Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Summer simmers down










Today is the first day of school. I sent them back, to sixth and third grades, respectively, with smiles on their faces and nutritious snacks tucked into their lunchboxes. I hope they have a wonderful year. There are some big changes at school this year - new faces and new routines - and I have some serious apprehensions, but I'm trying to stay positive. We chose our school situation - which requires 50% home instruction combined with 50% traditional classroom time - because we know we can do a good job for our kids. I think they're both resilient enough to make it all work, I just hope I am. I can't believe how big they both are, my son almost as tall as I am and not quite twelve years old yet. But then I look at the pictures I took this morning and remember that they'll never be this little again.The first day of school always gives me a giddy, woozy kind of feeling, even now when it's been many years since I was a student.

The last few weeks of summer passed in a blur. We didn't have much to do, and yet we had plenty to do, what with buying school supplies and shoes, getting haircuts and figuring out the new stuff at school. But there was also lots of time to laze about the house and backyard, watching clouds, playing with hens, baking, reading, crocheting - whatever we could find to pass the long days. Twelve weeks of summer break is just too much, I'm sorry. It's not even having the kids at home that bothers me. I actually like having my kids around. No, it's the sheer quantity of time. Twelve weeks is just a very long time. It's nice to have a little time alone too, of course, and I can't complain about that; I can count on two hands the number of hours I've had alone since the end of May.

We really did have a good summer, though. The weather mostly cooperated. It was only beastly hot for a short time, in mid-June. I would say the rest of the summer was just regular hot, nothing too awful. The monsoon has been very good this year, with several big storms and many inches of rain all told. There were lots of coolish nights and mornings, which I always enjoy. Now, the days are getting noticeably shorter and the mornings are not nearly as bright, to my great relief. I love this time of year, summer sliding into fall. Soon, we'll have the scent of roasting green chiles in the air. Fall is my favorite, hands down.

This week, I've been keeping a Radio Diary for Nielson, a company that tracks how people use media like TV and radio. They contacted me a couple of weeks ago to ask if I'd like to participate in their radio-listening ratings and I jumped at the chance! I listen to the radio every single day. They chose me at random for the radio diary. I've also been asked to participate in their TV ratings in the past. Yes, we were a Nielson Family! It was about five years ago. It was actually really fun. You make a little bit of money (no, it's really just a little), but I don't care about the money. I love writing things down. It's also interesting to examine my daily habits. For the radio diary, I have to write down all the radio I hear every day for a week, whether at home, in a car, or someplace else, along with the times I listened and the station or program. Then I mail it back to them when I'm done. I like helping with things like this; I'm also currently participating in an extended study of household spending habits through the US Census Bureau. I was chosen at random for that too. They ask questions about grocery shopping, household budget, debt, banking, and similar topics. I don't know why they want to talk to me, but it makes me think a bit. And it's easy; I can go on and on about myself with no trouble at all.

My plans for these first few weeks of the new school year include:
  • walking more often on the mile-long path in the park 
  • finishing my Maybelle squares (I have about 40 left to make) and starting to join them 
  • reading the rapidly-accumulating pile of books on my desk 
  • keeping my desk cleared enough to see the top of it more often
  • clearing out my closet a little, to get rid of things I haven't worn in years
  • shopping for new socks for myself, since all my socks have holes and threadbare heels
  • getting Christmas shopping done early, as soon as all the September-birthday shopping is done
  • starting a new cross-stitch project for the family room
  • getting back to regular blogging, which I miss

I think I can. Ambition is my middle name! Well, not really, but my middle name does begin with A. Let's pretend.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Summer, this week


In our tenth week of summer break, there was rain almost every day. Amounts ranged from just a little to quite a lot - almost an inch during one afternoon storm. We've had a good monsoon this year, especially in my neck of the woods, which saw more than three inches of rain during July.


The afternoons are still hot, but the sun is starting to feel just a little less intense. The evenings draw in just a little earlier, and it's starting to feel like summer won't last forever. On the stormy evenings, I've been lighting candles in the kitchen again, just a tea light here and there.


I tried a soup recipe from the terrific CopyKat Recipes, a website devoted to recreating restaurant dishes at home. This is CopyKat's version of Olive Garden's Chicken Gnocchi Soup, which is my favorite kind of soup served there. It's a definite dietary splurge, but I really wanted to try making it at home. Copykat's recipe was easy and quick, and it tasted just like the real thing! Yum.


When it isn't raining, we try to spend time outdoors, since it's not quite so blazing hot anymore. Aside from the LB's guitar lessons, which run year-round, all the activities have ended for the summer - with more than a week still to go before school starts. We find plenty to do, though, even if it's just sitting on a blanket in the backyard.


I've been reading Prime Suspect 1973 by Lynda La Plante. I enjoyed the recent TV show on PBS (renamed Prime Suspect Tennison in the US) so much that I just had to get the book. It was weird though; the book, also published as Tennison in the US, was much less expensive to buy from the UK, even with shipping, so that's what I ordered. This is fine with me; I always love having things that come from far away. Anyway, it's a really good book. I've had the original Prime Suspect TV show recommended to me many times, and I will definitely watch it soon.


I was gazing out the kitchen window one morning this week, and a swatch of color caught my eye in the pyracantha hedge along the back wall. It was an area of berries turning orange! This is their color in ripeness. The change always happens over the month of August, but I wasn't really paying attention, I guess. As the week progressed, I saw a few more areas take on an orange tinge as well. There's still plenty of summer left, but orange pyracantha berries are one of the earliest signs of fall in my little patch.


Finally, our hens have become egg-laying machines! Holy cow. Three eggs most days, now that all the young hens are laying. The eggs are still smallish, so I usually use one extra in any recipe (these became egg salad for three). The eggs from Ginger, the Buff Orpington, are darker brown (that's hers in the middle), with a perfect deep-golden yolk. They're almost too pretty to eat. Meanwhile, old Betty has adjusted, mostly, to having whippersnappers about, which may be due in part to the fact that Ginger has grown to be intimidatingly huge. Betty, for all her cantankerousness, knows when to quit. Coop life is fascinating, like a poultry-based reality show. The Hendashians, if you will.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Camping in the Jemez












After almost eleven years in New Mexico, I'm happy to say that we're still discovering new places all the time. Last week, we spent a few days camping in the Jemez Mountains at the San Antonio Campground, situated along the small San Antonio River. San Antonio Campground is within the Santa Fe National Forest, which is a huge area. This was our first time camping in this region of the state, though we have often camped within the National Forest; normally, we have camped further east, toward the Santa Fe (city) area.

This campground is set in ponderosa forest, shaded and cool. The river rushes quietly past the campground. You can fish in the river (it's stocked), which we did, but the fish we caught were tiny so we threw them back. It was nice to wade in the shallow pools and watch fish and water-striders go by. We saw hawks and gigantic crows, as well as copious hummingbirds, squirrels and chipmunks. We walked and hiked around the area, and left the campground to check out other local attractions a couple of times; I'll show you more another time.

Unfortunately, there was on-and-off rain the whole time. This was expected, though, as New Mexico is currently in the grip of monsoon season. We went prepared with tarps, ropes and poles, which we rigged up all over our campsite, sheltering our tents and our living/eating area as well as we could. It wasn't so bad. Rain when you're camping is actually kind of exciting; you have to draw on your reserves of creativity. Can't build a fire in the pit? Use the Coleman stove under tarp-shelter instead. Need to dry clothes dampened by a fall in the river? Rig up a clothesline over the picnic table, using your tarp poles, instead of between two trees. My only real complaint is the cold dampness in the tent at night, but that's what zero-degree sleeping bags are for, right? Camping can be a real-life adventure.

I cooked a foil-pack dinner one night, which turned out great. I tried this recipe for BBQ Chicken Foil Packs from Pillsbury. So delicious. And EASY. You can't go wrong with a good foil pack recipe. I assembled them at home and transported them in the cooler inside large Ziploc bags tucked down in the ice.

One of my favorite things about any campground is the plant life. San Antonio is at lower elevation, and is also wetter, than some places we've camped. The wildflowers were all different there, including several varieties of coneflower, blanket flower, evening primrose, campanula, blue flax, fleabane, yarrow and more. Do you like to look for wildflowers? I really enjoy it. I use Peterson's field guides, but I also like websites like this one to match up my flower photos when I get home. I spend a lot of time strolling around with my camera during the days, when I'm not cooking, straightening up the campsite, or relaxing with a book.

I'm so glad we tried San Antonio, it was a fantastic place to camp, perfect for families. There is room to roam and plenty to do, and we will definitely go back. Camping together is a great way to bond, learn new skills and spend time away from the stresses of regular life - even when it brings its own little annoyances, which are mostly just puzzles to solve. With plenty of hot cocoa and M&M-containing trail mix to think on.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Summer, this week


In our eighth week of summer break, our first sunflower bloomed. I thought this was a Mammoth, but it's some other kind. There are buds all along the stem. This is the only flower open so far, but it's so bright that my eye goes right to it when I look out the kitchen window.


All three of the young hens are now laying. We get at least two eggs every day, sometimes three. The small Bears say they know who has laid each egg, but I'm not so sure. The hens are doing great, though, and we're happy to have fresh eggs again.


The weather has definitely turned. We're deep in the monsoon now. I've been enjoying watching the storm clouds build every afternoon. We don't always get rain, but the clouds are very welcome.


Everything is blooming more nicely since we've had some rain. The Russian sage is purple again (it was looking very brown and dry for the past few weeks). It's attracting bees again too, which is always interesting to watch. These plants are just alive with bees.


The heavy rain washes out all kinds of interesting things, like this animal skeleton we came across on a walk. We think it might be a squirrel, or maybe a prairie dog.


We've played outside more since the cloudy afternoons started. It's more humid outside now, but usually less sunny, so it feels more pleasant on the whole. The hens get a lot of attention. Who needs a cat or a dog when you can carry around a big, fat hen?


We've had several rainbows, most of them too faint to photograph. This was our best one so far. It was actually a double rainbow for a little while. We're lucky to get so many rainbows.


This week, I crocheted nine Maybelle squares. Book-wise, I've been re-reading Nigella's How to Eat, which I borrowed from the library. I've read it several times before. I like to read it from cover to cover, like a non-fiction story. I love her writing about food but also just the way she says things. A cake recipe, for example, instructs you to stir the batter "robustly but not excitedly."


And speaking of cooking, Miss GB made Rice Krispie Treats almost entirely by herself this week. She's been cooking with me all summer and is becoming very adept in the kitchen. I'm very proud of her and I've really enjoyed having her near, my little cooking pal.

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Have a good week! We're still three weeks out from school starting, but things have really wound down. This week will be the last library event and the end of the summer reading program. Swimming lessons are over now (both passed their level when lessons ended last week, and we'll go back for more next June). I'm waiting to hear from the teachers about requested school supplies so we can go and load up at Target. We'll go camping for a couple of days at the end of the week, so I'm starting to prepare for that. I hope you have fun things going on where you are! Thanks, as always, for reading and for the lovely comments you leave for me.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Big rain









On Monday afternoon, we had a whopper of a thunderstorm. It was completely crazy. I didn't even think we'd have rain that day, but around 4:30, the sky turned dark and the rain started, lightly at first but then it rained harder than I can remember for several years, and the rain fell for over an hour. Apparently, it was a very slow-moving storm and the heaviest cells were right over my neighborhood. That's one of the most interesting things about the monsoon season, actually; the rain can be very localized. You can have a serious storm in one place, and just a few miles away, nothing at all. It's hit or miss. So far this summer, our area was mostly miss.

The small Bears and I watched from the family room and kitchen. We have a better view from the back of our house in a storm; there are only two windows on the front of the house, and one is within the courtyard, which blocks a lot of the view. But from the back, we can watch the storm fill in between us and the mountain, and the backyard disappear under water, and rain lashing the henhouse and our neighbors' sheds and patio roofs. Water poured from the canales (drainage channels for our flat roof) and streamed down the windows. There was hail, briefly, and strong winds.

It was truly exhilarating. I sat under the skylight and listened. I absolutely love rain, as I keep telling you, and I look forward to monsoon season all year long. I've been starting to get antsy in the long summer break, feeling apprehensive about some changes slated to happen at school in the coming year, and, as usual, I was itching for the stormy part of summer to finally commence. I felt my anxiety melting away as I sat there, listening. I felt like things were being righted, concerns minimized. Of course, rain doesn't take away the aggravations of life, but it helps me pay less mind to them for a little while. Rain is one of my favorite forms of escapism.

We received about 1.7 inches of rain. A weather station in the city park two blocks north of here reported 1.8 inches. The arroyo rushed with churning, black water. When it was over, our yard was a mess. There were leaves everywhere, ripped from the trees by high wind and heavy rain. The roses were all but decimated. Straw from the henhouse was floating on ankle-deep water accumulated at the lowest point in the yard. The LB took the opportunity to play in the water, one of the few chances he's ever had. My children are city kids, and desert city kids at that. Standing water just isn't a thing here. I was glad he had the chance. He dragged a stick through the water, agitating dirt and straw, splashing unwitting hens through the mesh of their coop. I enjoyed watching him play; he seemed to find great joy in playing in his own giant backyard puddle. We have to sweep the patios this weekend, to rid them of debris left behind when the water receded during that night. But that's a small price to pay for one heck of an exciting storm event.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Summer, this week








In our seventh week of summer break...

We started a new session of swimming lessons at a different pool, an indoor one. We have gone swimming there before, but this is our first time taking lessons there. We switched because they have a diving pool and the LB was ready to take diving lessons (the GB can still take regular swimming lessons there too). He's doing great, but it was rather terrifying for me at first. Now, after a week, I'm mostly okay watching him plunge head-first into 14 feet of water...mostly. Oh dear.

All the summer activities are beginning to wind down. We went to the library to learn how to write in Egyptian-style hieroglyphics. They made bookmarks with their hieroglyphic names on them. Summer ballet has ended, and the library's summer reading program will end soon.

The small Bears saw their dentist for cleanings and x-rays.

I had my domestic day, which was totally reinvigorating. I'm so glad to know that others out there see the benefits in having a day at home.

I made five Maybelle squares this week. I finished a novel and am almost finished with an Ann Rule Crime Files book. I know, it's total trash, but I need that sometimes.

We had a really good cold chicken salad for dinner. I had leftover meat from a rotisserie chicken which I mixed with celery, chopped dill and mayonnaise. We ate it on bolillo rolls from the supermarket bakery. Easy and good. I love cold dinners in the summer.

I'm hoping for a good monsoon week. The storms have been pretty wimpy so far. Come on, gully-washer.

The Bear and I had a surprise evening out when the small Bears slept over with their grandparents last night. We did very exciting things: went to Starbucks, roamed around at World Market looking at foreign groceries, ate dinner at Pei Wei (where we got a free bowl of pad thai because they made a mistake with our order; the Bear has lunch for Monday in the bag), stopped at Flying Star and shared a slice of cake and sat on the patio until it was dark and starting to rain, came home and watched Can't Pay? We'll Take It Away! on Netflix. Only a trip to Hobby Lobby could have made this a better night. Ha.

Today, we're catching up with house stuff. I'm doing laundry. We'll grill steak for dinner and watch our Sunday PBS shows. Tomorrow, it's back to the pool and probably the library because I have books waiting on the holds shelf. I'm determined to crochet more this week, and maybe start my new cross-stitch project. I hope you have a good week ahead!
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