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.
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