Thursday, January 29, 2015

Done With Winter

I know I have absolutely no control over the weather, but I don't want any more winter.

I've experienced the things I like about winter-- hot chocolate, Christmas, watching the kids play in the snow, cuddling under my wool blanket, seeing the pretty ice on Sideling Hill, and I think that's where my list ends.

These are the reasons I can't wait for spring.

Cold. I don't like being cold. In the morning, I  take care of the guineas, and it's just too cold for me. The guineas don't like the snow either, and I miss watching them run around like crazy.

I feel cooped up. The children are cooped up. When they play outside, they don't stay out for long.

I'm ready for green things poking up.

And most of all, in spring I hope this horrible-wonderful first trimester nausea is through with me. Around the same time spring pops out, my stomach should be tired of being the dictator of my life for a while. Sunflower seeds and lemon seltzer water won't need to be my near-constant companions, and I'll be able to go into a grocery without fear.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Picture Books, Pardner?

All of my children have gone through (and continue to go through) from time to time a cowboy phase. Their interest is usually stoked after watching a John Wayne movie with Daddy. They especially enjoy a rowdy game of Cowboys 'n Germans outside (their uncle told them it wasn't politically correct to play Cowboys 'n Indians).

Three cowboy/cowgirl-themed pictures books found their ways into our library tote this winter.

My favorite was Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith.  It is cute and smart. A small kid rides into an Old West town overrun by the Terrible Toad gang. He becomes Sheriff Ryan, and he uses his expansive knowledge about dinosaurs to round up the bad guys. This book is filled with fun cowboy language and great humor. The only problem I see somebody possibly having with it is that it uses the phrase, "Dang it." I'm not fond of my kids using this phrase, but it just fits this rough and tumbleweed town.

My girls picked out two books in a series: Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse and Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots by Rebecca Janni with illustrations by Lynne Avril. Nellie Sue is a suburban girl who is a cowgirl at heart. Like Ladybug Girl, Nellie Sue has a little personal issue to overcome in each book, and she does so admirably. Not only that, her voice shines through in language alive with all sorts of fun cowboy metaphors and similes. The books are completely worth a read and would make great gifts for girls.

My advice is to round all of these books up at your local library for fun reading time.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Daddy's Pride and Joy

Last week, my husband received the much-anticipated box.

The box. 

Inside was a true work of art, a hand-forged masterpiece. A camp axe from this place in Ohio.

Ain't it purty?

It's also, when hefted in hand, obviously well-made. I know my husband can't wait to use it in when we go camping.

You may also notice the razor-sharp edge, and you know we have lots of little ones running about. It must be dangerous, right?  Well, of course it is, IF we let the kids near it. 

But even if they somehow came close to it, they would have to open this handy thingy before being exposed to the possibility of cutting off their fingers or nose.


It feels good to buy something that's a thing of beauty, well-made in America, and totally functional.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

FYI: The Story Behind the Trees

Did you ever notice trees like these lining the road?

Somewhere near Fort Halifax, Pennsylvania
We did last fall when we went for a short family day trip. My husband and I noticed all of these trees, on both sides of the road planted at regular intervals. And they were big and old, and we didn't know what kind of trees they were (I guess that means we need to study trees this spring).

A quick search for "trees near Fort Halifax" revealed that they are sycamore trees, but not just any prettily placed sycamore trees. No, these trees were planted in 1922 as part of a movement to remember the veterans of World War I. It was a nationwide movement, a "Road to Remembrance"program.

This particular strip of trees, dubbed Sycamore Allee, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are other similar memorials across the country. Another quick internet search revealed that.

So maybe one day in your travels you may come across a bunch of big old sycamore trees, and know you'll know a neat little piece of history.

It's also a chance to remember those who fought a war which, likely, you didn't live through, but which was significant enough to those who lived through it to be nicknamed, "The War to End All Wars."

*This post has been shared with Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth's Art of Home-Making Mondays.

Monday, January 19, 2015

(Mostly) True Animal Tales

Nonfiction seems to be a favorite of the boys in our household. Throw in a few animals, and this week's two books are bound to be favorites-- or are they?

My mother put a lot of effort into finding books for the children for Christmas this year--books that would both interest them and books that seemed age-appropriate and had good reviews.  For my 7-year-old son she picked two nonfiction picture books, one about a young Teddy Roosevelt and one about an elephant named Queenie.

As per the way things go when at Grammy's house, the children were tucked in by their loving grandmother. She even read one of the new books to each of the little ones. My 7-year-old picked Queenie: One Elephant's Story which is written by Corinne Fenton and illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe. After reading the tale, my mother came out to the living room and apologized for reading the book to the children. She was worried that it upset them too much.

You see, this beautifully illustrated book is a true story about an Indian elephant named Queenie who was a mainstay in the Melbourne Zoo in Australia for quite a long time. She gave rides and was a huge attraction. Then one day, *SPOILER ALERT*, she crushed her caretaker. Then she was put to sleep, not only because of the accident, but also because of a food shortage during World War II. 

This book is a good book, but it joins Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War* (by Yukio Tsuchiya) in the category of good picture books (about zoo elephants who get killed during World War II) that really are not meant for little kids. These books can upset an adult. They are not necessarily kid material; preview them first, especially if your children are young or sensitive.

On to the second book.

One of my main goals in blogging about kids' books is to help parents find "safe", if not great, books for their children to read that the children want to read. It occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that the book in one son's hands had visited his hands more time than I could count, and my other son had also read it more than once. It is True Tales of Animal Heroes by Allan Zullo.

True Tales is a nonfiction chapter book about real animals who rescued kids and teens. The author notes in the beginning that dialogues and situations have been dramatized and names and specific incidents changed, and I definitely saw that while reading it. Overall though, this book was a fun read, and I can see why kids like it. If your child can read it, it's appropriate. My boys started reading it after the Magic Tree House stage of reading; it's fairly easy. I looked to see if it is still in print because it's a Troll book, and I figured it might not be the kind of book that has staying power; many used copies are available on Amazon for a penny each. Animal lovers will love this book.

* When looking online to find the author of Faithful Elephants, I found there are some who dispute the truth of the book and many who object to its strong anti-war propaganda-like message. I just thought I'd let you know since I hadn't really intended on reviewing that book since I hadn't read it for years--but it seemed to go hand-in-hand with Queenie.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Of Teddy Bear Counters and Girls

Prior to this year, I'd gone through our math program (Saxon) for kindergarten three times with my boys. Many of the lessons go through making up story problems with cute teddy bear counters. My boys didn't mind them so much. They basically made up the expected stories of bears jumping in the pool or getting off the bus as scripted, even if they enjoyed making them long, long, long run-on story problems.

Then this year, my first girl started kindergarten, and the teddy bears are doing all sorts of new things. 

"Kum bah yah, my Lord, kum bah yah!"

Above you will notice the teddy bears' campfire ring. They were singing and roasting marshmallows. I don't know what the one in the middle is doing. I'm not sure if I want to know.

At other times, there have been mothers and babies involved.

I think this is a girl thing. It's been exciting. After so many times through, anything to change up the Saxon script is welcome.

Unless that little green fella is getting roasted; that might be a little disturbing.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

_The Hancock News_ Column-- January 7, 2015

Happy New Year! Despite my failure to throw a big party or welcome it in with a bang, the year 2015 managed to make its appearance on time anyway. 

Some years I get excited about the new year, but this time I was just too busy finishing up the old year by getting the late Christmas cards ready to mail to do much more than make a cheese ball and a few other easy snacks for my family. 

For various reasons, the children went to bed early, so they didn’t watch the ball drop. My husband and I took turns dozing off while watching a movie on the television.  We managed to tune in to the big party in Times Square just in time for the countdown and then went promptly to bed. I think I heard fireworks outside as I was drifting off to sleep.

This year I didn’t even make any New Year’s resolutions. I’m not opposed to them. In fact, I think a little self-reflection is healthy, especially when it results in dropping bad habits and picking up good ones. I simply couldn’t figure out which one of my shortcomings was the most important one to eliminate.

The good news is that I didn’t completely ignore all of my previous New Year’s traditions. Right away on January 1st, I messed up when writing the date. That silly old “4” slipped out of my pen before I knew what was happening.

It always happens. Each time I have to write the date at the beginning of the year, I falter, pause, then concentrate really hard to make sure my brain and hand cooperate to get it right. Eventually my hand learns to write the new set of numbers automatically, but the process sometimes takes a few months. And to be quite honest, it makes me feel dumb to make the same mistake so many times.

Change is hard. That’s probably why so many of us fail at our New Year’s resolutions. For those of you who made the resolution to eat better, chowing down on more greens is one worthy step on the path to a healthy diet. 

However, if you’re not used to greens or if you flat-out hate them, that change can be tough--even unpleasant. Instead of jumping right into a big bag of nasty kale chips, first try this soup recipe that gives you a healthy dose of spinach without tasting too green.

Tortellini Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 slices of bacon, diced (or some diced up leftover ham, if you have it)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups chicken broth
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 package tortellini (about 9 oz.)
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
8 oz. fresh spinach, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to garnish

Cook the bacon in olive oil until crisp. Add the onion and cook until soft. Then add the garlic and cook about 1 minute more. Add broth and Italian seasoning; bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook tortellini, if dried, and drain, then add to soup. OR add frozen tortellini directly to soup. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add spinach and cook just until wilted. Season with salt and pepper to suit your taste.

Monday, January 12, 2015

First Book Review

When I started this whole blog thing, a friend much wiser than I suggested I try only one blog instead of three. I am finally following her advice.

Now, instead of trying to keep up my neglected book review blogs, I'm going to attempt to post weekly (on Mondays) about the children's books I've been perusing. If you're interested in my motives for such an endeavor, here's an explanation.

 The Mystery of Meerkat Hill 

The Mystery of Meerkat Hill by Alexander McCall Smith is a library find for me. (You'll find that most of the books I review are ones I pluck randomly off the shelf in the kid's section.) It's a good find. Precious, actually.

The main character in this mystery for early independent readers is a girl named Precious, and she lives in Botswana. In this, the second in a series, Precious makes two new friends at school and helps them with a big problem. 

Much more than a formulaic mystery for young readers, this tale weaves together good values and friendship in a framework of beautiful storytelling. Throw in interesting factual details about animals and life in Botswana and lovely illustrations by Iain McIntosh, and you've got a good read for children.

Although Precious is a girl, this is a book that isn't "girlie".  My 10-year-old son enjoyed it, and I suspect it would be enjoyed by readers as young as 5. 

Eventually I might even come up with a rating system, but for now, I'll just tell you it's worth a read. I found nothing offensive, and it was so refreshing after having read so many books for younger readers that are just passable because the words are easy.

I do hope to read the rest of the series some day, including the first which is The Great Cake Mystery. Perhaps you'd rather start by reading that one first.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Baby Love

Yesterday morning's visit to the guinea coop left me unsettled. You see, now that we have guinea fowl, I fully understand the term "pecking order." The recipient of the pecking in our flock is the guinea we've named Baby. As in, poor Baby, they're being so mean to him. 

And the others are. They peck at him, they jump on him, they chase him. They try to keep him from the food. We've noticed bloody toes and ruffled feathers that seem to be from the abuse. Even the cat joins in when Baby's out of the coop. It's not for the tender-hearted. 

We've been watching out for baby for several months, shutting the others in the coop while he comes out to eat, hand-feeding him some yummy millet when he's too scared to come out of the coop. We just didn't know what else to do.

Here's Baby. Not the best picture because I couldn't get the camera in to him/her.

Well, yesterday morning was the worst. Baby was huddled on the ground of the coop, not moving a bit. I was worried he was dead. I called, "Baby, Baby, time to wake up!"  He finally moved and hobbled out to greet me and gobble up some food (the others usually won't come out of the coop when I'm in their enclosure). He seemed to have lots of feathers missing on his back. I shut the others up while we could figure out what to do because I was certain he would not last much longer.

I told my husband all about it, and he spent the better part of his day off, and by better part I mean until the sun went down, making this ramshackle lean-to for Baby.* It's off to the side of the main coop and is completely separate so he can still see the other guineas by day, but they can't get to him to be mean.

It's rough, really rough.

We were worried last night that one of the cats or another predator would get in or that Baby might freeze, but this morning, all seemed okay.

I know that we should probably just let nature take it's course. I know farmers have to cull their flocks and such, but it's just not in me right now to let go of this one. I want to give him a fighting chance.

On a side note, it's been pretty cold lately. We had a couple of inches of powdery snow earlier this week. We trekked out to the coop and back several times, packing down the snow. The wind blows really hard here usually, and this week was no different. It blew away most of the snow from our driveway. But the ice prints were left. In the picture below you can see human bootprints next to the tiny paw-prints of our cats.

I can't believe the little cats packed the snow enough to make ice.
*It has been noted that perhaps the picture of Baby's shelter isn't really fair to my husband's skills. He really only had a few pieces of rotted plywood and some spare boards to work with, and the lean-to is quite nice. Of course, I noticed after publishing the post, that you can't actually see the lean-to part because it's covered up in spare boards to keep predators out of the places where there are holes in the rest of the contraption.

Saturday, January 3, 2015


I mentioned earlier that my children are obsessed with Disney's Frozen. This obsession has only been fed by receiving for Christmas the musical soundtrack which has been listened to a mind-numbing number of times AND the movie itself which, as of yet, has been watched zero times.

The younger children's play seems to be centered on the movie a fair amount of the time. They make up dances to the music. Sometimes they even have analytical discussions about the movie--who is really the main character--Anna, Elsa, or both?

Yesterday my children (who have been nursing colds of one kind or another since before Christmas) insisted on going outside for at least a little bit to play. I allowed it, thinking that maybe some fresh air would do them some good. The three-year-old couldn't find her coat and ran outside without it, leaving the door open. Before I could lay the sleeping baby down and run the coat out to her, I heard her tell a concerned sibling, "The cold never bothered me anyway!"

My niece's daughters insist on being called Anna and Elsa. At our  Christmas get-together, I heard them correct their mother repeatedly when she called them by their given names.

So, is this an obsession peculiar to my family, or is this going on all over the world? Please tell me I'm not alone. Please tell me it will go the way of winter when the spring thaw comes.