday--the weather assumes even more importance. Most of their stay is just going to be really cold. Much as my Arizona-accustomed parents aren't looking forward to the 17-degree high temperature tomorrow, I'm sure the 3-5 inches of snow forecasted for Monday is even more unappealing to them.

I don't think it's enough to cancel their flight out on Tuesday morning, though it might make the drive to the airport a little more exciting than they want.

I think it's clear they really love their grandsons.

We just booked tickets to fly out of Montreal ourselves in February for a trip to Tucson. There could be a blizzard. There could be a foot of snow. There could be nothing at all. Oh the excitement of anticipation! Fingers crossed, because it's all you can do when faced with winter travel in the north country.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Location, Location, Location

Hey, you know the best way to be instantly in the Christmas mood? Live on an actual Christmas tree farm. Then, when you're ready to get a Christmas tree, you can just walk 100 yards down the road and cut one.

Snow for ambiance is also pretty much guaranteed.

Of course, you still have to lie down in the snow to cut the tree.

And by "you," I mean "A."

There are also plenty of branches to cut when you decide you're going to be all crafty and make a wreath, forgetting you are not actually crafty and will inevitably give up on the wreath and go with a rustic decorative . . . something.

And by "you," I mean "I."

But then, if you've made good choices in life, your husband will notice your despondency over the wreath fail and will take the frame and make a wreath for you.

And by "your husband," I mean "my husband," because I definitely made a good life choice there.

Yup, Christmas is fun on a Christmas tree farm. Especially since we don't have to do any of the actual work on the farm.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Hello Again, Croup. I Haven't Missed You.

Cubby had it first. Then Jack went down a few days ago.

Last night Charlie succumbed, waking up screaming and barking that awful croup cough, panicked because he couldn't breathe. I took him outside to look at the moon*, because cooler, damp air is helpful with croup. Then he sat on my lap in the kitchen and breathed in the steam from a hot mug of water, taking sips of cold water occasionally before he eventually decided he could sleep again.

This happened twice, once at 1 a.m. and again at 4:45 a.m.

Jack woke up crying and coughing at 6:15 a.m. He sat with me until 6:30 a.m., at which point I had to dump him in bed with A. and go get Cubby up for school. Waking Cubby up also woke Charlie up.

Cubby was whining and crying that he didn't want to go to school. (He's not sick anymore. Just grumpy.)

Charlie refused to go back to sleep and instead collapsed on the mat at the bottom of the stairs, wailing that he couldn't come upstairs.

Jack was crying in the bed with A., who is now also sick with a cold.

So, at 6:30 a.m. I was running the shower in the bathroom to make it steamy for Charlie--at which point I hauled him upstairs and sat him in there with a mug of hot honey water--forcing Cubby to get dressed and putting out his breakfast, packing Cubby's lunch, and making hot tea for Jack and A.

The three contagious amigos.

Keep your fingers crossed for me that I don't come down with something, okay? Someone has to keep this snotty ship from sinking.

* In my pajamas, which meant I was outside in a t-shirt and shorts, barefoot in the 38-degree night with half-frozen rain coming down. Motherhood literally pushes you out of your comfort zone with some regularity.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Spilled Milk

I have to remind myself nearly daily that there's no use crying over spilled milk. Or, more accurately, there's no use yelling over spilled milk. My children are unconcerned about spilled milk and unlikely to shed any tears over it, but I am very irritated by spilled milk and must stop myself from berating the kids when they spill it.

The reason it's so irritating is that milk is surprisingly difficult to clean up properly. The large puddle must be mopped up, and then the area has to be wiped with a wet cloth to prevent a disgusting sticky spot. In addition, when milk falls from a table it spatters for an incredible distance. I've found milk spatters up to five feet from the actual spot the cup hit the floor. 

Plus, the milk is usually in an inconvenient spot like underneath the table or chairs, necessitating hands and knees scrubbing and the likelihood of whacking my head in the process.

The best--or worst, perhaps I should say--was this morning, though, when Charlie was putting the full cup of milk he had requested and refused to drink into the refrigerator for later.* He somehow caught it on the edge of the refrigerator shelf or something and spilled the entire cup on the floor directly in front of the refrigerator, which meant half of it spread under the refrigerator.

Deep breath (after my involuntary, "Charlie! COME ON."). No use yelling over spilled milk, no use yelling over spilled milk . . .

On the up side, pulling the refrigerator out to clean up allowed me to wipe down that side of the counter next to the stove where things fall in the unreachable crack between the refrigerator and the cabinet. 

I also had the opportunity to note once again that our landlady is either an excellent housekeeper in general or did a really bang-up job of cleaning before we moved in. It was by far the least-scary refrigerator moving I've ever had to do. Mostly dusty back there.

And now all clean. Thanks to the milk. Silver linings, keeping on the sunny side, and Pollyanna-ing all over the place here.

* The small cups of milk cluttering the refrigerator when the kids don't finish drinking them are another irritant of milk, but wasting it would be worse.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Also Thankful for This

Hello, my lovelies! Is everyone jumping right back into work/school/whatever everyday drudgery awaited you after the holiday?

Yeah, me too. I did three loads of laundry yesterday, re-stocked the very bare refrigerator, and am currently home with all three children, as Cubby's cough this morning convinced his tender-hearted father that he should stay home from school.

I was going to send him. Lucky for Cubby he has such a nice dad.


I am here to tell you of a felicitous food accident that occurred during the MiL's many Thanksgiving food preparations. She made three different pies: one pumpkin, one apple, and one chocolate. The filling for the chocolate pie was a very easy recipe for a kind of chocolate mousse called pots de creme. The recipe--an old one from A.'s grandmother--involves simply blending together chocolate chips, sugar, vanilla, hot milk, and an egg, and then chilling it to set.

I happened to be in the kitchen when the MiL was pouring this chocolate mixture into the pie shell and she had just a little bit left over. I helpfully found a ramekin for her to pour the extra into.

My Thanksgiving labors were very strenuous, yes*.

Then I saw four small circular pieces of pie dough that the MiL had cut with a biscuit cutter from her extra dough and baked along with one of the pies.

The MiL mentioned that she thought the boys might like to have those as a treat.

They probably would have, but they never got the chance, because I saw those little circles of flaky pastry, and I saw the ramekin of liquid chocolate.

It was just inevitable that I dipped that pie dough directly into the chocolate and ate it standing there in the kitchen. Jack was in the kitchen with me, so he got to have a piece, but otherwise? All me. And the best thing I ate on Thanksgiving.

How about you? What was the best thing you ate last Thursday?

* Okay, I also made some mashed sweet potatoes, but those are so easy they don't really count. Certainly nothing like making three pies all from scratch.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


In triplicate.

Happy Thanksgiving, my lovelies. Eat up.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Winter Travel

Unless you're going on a tropical vacation in the winter, packing for winter travel involves a whole lot of stuffing overly-puffy outdoor apparel in a too-small suitcase.

You may also enjoy the background shenanigans that is A. trying to watch Cheap Truck Challenge on the computer with all three boys using him as a jungle gym.* 

In addition, A. spent five straight hours shoveling this morning so we could actually drive our car out of our driveway to get to Blackrock for Thanksgiving. 

I'm sure the pies will be worth it, though.

P.S. This is the view from my kitchen. In case you were wondering what my perspective is in this house, it is this. The view from the kitchen, my permanent station.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

You Be the Judge

So how much snow did we get? Well, let's see.

This much.

And this much.

Cubby didn't have school yesterday--no surprise, considering the howling blizzard--but he did have to get to the road to catch the bus today. A. went out at 6:30 a.m. to start shoveling the driveway. He shoveled it out yesterday, but the continuing snow and, more importantly, the wind blowing drifts, had covered it over again.

He did make a large enough spot at the end for the bus to turn around, but the driver elected to just keep going and presumably make a loop to stay on the plowed surface of the road.

Wise man.

The drifts between our house and the road were deep enough that A. actually carried Cubby part of the way to the side of the road to wait for the bus. A. is still outside shoveling, trying to dig out the van so we can leave for Blackrock tomorrow.

I don't even know how much snow we got--18 inches maybe--but I think it's safe to say our winter snow pack has begun.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Final Harvest

It was 63 degrees and sunny on Saturday. This was appreciated in November, especially as our forecast let us know in no uncertain terms that Winter Is Coming. Specifically, two days of snow accompanied by frigid temperatures and gusting winds.

Better make hay while the sun shines! Or, in our case, pull up the sole remaining beet in the garden.

And such a beet. The biggest beet I have ever seen.

I set Cubby and Charlie the task of pulling.

Heave ho- . . .

 . . . -ly shit, that's a huge beet.

Gallons of borscht, right there.

After considering this behemoth for a second, Charlie asked "Mommy, is it as big as my head?"

Well, let's find out.

Yup. (This is not a trick of perspective, by the way.)

While we were in the garden, we shoved in some peach and plum pits that we had saved into the soil to see if they'll sprout. If they do, then maybe we can transplant them and grow some fruit trees. Kind of a long shot, but it doesn't hurt to try.

Next I gathered some of the last apples on one of the trees in the back to make some apple cider vinegar. Then some more wild grapes to add to some feral apples I already had for a last batch of apple-grape jelly.

We spent some time picking up outside and making sure anything that we didn't want covered by snow was under cover. I pulled the snow shovel out of the barn and set it right next to the front door.

It started snowing yesterday morning at 7 a.m.

This morning at 5 a.m. when I went outside to let Mia out, I opened the door to this:

I particularly like the snow that blew against the door and formed a little ridge to step over. And the wind-sculpted foot-deep drift on the porch.

I can't even tell how much snow has fallen, thanks to the wind blowing it around. Several inches, for sure. But we have applesauce, jelly, vinegar, and one ENORMOUS beet. Bring on the winter.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Not Recommended

A friendly bit of advice, my lovelies: Should you wish to soften your refrigerated butter a bit for your husband, who just the night previously had said we must be sure to have soft butter in the morning for waffles as nothing ruins waffles more than hard butter chunks that won't melt into the waffle, do NOT put two sticks of butter on top of the coffee maker "for just a second" while you make your coffee.

I mean, unless you really feel the best way to start your day is by cleaning up a greasy puddle of melted butter all over your coffee machine and the counter. And everything that was near the coffee machine on the counter.

At least it didn't get it into my coffee. And it wasn't quite as bad as the time the jar of maple syrup tipped over and spread a cup of maple syrup across a whole shelf of the lazy susan.

But still. Don't be like me. No butter on top of the coffee maker, okay? Okay.

Carry on.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Complicating the Uncomplicated

This morning I was washing some dishes in the sink after making a vat of applesauce, and I noticed that the water didn't seem nearly as hot as it usually is. Huh. Weird. We always have hot water here.

Now, the hot water at Blackrock was a highly variable thing. The amount and temperature of the water depended on the time of day, the season, and how much hot water was used that day. Quite frequently, we wouldn't have any water at all, hot or otherwise. But here, the water comes reliably from a well and the water heater heats on demand, so there is always water and it is always hot.

Such is my Blackrock-trained mindset however, that as soon as I realized the water was lukewarm rather than hot, I immediately thought, "Oh God. The water heater isn't working and it's going to take forever to get someone here to fix it and I'm going to be boiling water on the stove to wash dishes and . . ."

But then I stopped myself. This is not Blackrock. Maybe I should think this through with a more rational, modern-house mentality.

First I turned on the hot water in the bathroom to make sure it was a whole-house problem, and not something to do with the kitchen supply. No hot water there at all, so to the hot water heater I went.

I thought maybe there was some kind of thermostat on it I could check, or something obvious I could try.

Indeed there was. Like the bright-red on/off switch right on the front--at, ahem, child level--that was turned to "off."

After I flipped it back on and was rewarded with the whoosh of the hot water heater immediately beginning to heat the water in the tank, I called Charlie in for questioning. He of course vehemently denied touching any switches, but said Jack had been in there a couple of days ago.

Yeah, sure.

I explained to Charlie that he should never, ever touch any of the switches on the machines in the utility area, and that if he sees Jack playing with them, he should tell me so I can make sure nothing got messed up. He assured me he would.

It's nice to be in a house where there are simple solutions to problems that were often major at Blackrock. If only I could find a solution to the monkeying children problem . . .

Friday, November 18, 2016

Life With Boys: Part Two

Sometimes I play a game with the kids we call "Animal," wherein I name an animal and they have to pretend to be that animal.

It always starts very entertainingly, with Cubby pretending to get caught in a trap when they're being mice or Charlie flying backwards when he's being a hummingbird*. Jack just runs after them and falls on them whenever they get on the ground to slither like snakes or whatever. It's all in good fun.

But eventually they get too worked up and every animal becomes one that's attacking the others. Tonight when we were playing and I got sick of harmless bunny rabbits morphing into the Monty Python rabbit, I finally stood up and announced, "We are playing Animal, not Predator and Prey. If I see any more Predator and Prey, this game is over."

And then Jack bit Charlie and Charlie pulled Cubby's pants down and, well, the game was over.

* Hummingbirds are the only birds who are known to fly backwards. That is approximately fact #100,983,110 I never would have learned if not for having children and being forced to read innumerable books about subjects I have no interest in. Also for your trivia enjoyment: Snakes smell with their tongues. You can bust that one out when you're stumped for conversation at your next holiday gathering. You are so welcome.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

An Unexpected Benefit

The steam from simmering chicken stock in this house for hours results in a most excellent blank steamy-window canvas for drawing:

Which in turn results in really smeared windows, but nothing some vinegar can't fix.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Could Be Worse

If I had to wake up with tummy troubles in the morning, today was not a bad day to be laid low.

There was leftover oatmeal for the kids' breakfast.

Cubby is at school.

I have a lot of beef, duck, and ham broth in the freezer, should the time come today that I feel I should take some nourishment other than herbal tea with honey.

It's foggy and dank outside, so Charlie and Jack are happy to be inside. (Meaning I'm not sitting outside or running in and out to check on them when all I really want to do is slump in the recliner with a blanket.)

There are enough good leftovers for a satisfactory dinner tonight with no cooking required.

Of course, the best-case sick scenario is for me to be sick on Saturday when A. doesn't have to work or go to church. Then I can just hide in bed.

But failing that, I'll take previously-prepared food and a school day.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Sad Tale of Mr. Lonely

This morning when Jack, Charlie, and I took our regular walk down the road to visit our neighbor's chickens, our neighbor--Ms. Rita--happened to be out working around the barn and she asked the boys if they wanted to see her new rooster.

Now, Ms. Rita already has a rooster. The new rooster was more or less dumped on her because no one else wanted it. It's not unusual for roosters to find themselves unwanted, as I well know, but this particular rooster had a sad story. Whoever had owned it hadn't provided any coop for it last winter. You absolutely cannot do that in this climate without killing or damaging a chicken.

In this case, the rooster's comb, toes, and spurs froze off. Poor thing. I don't even like chickens much, and I still felt sorry for it.

His lack of spurs and toes (meaning no talons) meant that he had no means of defense. So Ms. Rita couldn't put him in with her chickens, because if the other rooster attacked, the new rooster couldn't defend himself. That's why she was calling him Mr. Lonely, because he was in a big dog crate by himself in the barn.

Ms. Rita raises animals mostly for food, so she's not sensitive about the ultimate demise of animals, but she doesn't like to do the killing and butchering herself. I had mentioned before that if she knew anyone who needed to get rid of extra chickens and didn't want to deal with them, we would take the live chickens away.

Away to my stockpot, of course.

And this is why A. was walking down the road at 4 p.m. today holding a live deformed rooster by the feet, trailed by three small boys and a very interested dog.

More than one car passed him during his woodchuck walk home. I can only hope we provide some entertainment in what was a quiet neighborhood before we moved in.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

This Could Be Misinterpreted

Jack has not been particularly quick to start talking. At least, not intelligibly. He actually talks all the damn time, in what sounds exactly like long sentences or questions, he just wasn't enunciating any words known in the English language.

He did, of course, eventually start to say some sounds that matched up with actual words. First was "Da." For Daddy. Of course. Still waiting on anything resembling "Mom."

Ingrates, all these kids.

There are other words now. "Dee" for the chickadees that mob the bird feeder on the porch. "Gee" for the hundreds of Canada geese winging their way southward over the house. "Baw" for ball. And so on.

But there are other words that might give some people pause to hear a two-year-old exclaiming with some excitement. "Poop" is understandable, if a mite crass. But "gun"? Well, it is hunting season. He does see Daddy's guns with some frequency these days (safely in Daddy's hands, of course).

And then there's "gin."

Yes. My toddler says "gin." And he says it any time he sees the seltzer bottle.

Great. Not that that makes me seem like a lush or anything.

Now the reason he says this is because whenever I would have some gin in a glass he would of course want some--because nothing tastes better to a child than something an adult is trying to consume uninterrupted--and I would have to say, "No, Jack. That's gin. That's Mommy's. You can't have any. It's gin." And I always add seltzer to my gin. Hence the association.

So now he says "gin" whenever he wants some seltzer in a glass. Super.

The first time A. heard it, he said, "Is he saying gin?" Yes. And it is kind of embarrassing, albeit also funny as hell.

It won't be so funny, though, if he ever says it to anyone else. Like, say, the pediatrician at his two-year check-up, which is coming up soon. That kind of thing can really give the wrong impression.

Is this the face of a child who would rat out his mother? Damn straight.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Mood Booster

Well. Yesterday sure was depressing. Regardless of who you supported in the infamous presidential election of 2016, I think we can all agree that the general mood of the nation yesterday was less than jubilant.

So how about something less depressing? Like these goobers.

Occasionally infuriating, but never depressing. Charlie's face notwithstanding.

Onward and upward, my lovelies. For the children, if for no other reason.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Really Major Plus

Hey, know what I'm not doing, even though it's fall? Picking up black walnuts. Or raking.

Yee. Haw.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

What I Did

You were all just desperate to know what I did in Montreal, weren't you? No? Well, I'll tell you anyway.

I got lost.

I mean that in a literal sense, actually, because I have the worst sense of direction ever, and I didn't even have a map of the city. I had a map to get to the city, which was only helpful until I crossed the St. Lawrence River, at which point the detours started and I had to follow signs that looped me hither and yon, around and around, and possibly to Narnia. It was insane.

Eventually, however, the detour ended and I managed to work my way back to the street I actually wanted to be on. After parking, I got out of the car and found myself by the Ritz Carlton Montreal. Which meant I was in the fancy hotel district and, shortly, the fancy shopping district.

I have little interest in Cartier, however, so I just started walking along one of the main thoroughfares, marveling at the quantities of stores and the frenzy of consumption on display.

Obviously, I am not the consumer the business community of Montreal is hoping will visit. I didn't see a single store that sold snow pants or Secrets of Eskimo Skin Sewing, both of which were in my latest Amazon Prime order.

I did see, however, the Barbie Expo, mostly because the building that houses it also has a public bathroom. Let me tell you, nothing prepares you for the sight of all the Twilight characters rendered as Barbie and Ken. There was also a particularly strange Barbie dressed as a lion that I'm pretty sure would give a kid nightmares.

Anyway. Onward!

I walked until I found myself by Christ Church Cathedral, which is certainly worth seeing. Apparently, Mark Twain commented that you couldn't throw a brick in Montreal without breaking a church window. It might not be strictly true in the present day, but there are certainly a plethora of churches. I only went into two this time (I also went inside the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral), but I passed at least half a dozen.

At one point when I got really lost, I also stumbled upon an imposing stone building whose engraving told me it belonged to the Black Watch, the 5th Highland Regiment. It didn't seem to have any activity around it, and didn't have any informational sign or anything, but I did see a man swipe a pass card to get in the front door, so I figured it was still in use as their headquarters or something and moved on. But now, looking it up, I see that it's actually a museum currently closed for renovation.

I also ate a chocolate-filled croissant, flank steak with shallots and French fries and a glass of wine, and some gelato--not all at the same time--and stopped in two places to finish the book I'd brought along*. Then I managed to find my car again and set back off for a 30-minute tour of random outlying Montreal neighborhoods, a.k.a. the Route 138 detour.

I got home just as the family was finishing dinner. Later when I asked A. how his day was, he said, "Oh, you know. It was kind of boring. We ate some things from the refrigerator, the house got messier and messier . . ."

Yup. My daily life in twenty words or less.

It was a good day, though. Sometimes getting lost is just what you need.

* The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, which is the last in the All Souls trilogy and a REALLY heavy book to be carting around a city all day.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Paralyzed by Indecision

I'm going to Montreal by myself on Saturday.

Yes. I said by myself. No A. No children. Just me.

And now I have to figure out what to do in a huge city for an entire day. With so many options, the paradox of choice is becoming apparent.

Food will feature prominently. I know my priorities. If I'm feeling ambitious I might even go to some sort of cultural location.

Or maybe I'll just wander the city in a daze, completely befuddled by my unencumbered travels. It's been awhile.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Bull at Breakfast

Eating bacon. How alliterative.

Happy Halloween, my lovelies!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Why I Don't Do Meal Planning*

****WARNING: Dead animal photos ahead****

Because sometimes, dinner is caught accidentally in a trap and proudly borne home to me by my mighty mini-trappers.

This is a snowshoe hare that very unluckily for it walked into a fisher trap A. had set behind our house.

Unluckily for it, but lucky for us. It was delicious.

* Actually I don't do meal planning because I find it irritating to have something I'm supposed to do because it's on a list. I don't take direction well. Even from myself.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Aliens in the Kitchen

The MiL sent a stalk of brussels sprouts to me via A. the Courier this week. 

What's that? You wouldn't think of your daughter-in-law when you see stalks of brussels sprouts at the farmers market? Well, good thing you're not my mother-in-law, then.


A. forgot about the stalk in his car until today. Luckily, brussels sprouts on the stalk are extremely hardy and can sit quite happily in a cold car for three days without any issues.

Brussels sprouts stalks look really weird. I always think they look like little alien heads popping out.

Were I the crafty sort, I feel sure I could make an excellent Halloween decoration from this. But I'm not crafty, so we'll just eat them instead.

I cut off all the alien heads and have them soaking in salt water right now (to draw out any cabbage moth worms that might have taken up residence). I don't know how I'll cook them yet. I have some ham stock going on the stove at this very moment, which seems to be a natural partner to anything cabbage-y. 

Roasted is of course the most popular method of cooking brussels sprouts at the moment. That's good, too. The best brussels sprouts I have ever cooked (and eaten) involved shallots, bacon, and heavy cream--and how could it not be a winner with those ingredients, right?--all of which I happen to have on hand.

So many options, so many delicious aliens awaiting consumption.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Family Walk

After-dinner walks on the Canadian border: October edition.

This ain't no suburb, kids. Ain't no tropical paradise, either.

It wasn't actually that cold--hovering right around freezing--but the wind was so strong that on the way home, I actually turned around and walked backward for awhile to avoid the 20-mile-an-hour snow blowing directly in my face. And it was pretty much dark by the time we got home at 6 p.m. 

Winter is coming. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

SNL, Take Note

I went to the mechanic in the nearest village today to get my tires rotated*. The guy who owns the place is named Randy. The guy who did the actual work was named Andy.

Randy and Andy, the small-town mechanics. This SNL sketch practically writes itself.

* Everything on my van is now so rusted that A. quite correctly assumed only a hydraulic wrench could get the lug nuts off. And even with that, it still took forever. Plus, there was a muffler bracket that was loose and rattling around irritatingly. I asked them to see if they could weld it back together or something. Randy told me it was rusted through, but that the rust had also basically fused the muffler together, so the bracket was unnecessary at this point. He just cut it right off for me. Randy and Andy are obviously the right mechanics for my old mess of a vehicle.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

An Unexpected Reward for Virtue

I really did not want to go to the town dump today. I did not want to deal with all the bags and the recyclables and the children in the car with me. It was raining and windy and cold. I really, really did not want to go to the dump.

But I also did not want all that crap hanging around and getting in my way anymore. So I gathered up all the trash and recyclables (and the children) and went. We got there fifteen minutes after it was supposed to be open. It was closed.


However! I had seen a car coming from the opposite direction as I was turning into the dump. The road the dump is on is so unpopulated that I thought the odds of that car belonging to the dump lady were pretty good. So I waited a minute. Sure enough, the car turned in to the dump and the dump lady got out and started opening up the gate and unlocking the dumpsters.

I waited until she had parked her car and gotten everything set up before I drove in. I greeted her cheerfully (I'm a big believer in fake cheeriness for the sake of politeness--it wasn't her fault I was grumpy) and started sorting the recyclables to give her time to get everything ready before I drove up the ramp to the trash dumpster to throw in my two bags and pay her.

But when I got out my wallet, she told me there was no charge and thanked me for being patient. Hooray!

You are so welcome, dump lady. And thank you for the kind gesture. It was much appreciated on a grumpy Wednesday morning.

Monday, October 24, 2016

It's a Family Tradition

Not, however, the sort of family tradition of which Hank Williams, Jr. sang. Much more wholesome than that. I speak of a tradition of the MiL's from her childhood that I revived last night for my own children: popcorn and ice cream for Sunday supper.

The MiL has told us many times that this was what she and her five siblings had on Sundays for supper. The reason they had this was because they had the traditional big Sunday family dinner in the mid-afternoon, and so there was no need for a real meal just a couple of hours later. Also, popcorn and ice cream requires little preparation or clean-up, which was probably a welcome change for her mother, what with the relentless feeding of six kids day in and day out*.

A couple of weeks ago, Charlie told me we should have popcorn for dinner. I explained that popcorn is not usually a good option for dinner. Except, I added, if you have a big meal in the afternoon like Grandma did when she was young, and then you can have popcorn and ice cream for dinner.


Charlie was approving of this idea, to say the least. Popcorn and ice cream are two of his favorite things, whereas the sort of nutritious, balanced meals we have for dinner are not usually his favorites.

And then, yesterday we had our big meal at 3 p.m. because A. had to leave to drive back to Blackrock in the late afternoon. This departure was unpopular with the children, all of whom of course prefer Fun Daddy to Boring Mom. So to raise spirits (and also, like the MiL's mother, to avoid cooking and cleaning up again), I let them have popcorn and ice cream for dinner. AND, because I'm not always Boring Mom, I even let them have their ice cream first.

I know. So wild.

I heartily recommend this tradition. It almost felt like a day off from serious meal preparation, because I did the real cooking earlier in the day and it was all cleaned up and done by the time I was ready to just flop down in the evening. There were obviously no complaints about unpopular foods from the children, and even Mia got to eat all the popcorn that inevitably ended up on the floor.

Happiness all around.

I probably won't do it every Sunday, but every once in awhile, I think we'll  honor Great-Grandma's memory with popcorn and ice cream for Sunday supper. Charlie approves.

* She also helped her husband run the family farm and worked as a traveling bookkeeper for other farms. She was a busy person.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ah Yes, I Remember Now

Why don't I make enchiladas--cheesy, saucy, delicious enchiladas--more often? Because it takes forever, results in the whole house smelling like fried food, and makes a damn mess of me and the kitchen. At least, the way my mother did it, which is of course how I do it.

And what way is that, you ask? Well, it involves the following:

One pan in which to cook the filling. In this case, it was shredded duck and black beans (plus onion, garlic, and some of the enchilada sauce), though my mother made them with ground beef.

One pan with hot grease. In my case lard*, though my mother used vegetable oil to quickly fry the tortillas so they don't get soggy.

One pan with enchilada sauce in which to dredge the fried tortillas. My mother always used Old El Paso and so I do, too. I could make my own, I know, but I don't because we are obviously talking about Tradition with a capital "T" here. (Except for the duck and the lard, I suppose. So maybe not so much with the Tradition.)

A plate of grated cheese to sprinkle on top of the filling before rolling the enchiladas up.

And the baking pan with a layer of enchilada sauce.

It's a complicated dance. There are tortillas frying in hot oil, tortillas being dredged in sauce, tortillas being filled and rolled up, and the cook and everything in the kitchen inevitably ends up covered in enchilada sauce.

Then again, when it's all done and cleaned up . . .

Worth it. Though I would recommend getting your mother to make them for you if she doesn't live 2,500 miles away.

* Because the MiL just rendered some and sent some to me via A. the Courier. Thanks, MiL!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

After Due Consideration

On days like today, when it rains for hours and we spend a lot of time inside and the noise levels increase in proportion to the inches of rain that fall . . . then I have to make a decision. The question is this: Are the weather conditions outside more miserable than the children's conditions inside?

If it's just raining and not too cold, then no. So I put on my jacket with the hood up and go sit outside in the rain while the three musketeers run around getting soaking wet and whacking each other with sticks. It's damp, and it's cold, but it's better than inside. Because it's at least a little quieter and no one is physically climbing on my body.

Later in the winter, when the weather conditions involve below-zero temperatures, feet of snow, and serious wind chill, I may well decide it's preferable to stay inside and listen to the shrieking acrimony. But for now? Get your jackets, kids. We're blowing this popstand.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Where Sleeping Dogs Lie

Ever since we moved to this house, I've been saying we need to get a dog bed. Of course, I want Mia and her old bones to have a comfortable place to rest in the house--where I suspect she will be spending the majority of her time when the really cold weather finally descends--but mostly I just want her out of the damn way.

The way our living room is laid out, there's a perfect race track all around the perimeter. The children of course take full advantage of this, and they spend a lot of time literally running in circles, sometimes to the soundtrack of Billy Idol*, sometimes pretending to be animals, sometimes just running around like morons because, well, because they're children.

And where does Mia choose to rest her enormous old bones? Yup, right smack in the middle of their track.

She's so big, she would literally span the entire width of the space between the end table and a chair. I can't count how many times the kids have fallen over her. Lucky for them, she never bites, even when startled, but it was obviously not an ideal situation for anyone.

So I finally remembered to ask A. to get her a bed. He did. We put it in a nice little out-of-the-way alcove of the living room. And of course . . .

Not who I was trying to get out of the way, actually, though it would be nice.

The children hopped right on and wrestled on it for awhile, but Mia? She tentatively walked around on it for a second when I called her over to it, but then gave me a canine, "NOPE," and settled back down in her usual inconvenient spot.

I moved it to a different spot next to the recliner, thinking maybe she wanted to feel still part of the action without actually being in the action.


I moved it under the window next to the table we eat at, thinking the proximity to food might be enticing. 


I sat on it with her. I sat in a chair next to it and petted her while she stood on it uneasily. I patted it to remind her occasionally that she had her very own bed.

Nope, nope, nope. For four days.

And then, today when the kids were doing their NASCAR impression and she was tripped over for the fortieth time, she finally gave in.

Good dog, Mia.

* I still love Billy, I do, but the daily (sometimes multiple times daily) repeat of this one CD is starting to wear on me. There are only so many times a person can listen to "Mony, Mony" with the background vocals of two screaming children before the nerves get a little stretched.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Person I've Become

Last night as A. was cleaning and skinning a duck outside on the picnic table, the following words came out of my mouth:

"Jack, don't run off with the hatchet."

"Cubby, don't bring that duck foot inside."

"Jack, leave the neck alone. It's bloody."

"Charlie, Daddy's butchering the duck. Do you want one of the wings or a foot to play with?"

To that last one, A. shook his head in amusement and said, "Listen to yourself."

Indeed. Funny how we become 36-year-old people our 16-year-old selves wouldn't recognize, isn't it?

Thursday, October 13, 2016


For bravery in the field of combat--otherwise known as taking small children on walks every day, no matter the weather, and despite the fact that I almost always have to carry the toddler home again--I receive the highest honor that can be bestowed upon me by my children:

Weedy flowers to stick behind my ear.

And in my coat buttonholes.

Buttonhole bouquets are way better than medals.