Sunday, October 30, 2011

Just, Wow!

What a lovely white winter wonderland it is out there right now. No matter that it is still Autumn and still October. No matter that Halloween hasn't happened yet. No matter that all the winter coats and snow pants I washed last month and hung to dry, then got played in and soiled all over again and I haven't had a chance to wash them just yet. No matter that Peter likes to wear snow boots in the house and then leaves them where he takes them off, be it under a bed, or under the stairs, or between the wall and the back of the dresser (*#$*&^!!!), and I have to hunt high and low for a matching pair of boots.

Still, it's beautiful out there.

Not so sure about my poor Mulberry tree, though. All that heavy wet snow hanging onto the leaves that have yet to fall bent the tree nearly in half before we knocked the snow off it. I hope it bounces back. Andrew said he could hear tree branches cracking in the woods. So I guess if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, it does make a sound!

I'm glad we had no plans to go anywhere today. Very quickly, more than 10 inches of heavy, wet snow came down. We knew it was coming and prepared for it. Andrew gathered more logs, split and stacked the wood near the door. We pulled up posts and tomato fences in the garden, pulled up the weed covers, then tilled most of the garden. Cut the grass and mowed over the leaves. I raked leaves where the mower can't get to and raked the leaves into the chicken coop and the duck house for bedding and insulation. Closed up the window flaps on the chicken coop. Andrew took the trash out to the landfill. Cleaned up the toy vomit in the basement so we could fire up the wood stove if it got too cold. Filled up gallons of water in empty jugs in case the power went out. It did, but only for an hour.

Chickens said "Hell, no!" to the snow and stayed inside the coop all day. Ducks never saw snow before and didn't know what to make of it. They were mostly outdoors before they called it an early night and went to bed.

I finally got smart this year and put up an indoor clothes line in the sun room. Previously, I used a clothes drying rack, but it couldn't handle the weight of the wet coats and pants and the kids were, let's be honest, just too rough with it, tossing heavy wet pants in it's general direction, knocking it to the floor until Mama comes and picks everything up and rearranges it so it can air dry. I'm learning from my mistakes, indoor clothes line it is!

Also new is the coat rack. Put up in the Spring since Mama was tired of hollering at the kids to pick up their jackets and sweaters off the floor after they fell off the puny little coat rack with tiny little pegs obviously not meant to hold 341 coats/sweaters/jackets. Fashioned by yours truly out of an old fence rail and vintage clothes hooks, it works great!

Also with the snow, comes the wet, muddy floor and strewn boots kicked off, left to sit in melting puddles of snow and when Mama comes to help hang up wet snow things, guess what I step in? Brr!

We tried, we truly did. We tried so hard not to have a fire until November, but when the temps dipped into the 30s last night and we woke to all the snow, and it was oh so hard to get out of the nice warm bed, it had to be done. Maybe November will bring us some warm days to make up for winter in October, but I won't hold my breath. More likely, I'll see my breath from now on.

Working on Halloween Costumes. Cannibalized a men's XL grey fleece jacket from the thrift shop and using up what's left of my fleece scraps to make something special for Peter. Nearly done.  Any guesses?

Evelyn wants to be the Bride of Frankenstein, easy enough-- pulled together an outfit from her clothes and a bit of fancy hair styling and make-up will do the trick.

Gretchen and Sylvia both want to be princesses, so fancy party dresses and vintage tiaras borrowed from Mama, and make-up will do.

Plans are to go trick or treating at a local Church that hosts a 'Trunk or Treat' in the parking lot. We went last year and had fun, so unless we get more snow, that's what we'll be doing. And mayyyyybe a little walk around town, too, wait and see how cold it is.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Have you seen a duck?"

Every morning, Andrew lets the ducks out of their hoop house and feeds the cats. Two hours later, when I wake, I let the chickens out. If he lets the chickens out at the same time as the ducks, the chickens all rush over to where the cats are and eat their food up, so this way works well and the cats get to eat in peace.

This morning went as usual, I go out to let the chickens out and behind me is a duck. Wait a minute! A duck??  Where's the other duck? That never happens, seeing one duck without the other nearby. Something had to be wrong!  I walk around looking for signs of a duck or duck feathers. I assume maybe an animal has gotten an early lunch or perhaps a car hit it? Looking up and down the road, no signs of feathers or a dreaded bloody spot. I walked all around the property and nothing. How I wished the one lone duck could talk and tell me where the other one was.

I contemplated going across the street to the neighbors but how weird would that conversation be? "Excuse me, but I've lost a duck. Have you seen it?" Besides, they have two pitbulls that bark really loudly whenever they see me walking around the front yard and I'm not willing to risk my butt being bitten. Andrew isn't home either, so I can't send him over there instead. Better his butt than mine! No, he has a nice butt, I'd have to kiss it and make it better.

Ahem!!  Anyway!

A couple hours have passed and I've pretty much accepted that Quackers is gone. (the girls have informed me that Cheese is the lone duck and Quackers is the one missing)  We're all eating lunch when there comes a knock at the front door. It's the neighbor.

"Hi! What can I do for ya?" says I.

"We found 2 ducks, are they yours?" he asks.

"I happen to be missing one!"

"I got two of them in our dog kennel right now," he says.

"Well, the other one must have gone missing too! I'll be right over!" I say.

Ain't it the darnedest thing?! The other duck crossed the road to join his buddy! Quackers is hurt-- he has a bloody wing. I don't know if one of his dogs bit him or not, I'm just glad they're OK. He mentioned the ducks charged his dogs and they ran away from them. I know for a fact that the ducks do charge and my own dog stays away from the ducks, so I believe him, but I also know two dogs can certainly tag-team a duck and it's possible one of the dogs got a bite in and he didn't see it or doesn't want to tell me. He said he had 18 chickens once and one of his dogs killed every single one of them one day, so the possibility is there.  Whatever, Cheese and Quackers are home again!

I brought them back home and tried to examine Quacker's wing, but who am I kidding? I don't know what I'm looking for under all those feathers.  All I could see was a spot of blood on his wing and when I tried to look underneath, there was a bald spot, but no wound. I let them loose in the pool and they hurriedly waddled out and into the garden area where they stayed for the rest of the day.

Now I wonder if I need to put up the fencing around the coop and duck house? We bought the materials a few months ago, even cemented in the fence posts for the gate door and pounded in a few t-bars, but that's where I stopped. I hate to fence them in, I love having them free-ranging around the yard. Have the ducks learned their lesson and will they stay in the back from now on? They say ducks are smart, have they learned anything from today's events? Maybe I'll pound in the rest of the t-bars before the ground freezes and then if something else happens that shows me they haven't learned their lesson, I'll put up the fencing.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cheese and Quackers

Cheese and Quackers have adjusted really well here. They roam all around the property doing their duck thing and have hardly touched the feed I gave them. Their previous home was a small penned in area with nothing but packed dirt, the little pool, and a bowl of feed, so I imagine being set free in our yard is like the Garden of Eden to them. So much to see and do and eat!

 Their first few nights here, we kept them in a large dog carrier we had and parked it in the corner of our patio area.  We had to chase and catch them to lock them up.  After a couple nights of this, they learned to hang around the patio until we put them in the carrier.

I made a little duck house next to the chicken coop for them. I hoped they might go in and share the coop with the chickens, but it didn't happen and I don't want to force things, so a little hoop house next to the coop works just fine.

 As before, we had to train them for a couple nights before they learned to go in their house on their own. Now, they go right on in as it gets dark and all we have to do is slide the board down for the night.

All closed up for the night.

It's been a real joy to watch the ducks waddle around. They have been all the way out back in the garden and I've seen them out front near the driveway. When it rains, they hang out where the water shoots out from the gutters and really have a ball! We're glad we got them!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sewing For Me!

A couple of weeks ago, I "discovered" a new-to-me blog: No Big Dill   She only just had a baby and during the time she's recovering from childbirth and adjusting to a new baby at home, she was posting past tutorials. Pretty nice stuff, but when I saw the tutorial for her Billy Cardi, I fell in love with it! I couldn't stop thinking about it. The only thing stopping me from making it was lack of fabric. I rummaged through my fabric bin looking for at least 2 yards of fabric and couldn't find anything, unless I wanted flannel spaceships in baby blue. I had a coupon from Joann's for 50% off burning a hole in my pocket so on the very last day the coupon expired, I managed to convince Andrew to take me to Joann's so I could get some fabric.

I considered cotton knit fabric, but with colder weather coming, I couldn't help but think it would be great in fleece. I have two fleece shirts I love wearing during the winters, so warm without being bulky, so making the Billy Cardi in fleece? I had to try it!

I followed the tutorial exactly, cutting up an old long-sleeve shirt for the pattern. No problems with sewing it up-- I cut and sewed this in one evening after the kids went to bed. The only issue I have with it is, because I based the pattern on a shirt, the sleeves and shoulders fit snugly and wearing a long sleeve shirt under it make it too snug. Fits perfectly when I wear a t-shirt underneath it. I want to make another one and this time I'll make the pattern just a bit bigger so I can use it over long sleeve shirts and as a jacket on not-so-cold days.

Otherwise? I love it! It's nice and comfy. I love the longer sleeves, which easily fold up when I need to do dishes or cook. The fleece is so warm and I find I am choosing to wear it at night over my usual sweater.

Warm dark brown fleece

With contrasting turquoise blue thread.
I added the zig-zag edging just for a little extra pop.

I like the way the shoulders were sewn together, mine are not perfectly even, but who'll know if I don't say anything? Well, so now you know!

I used zig-zag stitching on the edges of the front and up around the neck.

Really love those longer sleeves.
One of the other nice things about fleece is there is no hemming required, it doesn't fray! yay!
Less sewing for me!

This is quickly becoming my favorite sweater and with the ease of how it all came together, it will not be the only one either! As soon as I can get my hands on some more fleece, I'm definitely making another one!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

WIP: Vintage Star

Ever since I saw this, I've had quilt-making on the brain. I love it. It's so simple and unfussy, yet bold and classic. It doesn't hurt that the blocks are big and I can easily make four quilts for each of my children without having to make hundreds of cuts and joining hundreds of small pieces of fabric to make one big piece. And then it uses vintage sheets? Even better!

I love vintage sheets and snap them up whenever I see them at yard sales or thrift stores. I have quite the pile. I actually use some of them on our beds and love the super soft feel of sheets washed hundreds of times over the years. I love the graphics on them, the great big flowers and the pop of color combinations used.
I've cut into the poorer ones and turned them in rag rugs, but for the most part, they're piled in a box in the basement, until I saw that Giant Vintage Star Quilt. Oh so lovely! So I gathered every vintage sheet I could find, sorted by colors, stacked them on the hutch in the dining room in plain view, so I could see them and be inspired and.... nothing. I can't bear to cut into them! What if I cut into it and make it and turns out I hate it? I've now wasted my lovely vintage sheet!

I needed to do something, anything, to give me that little push and get me over that hump of fear.
I decided to make mini stars!

I got these squares from a bloggy friend and I've been wanting to do something with them, but until now, had no inspiration. I decided to make small versions of the Giant Vintage Star Quilt and see how I like the pattern and it gives me a little practice, too.

I really like how they came out. I started with thinking I'll just make one, but one is not quite big enough for a doll blanket, unless it's for Barbie dolls, and making only one will surely cause some tug-of-wars between the girls. Can't have that. So I made three more, thinking if I wanted to, I could join them to make one small quilt.

Every star I made after the first showed improvements. Tighter corners, points matched up, better ironing on the back, less wonkiness...

And here are the finished blocks, four in all.
Now I'm thinking they need something between them, maybe a solid color to unite them. A line of zig-zags have crossed my mind, too. Or I could add a border to all of them and make 4 little doll quilts. Or make a wall hanging out of it? Options are endless. They'll be put on the back burner for now until I decide what to do with them.

Did they inspire me to cut into the vintage sheets?
I must say they have.
Sometime soon, I'll pick out colors and make my attempt at making my very own Giant Vintage Star Quilt.
Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yard Sale Finds

We haven't been yard sale-ing much this summer. When we do go, I try and make up for lost time and hope, hope, hope that each yard sale I stop at, something good pops up!

Pickings have been so-so, but we did get lucky and found these adorable doll beds!

 They stack to become bunk beds and the girls really love playing with these.

We've talked about making blankets and pillows but there's so many other projects going on, we haven't gotten a chance yet. Probably later, during the colder months when we're all cooped up in the house, those long-awaited projects will get started. For now, they swipe their old baby blankets from the closet and fold them over to use for their dolls.

Want to guess how much I paid for them?
Two dollars!!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pumpkin Economics

 Oh thank goodness!!  I feared the cold temperatures were here to stay and I am so happy to have lovely fall days again!  After nearly 2 straight weeks of rain every single day, the sun has come out and the ground is drying up. The ducks seemed to be the only ones truly happy with all the rain as they splashed in the puddles and searched in the mud for tasty things to eat. I'm not one to complain about rain, I love rainy days! We needed the rain and it's good for us, and there's nothing sadder to me than a dried up creek, but being cooped up in the house with four crazy children can take a toll on me. I think if you look close enough, you can see footprints going up the walls and along the ceiling!

With such perfect weather this weekend, we just had to go somewhere and take advantage of it. Money being tight and trying to be frugal, we looked for a pumpkin patch that had free admittance.  Most places around here charged entrance fees and had all sorts of activities, like hay rides and slides, and while those would be fun,  we cannot afford those little extras on top of the entrance fee for our large family of 6. I knew of a regular farm stand / apple orchard not too far from us that would be sure to have a pumpkin patch, and without looking at their website, decided we should go there to walk around and take pictures of the kiddos. Little did I know! They were packed! Apparently everyone from Washington, D.C. and their cousins in Nothern Virginia decided to pick apples and headed down there, too, for a day out in the country.

Of course, right when we get there, a little train of cut-out barrels filled with kids being pulled by a tractor roars by and then shortly after, a huge tractor towing a tractor float with hay bales filled with people sitting on them go by. The kids all holler for hay rides and jump up and down excitedly. Damn.  This was exactly what we were trying to avoid. Serves me right for not checking their website and learning they were more commercialized than I thought. We tell the kids to "hold on, let's go see how much and what else they got to offer," and hope that there's no entrance fee or charges for anything else going on.

We find the pumpkin patch and take pictures, but the kids are so excited it's hard to take any decent ones. Hopes for a family picture for the Christmas card pretty much fade away. While I'm sure there were plenty of pumpkins grown here, all the pumpkins present in the patch were already cut away from the vine and I found a pumpkin with a label on it! I wonder if they sold all the ones they grew and had to truck in some more from some other pumpkin farmer??  Did they "plant" the bought ones in the patch to give the city folks a taste of picking a pumpkin from the patch?

Whatever. I knew pumpkins would be pricey here, so we already picked up pumpkins from Walmart before coming here. We got them before going to the pumpkin patch, so we wouldn't have to deal with begging, whining, whimpering children who would just dieee if they didn't get a pumpkin! By getting pumpkins first, we nipped that in the bud! Genius thinking on my part, I think.

So the kids lose their interest in the pumpkin patch as another train of kid-filled barrels go by and we bite the bullet and get closer to the action and the crowds of people. $3 per person for a hay ride and $2 per kid for the barrel ride. No, Thank You. "Come on kids, let's go inside and see what they got in there," we say, pulling them away from the sight of the rides and into the big faux barn. Ugh. Packed with people and completely a commercial-style farm stand. A bakery, cafe, fake vintage farm trinkets, and bins of apples everywhere!  We duck through the crowds and out into a blocked-off parking lot filled with vendors. Some kids walk by with their faces painted and I wince, waiting for it. "Mom! Can we get our faces painted?" Sigh. I crane my neck looking for the booth and I spot a sign: Faces Painted- $5.  Hmm, don't think so. I shake my head and it makes me sad to see the disappointed looks on their faces.

While looking for the painted faces sign, I spotted a play area that was teeming with kids and I quickly turned towards Andrew and silently gave him the "look."  The look that says, "move it or lose it!" I point with my eyes and he looks and quickly understands my point and we steer the kids in the other direction. There isn't much else to do but head back to the car and the kids quickly express their displeasure at this. I try and suggest walking through the apple orchard we parked nearby for pictures and the kids whine and groan, but they're good sports and pose for a few pictures.

You can just see their hearts aren't into saying "cheese" for the cameras. They complain the apples are too big, or too small. They fidget and look away from the camera. They finally say "cheeeeeeeeeeese" and this is the best one of the bunch, taken by Andrew and his camera while they're looking at me and my camera.

I make a promise to stop at the store on the way home and pick up some treats for us to enjoy when we get home. I try to be cheerful and upbeat, but they're on to me. Finally, after we get in the car, we explain, "You know daddy hasn't worked in a while, right? Well, that means we don't have a whole lot of money to spend. We can't spend $20 on face painting that will get washed off and down the drain in the shower tonight. We can't spend $8 on a barrel ride or $18 on a hay ride. You get to ride in the wagon at home when daddy hooks it to the tractor and ride around the yard, so you know it's kind of bumpy. Why would you want to ride in an itchy hay wagon that's all bumpy around someone else's yard? Isn't it more fun to ride the wagon at home and when you want to stop and get out, all you have to do is yell and Daddy stops and let you out?" They seem to understand and stop protesting and settle into their seats in defeat.

Their moods improve once we get home and the prospect of making pumpkin faces become a reality.
Andrew and I moan and groan at having to carve pumpkins. We're tired, both physically and emotionally, and hand out pumpkin-head face pieces instead, telling the kids we'd carve tomorrow. They're happy with that thought and make silly faces on their pumpkins, borrow my camera, and take 126 pictures of pumpkins and silly faces.

Today, we put off carving again and encouraged them to paint their pumpkins instead. They spent 4 hours outside painting, washing off, re-painting, washing off, and re-painting their pumpkins. I called it off when the paint started landing on the blue bench and Peter had paint in his ears!

I admit, I hate to carve into these pumpkins. With money so tight, it's such a waste of perfectly good pumpkin that could be turned into pies, cakes, and breads. I'm hoping to convince the kids to stick with painting faces, then I can wash the paint off and cook up the pumpkins later, but 3 out of 4 kids are pretty determined to carve into them. It might be hopeless at this point, all those holes poked into the pumpkins with those face pieces have probably doomed those pumpkins already. Of all the things related to Halloween, the one I enjoy the least is the waste of pumpkins.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

From The Inside Out

What is it with the weather and the calendar, man?
These last few months have been strange, to say the least.
Flipping the calendar to September suddenly took away hot summer weather and, in an instant, Autumn was here. Not complaining really, there are lots of great things associated with Fall--
the start of a new school year
and all things apple-related
cooler weather
fall festivals
carved and pie
changing colors of the leaves
that crispness in the air.

Flipping the calendar to October usually means more of the above.
But ever since October 1st got here, it's been cold, man.
Like, want to start a fire cold.
The temperature never got higher than the mid-40s today.
We seriously considered starting a fire, but we hate to start so soon on the wood pile.
Instead, I'm turning to baking.
If I can't warm from the outside, well, we can start on the inside.

 Apples.. you can see where this is going, can't you?

Bet you didn't think I was going here.

Anything better in the tummy than warm apple crisp?

 How about vanilla ice cream on top of warm apple crisp!?
Oh yes, the cold is much easier to face when one is warm from the inside out.

Apple Crisp
serves 8
Peel and core 8 apples. Cut into largish pieces and place in baking dish. Sprinkle 2 tbsp sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon on apples and stir to coat.
Combine 1/2 cup  (1 stick) of softened butter, 1/2 c flour, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup rolled oats, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and dash of salt. Mix until crumbly.
Pour crumb mixture onto apples and bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes.
Let sit so you don't burn your mouth and serve warm with ice cream.
Say yum!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Eating with "Daddy"

Most meals are eaten together around the table. Sure, we have our moments and we eat in front of the TV with a movie on, or the kids have a "picnic" on the living room floor and it's just Andrew and I at the table, or sometimes, he's in the office in front of the desktop computer and I'm at the table with the laptop. But that's pretty rare, usually during lunch. Dinners are always, always, together around the table.

A few days ago, Andrew was out running errands and wasn't back for lunch. No biggie, really, but the kids were a little bummed about it. Our whiteboard was still out, having just finished some lessons and taking a little break for eating, so the kids asked me to draw daddy.

I started out simple, just the head and shoulders, his eyes, nose, eyebrows, mouth and goatee.
"Don't forget his earring!" Whoops!  Added his earring.
The kids were happy, chatting away with "Daddy" while we had our lunch.
Every now and then, one of the girls would get up and add a little more detail:
his forehead wrinkles..
arms and a shirt...
hand holding a fork with food on it...
blue eyes...
lines under his eyes...
a heart on his shirt.

Eating with Daddy, even putting a plate and glass in front of him.

Nice to know that the kids miss him when he's away from us.