Random musings

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Elf on the Shelf

In a moment of madness a couple of weeks ago, I succumbed to the current craze of Elf on the Shelf and bought one of the little buggers from a display at Kroger. I was inspired by all of the photos and ideas that people have posted on Pinterest. I was pinning cute and clever Elf ideas right and left—hundreds of them. Literally. Some of them sure to wow my live-in grandkids, especially if they thought I came up with the ideas myself, and who would be crazy enough to disillusion them? Then I started running into blog posts about how the Elf nearly drove the parents crazy. They would be settling into slumber, having finally gotten the overexcited and overstimulated youngsters into their own beds for the night, when suddenly they would realize that they forgot to set up the new Elf scenario for the following morning! So, they would have to get up and create some elaborate Elf shenanigans so that Junior wouldn’t be disappointed when he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.

I hadn’t yet taken the Elf out of the clever hiding place in the car, and I still had the receipt. I decided right then and there to save myself the month-long aggravation, and I returned the Elf to his rightful retail owners the very next day. The kiddos will never know any differently, unless, of course, they read my blog, and I don’t imagine that happening until they are well out of their Elf on the Shelf years.

Letting go

Decorating the Christmas tree is usually an activity that I look forward to each year. I have lots of beautiful glass ornaments that I have collected over the years (some are just memories), and I like to place them just so. I have to admit that I haven’t been quite as eager to get it done the last few years for various reasons. We got a new tree this year. A 9 1/2 foot tree to replace the 6 1/2 foot one. Yes, they’re fake. The last cut tree we brought home, meaning we went to a farm and cut it ourselves, got so dry by Christmas Day that the needles fell off by the handful if you accidentally brushed by it. The possibility of it catching fire and burning down the house scared me so much that I haven’t bought a “fresh” one since.

Anyway, decorating the tree has been the sole occupation of myself since day one of our marriage. Until this year. The live-in grandkids wanted to help. The oldest is thirteen, then there’s the eleven-year-old, the nine-year-old, and the toddler. The toddler was safely napping, so I said what the heck. Have at it. I knew I would micro-manage, so I took my knitting and a cup of tea and sat in the living room while they did the decorating with some help from their mom and her boyfriend. It was the most relaxed I’ve ever been during tree decorating, and I must say, they didn’t do too badly. They took into consideration that the toddler(s) would be VERY interested, and placed delicate ornaments up high or in the back, and sure enough, the toddler has since decorated the bottom third of the tree several times. Every day, actually. But it’s okay. I’m chill with it.

Speaking of knitting

I’m trying to teach myself to knit. It’s painful sometimes, both literally (carpal tunnel and arthritis) and figuratively. I’ve found a very helpful video series or two, but they can’t see what I’m doing and correct my mistakes. There’s a knitting class at the library, but it’s held at an inconvenient time for me to attend, and I don’t know anyone who knits who could help me, so for now, I’m on my own. I started out using a knitting loom, which is kind of fun and really fast, but it’s not real knitting, you know. I want to hear the click of the needles as I whirr speedily through a scarf or hat or mittens. I think I’ve mastered the garter stitch, and I’m attempting a scarf for Nathan, the eleven-year-old. He wanted bright orange, his favorite color, but I had this crazy bright ombre with orange in it, and he went crazy for it, so that’s what he’s getting. It’s coming along pretty well, but I dropped a stitch on one side the other day and couldn’t figure out how to pick it back up, so it’s a little funky right there, but Nate didn’t mind. It’s also quite sturdy, and I’m not sure why. It could be I’m knitting too tightly and the yarn is a bulky one, so maybe I should be using larger needles? Well, too late to go back and start over with bigger ones. I’m halfway done. If it doesn’t work out as a scarf, he can use it as a snuggly at bedtime. He’s very into soft, snuggly things. He never carried around a “bankie”, so I suppose he’s making up for it now.

There’s music in our house

We have two music students living here. Kaitlyn is taking piano lessons on a piano that we bought from the previous owners for $100, because they didn’t want to pay to have it moved. It’s kind of beat up, but it has a very nice sound. We love her teacher, Miss Emily, whom I found on Facebook before I quit going there. She’s been taking lessons since the first of October, and already had her first performance. It was last Saturday at the local art league. Miss Emily is a member there, and all her piano students performed for the people who were wandering through the open house. Mostly the audience was made up of proud parents and grandparents and siblings, some of whom are also taking lessons. The piano there is even older than ours, and in worse shape. The middle C sticks, so Kaity was a little frustrated while playing Jingle Bells and We Three Kings, but she handled it with aplomb, and Miss Emily kept smiling through the whole recital, so everybody was happy.

Our other music student is Nathan. He has not been a joiner of things. He hasn’t liked sports ever since he tried soccer when he was three, and wouldn’t go out onto the field, because he didn’t want to fall down in front of people. We’ve tried to encourage him to try different things without so much as an “I’ll think about it.” I’ve been talking up band for a couple of years. About how much fun it is in high school to ride the bus to football games and competitions. Of course, I left out the part about freezing your butt off during the games, but he’ll find that out in a few years. I enthusiastically waxed poetic about the idea of being part of an organization, and how you sometimes make lifelong friends. Anyway, something I said worked, or some of his friends were going for it, or something, and he decided he wanted to try band this year in sixth grade.

Nate wears braces, and he wanted to play clarinet at first. We went to the music store and one of the clarinet experts demonstrated one for him, but I think he was discouraged by the complexity of it. The young lady working out front also happens to be a trumpet player and asked him to give it a try. We were concerned about his being able to play because of the braces, but she and his band teacher assured us that he would be able to adjust. The clincher was the fact that Ohio State only has brass and no woodwinds in their marching band.

At first, as with most novice band students, the sounds coming out of it were enough to make one want to stick one’s head under a thick pillow. After about two weeks of band class, Nate was getting very discouraged and wanted to quit like some of his classmates had done, but we encouraged him by telling him that every music student goes through this and that it would get better. It wasn’t a week until the sounds coming out of the horn actually started sounding like music! He was playing MUSIC! Now he loves it, and the band had their winter concert this week. They sounded great, actually better than my lame high school band sounded back in my day. At the end, the band director even let them play “Let’s Go Band!”, which is their favorite, because they get to shout the title at the end of each stanza. It was awesome, and he is truly hooked. Let’s go band!

See you soon,

Susan

Fall back

This is the weekend to fall back. When I hear that phrase, I immediately picture myself falling back into a huge pile of raked autumn leaves. That would be easy enough here. There are huge amounts of oak and hickory leaves to be had for it. We have a couple of hickory trees that have the very large nuts. We’ve been harvesting them for the last couple of weeks. Even the toddler gets in on the fun. We fill our hoodie and jacket pockets with their rich goodness. I love to remove the husks, which are very easy to peel off. There are four sections, and normally they just pop off with your fingers. There’s an occasional stubborn side, but not often. The shell is pointed at one end and a beautiful shade of light brown, nut brown, if you will. I always savor the smoothness of them as I’m depositing them in my pockets. The taste of hickory nuts is that of rich sweetness. They make as good a pie as any pecan. If I can get enough shelled before the Thanksgiving feast, they will make it onto the dessert table.

The chrysanthemums that I bought from K’s elementary school PTO fundraiser are in glorious bloom. They give the term “cushion mums” new meaning. It’s a challenge restraining the toddler from picking each and every blossom, and to get him to just pat them, but he’s learning.

We have guests coming for dinner Saturday. I’m trying out a couple of new recipes that I found on Pinterest. A baked mac and cheese dish with bacon, butternut squash, and Gruyère cheese. It sounds so rich and comforting, I can’t wait to try it. Also, a Brussels sprouts salad with apple slices that I think will compliment well the rich mac and cheese casserole. I’m getting really brave with a third new recipe, one for an appetizer, creamy crab Rangoon dip with wonton chips. The recipe calls for imitation crab, but I’m using the real thing. My friends know that I often use them as guinea pigs. I’ve had a few flops, but most of the time they’re at least in the edible category, and, thankfully, they have all been kind enough not to mention the floppy ones.

There was talk of a bonfire after dinner, but it looks as if that will have to be postponed to another time. We’re expecting possible rain mixed with snow. I don’t think I’m ready for that. We haven’t had enough autumn yet, and there have been lots of rainy, drizzly days, not our usual brilliantly blue October days. David has been busy cutting down dead ash trees killed by the emerald ash borer to warm us on cold nights. The summer was busy with the moving and getting settled in, so this last-minute push to stock the woodpile feels a little hurried. Even the toddler is getting in on the action, helping to load the wheelbarrow. Yes, he loaded all of that by himself. He is quite the worker bee, and he isn’t quite two years old.

I hope you’re getting your woodpile stacked and your pantry stocked for the winter to come. I hear it’s gonna be a doozy.

See you soon,

Susan

Postscript:  The dinner party was a wonderful break from the daily grind. And the new dishes got RAVE reviews, even from me, my own harshest critic. Really, you should try the mac and cheese and the salad, for sure.

Autumn and moving and life

Having lived in the (Bear) Swamp house for fourteen years, we had seemingly settled in for the rest of our days. Our grandchildren were nearby. There was room enough for them to visit for sleepovers. And though it was a bit crowded when we had the whole family there for holidays, especially Thanksgiving when the extended family descended for a few days, we didn’t feel too constrained. We had completed a major renovation of the twenty-three-year-old kitchen, and also added on a large laundry, full bath, and mudroom/office space with a walk-in pantry to the house just the year before. We were definitely settled in. Then life happened, and changes ensued.

Our daughter, after struggling through a painful divorce and its aftermath, and dealing with four children on her own, needed our help on a full-time basis. We had been helping a lot, because we were only seven miles away, but it still isn’t like having someone living with you and being there at night when one of the kids suddenly gets sick. She also wanted to go back to school full time and finish her degree in hopes of providing a better life for her and her children. There were also some extenuating circumstances that demanded our involvement, and so there we were with five more people in our medium-sized three bedroom house. To say that we were crowded was an understatement.

At first, we tried to make it work in our old house, but having three children in one small bedroom, the oldest being an almost teenaged boy, and the youngest being an eight-year-old (very sensitive) girl, and one boy in the middle trying to keep the peace, we soon realized that it wasn’t working. So, after grieving a bit over having to leave my secure little nest, we set out to find the “perfect” house. Of course, anyone who has ever had to do this kind of search knows that there is no perfect house. In fact, there were only two houses in the same school district that met most of our criteria. Our most pressing need was for more space, and we got that with this house. We almost doubled our living space, and though the decorating schemes weren’t to my taste, it was imminently livable and comfortable. The redecorating can wait.

We had to give up the barn, but the extra bay in the attached garage and the two-bay detached garage helped to store the things that we kept. It was quite the undertaking to scale down the junk we had accumulated over the years. A garage sale and trash pickers followed by a dumpster helped solve the problem. It is actually very freeing to purge in that way. I no longer feel the dread that I felt for years about what to do with all of it if we did decide to move. David had to come up with a new place to use for his sugaring house for his fledgling maple syrup business. That resulted in a brand-spanking new building built in about three hours by an Amish crew.

He’s a little peeved that there aren’t as many sugar maples on our property here as we had on Bear Swamp, but the neighboring properties have thousands, and he has already secured permission to tap as many as he likes from one of the neighbors. So, hopefully there will be lots of sweet maple syrup in 2015 to pour on the pancakes, waffles, French toast, and oatmeal.

Getting used to living with four children, from teenager to toddler, has been both challenging and rewarding. The toddler gives us tremendous joy. It is so much fun watching him learn and grow. He is our entertainment on most days. The older kids present their own set of challenges, but they’re nothing that we and their mother can’t handle together. They also help keep us young and they feel much more secure and happy in their new life with us. And that was the reason for this big change in lifestyle. When they are happy, we are happy.

See you soon.

Susan