Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Guinea Pig Rescue


We finally got the new cages set up for our guinea pigs - it seems like I've been working toward this little project for a month.  I finally got all the parts to make my own C&C (cube and coroplast) cages, which are much more safe and hygienic for guinea pigs than standard cages, plastic totes, or any enclosed container.  You can buy the cages partially premade (i.e. all the parts shipped unassembled to your home), or you can buy the parts yourself for a considerably lower cost.  I opted for the second choice, which did turn out to be quite a bit cheaper (about 1/3 less than just buying them online), but was a lot more hassle.  Still, I think it'll be worth it in the long run.  You can buy C&C cage "kits" of all sizes from cc_cages on eBay (she's one of the originators of the idea of the C&C cage).

The guinea pigs are enjoying their new homes.  None of them really know what to do with a hammock (they hide under it so far, unless I put them right on top of it), but they really seem to like the fleece liner and the space to run around.  (The sturdy, soft hammocks are from Silver Beat Creations on Etsy - she makes all sorts of small-animal cage accessories.)  The fleece is laid over a heavy towel, and is washable, which will cut down considerably on the amount of pine litter we'll have to buy.  I've got a couple cage liners for each cage, so I can just swap them out every 5-6 days and wash them.  I think the new cages also look better, since they're up in our office where everyone can see them.  Right now the Guinea Girls are running laps around their cage.

The friend who gave us the Guinea Girls has started a guinea pig rescue.  Our two baby girl guinea pigs are from a  female adopted as a rescue.  I had no idea just how many guinea pigs are taken in by animal shelters each year, but it's quite a lot.  Sometimes people buy guinea pigs for their kids, and when the kids lose interest, they give the guineas away, or take them to a shelter.  Since pet stores often don't separate male/female guinea pigs, or don't sex them accurately, many people adopt a guinea pig who's already pregnant, or adopt a "same sex" pair, only to find out differently a couple months later.  Either way, unexpected baby guinea pigs need homes too.  CraigsList is full of ads from people trying to give away unwanted guinea pigs.  So, here's a plug for CNY Piggies, and a reminder to consider looking up a local rescue organization, shelter, or vet to adopt a pet before you go to a pet store.  Give a pet a second chance - it's a really good idea.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Learning about business stuff

We're having a laid-back day at home today.  Cleaning, laundry, and a little art for me, bike riding, playing, videos for the kids, and no deadline for any of it - I like it.  These beads will be fired in a couple weeks, and I'll use them to make some more necklaces.  I need to learn some more simple jewelry-making skills.  It's fun, but I don't want to compete with the serious jewelry artisans on Etsy.  These are just a another way to present my designs.  The beads look rather tribal or Bohemian to me, so I've been putting them on plain leather cords with minimal silver accents.  I'm sure more could be done with them, but for now this is enough for me.  I've sold one necklace already, and I hope to sell more around the holidays.  I may use some as gifts, too.  I have one I kept for myself, done with olive green swirls and black accent dots on a black silk cord.

One of the things I'd like to do in the new year is expand my designs to include multiple colors - designs in all the colors of the rainbow, as the mood suits me.  I think black/white/red will always be my favorite color combination for these designs, but I'd like to play with the idea too - brown swirls with pink, green designs with black, all sorts of blues and earth tones, pieces that combine all sorts of shapes and colors to form new pictures and designs.  I'd like to do tiles, plates, platters, and larger vases.  You could say I'm developing a broader vision for what I'd like to do.

Part of that expanding vision includes getting my own kiln, so I can control all aspects of production - especially TIME.  Working with The Clay Ground in Vestal, NY, and the Earth Paint and Fire studio in Corning, NY, has been good, but I don't live near them any more, and getting pieces to/from there has become a real logistical problem.   There's so much I'd love to try and do, but the cost of buying pieces through them, and either traveling to get them/drop them off or having them shipped is prohibitive.  I usually combine pick up/drop off trips with family visits, but it means I'm getting to each studio about once every 4 weeks.  That doesn't make for a very quick turnaround time to get things done.

I also have some ceramics and paintings at The Lemon Tree in Wake Forest, NC.   Stacey has been so nice to work with there, but I don't know how much longer I'll be sending stuff down there.  I've only had three sales through her shop in over a year, and I've got a lot of inventory tied up there.  The cost of the commission essentially negates my profit on the ceramics - to make a reasonable profit, I have to have really high prices on the items, but at that price point things aren't selling.  The shop is expanding to include a cafe.  My husband is urging me to stick with them through the holidays, since they're established now, and are likely to see more traffic this year.  I think his advice is good, but unless I have some serious sales this holiday season, I don't think I'll be able to justify keeping my items there.  Learning the ins/outs of running a business is taking me a while.  I've got a lot to learn, and a long way to go.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Beautiful Weekend

 This weekend we got to spend some time with my husband's family, a couple hours away from here.  It was so nice to get away for part of the weekend, and we always enjoy seeing his parents and his sister's family.  It was a lovely drive down Friday evening, beside Seneca Lake for much of the route, and the sunset was amazing - honey-amber shading up through gold to pale greenish aqua and into turquoise, cloudless and cool.  We spent the night and the next morning with my husband's parents, who are a real blessing to us.  We had a very good morning, and had lunch with them before going to visit my husband's sister and her husband and two sons for the afternoon and evening.
My lovely SIL and her family just moved into a new home less than two weeks ago.  It's a Victorian farmhouse on 1/2 acre, but surrounded by remnants of the old farm (still owned by someone else).  You can see the slowly disintegrating barn and work shed beside their property, but in the golden light of a summer afternoon it was picturesque and peaceful.  The old fields are full of goldenrod, grapevines, elderberry trees and seedlings, Queen Anne's lace, tall grasses, and assorted trees.  The house has been beautifully updated inside, and I'm sure my brother-in-law will tame the overgrown landscaping - he has a good eye for that, and plenty of experience.
Beside their house, on the right front, is an ancient lilac tree. (Shrub?  Mass?  Colony?)  It's big, with a huge ancient trunk deep in the thicket of smaller trunks and sprouts - almost a foot thick, and partially hollow where it was cut off heaven only knows how long ago.  You just don't see lilac trunks that big any more!  We were speculating that the lilac might be as old as the farmhouse.  The original owners' daughter is still alive (she's 89, and was born in the house), and my brother-in-law is going to ask her if she remembers when the lilac was planted.  That old tree is a true heirloom, and still blooming every year.  I think in the spring I'll ask him if I can have a sprout from it.
It was a weekend of firsts for the kids.  Our son got to ride a 4-wheeler with his cousin, which isn't new, but this time his cousin started teaching him how to drive on his own.  Our son was quite nervous, but drove for a little while before letting his cousin take the pilot seat again.  He did leave a nice skid mark in the grass, from revving too quickly, but no harm done otherwise.  He loved riding all over the yard.  Ah, the smell of testosterone and exhaust in the evening!
Our daughter is learning how to ride a bike without training wheels, at last.  I'm sure she was capable of doing it quite a while ago, but she just wasn't that interested until this summer, when her friends could ride but she couldn't, and she was frustrated.  Today, she got going on her own, with help from her father.  She's off and rolling, and I'm sure she'll get better every day now. So far, no skinned knees.  And yes, she has a helmet - she just wanted to show me she could get going in the grass, so I let her do without.
Autumn is coming - I can feel it in the air now, in the evenings.  We had some lovely cool days, and even though today was summer-warm, I can tell that fall will be here very soon.  I love the autumn, it's my favorite season.  I'm looking forward to the changing leaves (we've already seen a few maples turning early), the clear, cool evenings, the frost on the grass, the harvest activities, and all the beauty of the season.  I hope to enjoy long walks, farmstand produce, apple cider, harvest fun, and lots of family time this year.

Friday, August 27, 2010

AS, Obsessive Interests, and Behavior Modification


Aside from the common social difficulties people with AS have, their obsessive interests seem to be a defining characteristic of the disorder.  Their ability to hyper-focus on a particular object, topic or problem can be very exasperating for their caregivers, relatives, spouses and kids, but it also makes them often very gifted in specific areas.  Not in a savant kind of way, but in their exclusivity they often develop great expertise in their chosen interests.

Someone told me once that Silicon Valley is the largest sheltered workshop in the world for people with AS.  I've also heard that said about Microsoft Corporation, and NASA.   I have to laugh, but there's a huge kernel of truth in that joking statement.  People with AS are often overrepresented in the maths and sciences, because numbers, research or software related careers often involve less need for social interaction and connectivity, and demand an ability to be detail-oriented and hyper-focused.  Being with a community of often like-minded people helps - it can feel safe and secure.  And if their friends' interests and work are predictable and stable, they feel more comfortable around them.

I wish I had known when our son was little what the early signs of AS were.  He did not receive his diagnosis until he was 5 1/2, after the better part of a year in public school.  We knew well before then that something was going on with him, but it was like having a big handful of puzzle pieces, but no picture to fit them into.  Even our pediatrician didn't put his finger on it.  Once someone suggested Asperger's, and we did a diagnostic checklist (using Tony Attwood's book), all the pieces fell into place.  CLICK!  It was our son, to a T.  Suddenly a lot of his personality and behavioral quirks started to make sense.  That didn't make them any easier to deal with, but it at least gave us a framework to start to figure out how to deal with his social and behavioral needs.

People with AS often have a perceived need for structure and stability, for predictability and sameness in their lives.  When things don't work out the way they expect, they often feel insecure, scared, or angry.  It can be as simple as a toy, device or product not working when it should (breaking or malfunctioning).  It can be a last-minute change in plans that totally upsets how they expected their day to go.  It can be an accident or illness.  (Our son hates illness - being sick is just WRONG in his world view.  It totally discombobulates everything in his life, feels crummy, and is very hard for him to deal with.)  This is definitely an autism spectrum thing, this need for structure and predictability, and the concurrent intense need people with autism and AS often have to control their environment, their schedule, and their interactions with others.  Let me tell you, it can be absolutely exhausting to deal with on a day to day basis in a family.  And, if two or more people in the family have AS, it gets even more interesting, since they're not likely to focus on the same things, or try to control things the same way.  Each of them is absolutely right - even when they don't agree.  Then they exasperate each other and a simple problem can escalate into a major confrontation.

So, what can the rest of the family do to survive the dynamics of living with one or more people with AS in the house?  Here are things I've learned over the years:

*  Avoid sudden changes in routine when possible.  If a change needs to be made, give the person with AS time to absorb the idea and adjust their thinking to it.  For instance, in our family we have the "10 minute warning" before we make transitions, like leaving the pool, or going out the door to church.  If you've planned one activity for the weekend, but need to change it for whatever reason, tell the person with AS as far ahead of time as possible.  Don't wait till the last minute to spring the change in plans on them.

*  Stay calm, react calmly, and avoid confrontation.  If the person with AS reacts with anger to a situation, a large part of their response can be mitigated if you don't feed into it with anger or frustration of your own.  This is, honestly, the hardest thing for me to do, the hardest part of living with a family member with AS.  Behavior modification is really 80% changing my own behavior and reactions, and only 20% modifying the other person's behavior.  The calmer I am, the calmer they'll become through the crisis.  When I overreact or feed into their anger with my own frustration, that's when things escalate and get ugly.

*  Give them space when they're upset.  Tell them you're giving them space, don't just ignore them or walk away.  Calmly say something like, "I can see you're upset.  I'll give you some space to work through this, and I'll talk with you about it in a little while."  Then go find something else to do.  Obviously, sometimes they need you right then - the situation will dictate your response.  But sometimes leaving them alone is the best thing to do to deescalate a tense situation.

*  Show interest in their obsessive interests, but don't be shy to tell them when you've heard enough for now and need a break.  They really need it spelled out just like that - be polite but blunt, get right to the point, and don't be afraid to tell them that you're just not as interested in their topic as they are.  If you pretend interest, they'll assume that's carte blanche to keep talking to you about it, ad nauseum.  They won't read your body language that you're bored to tears and would really like them to change the topic or just go away.  Just tell them, nicely, and change the topic.

*  Don't let them control the whole family routine.  It's very easy to fall into the trap of letting the person with AS dictate everything, because then they're happy, and it makes life seem easier for everyone in the short run.  But in the long run, you've created a tyrant.  The child with AS cannot run the family.  Don't give them authority they shouldn't have.  If it's not a choice for them to make, don't let them choose.  The real world isn't going to bend to their will and schedule, and their family shouldn't revolve around them either.  This is so easy to fall into, even without  realizing it.  Believe me, we've been there, then had a heck of a time reclaiming our authority over our son.  Now, it's a child's nature to challenge authority as they grow, especially as they hit the preteen and teen years, so some of their behavior is just typical adolescent stuff.  As they mature, they'll be able to handle more responsibility.  But that responsibility should be doled out by the parents to the child as the child earns it, not ceded from the parent to the child for the parents' convenience or the child's pacification.

*  Use their special interests to motivate and reward them (obviously this applies to kids more than adults).  This is pretty self-explanatory.  Use their special interests as part of their educational experience (for projects, reading, experiments, reports, etc.), and as perks earned for work well done or other goals met.

*  Get some space for yourself.  Having a child with special needs of any kind can consume your life, and weigh on you 24/7.  Sometimes, in order to keep functioning as an effective parent or caregiver or spouse, you need to get away from them.  I'm not talking for a few minutes here and there, although that's helpful.  I mean take HOURS at least once a week, if you can.  A few hours to go to the book store, take a walk, visit a friend, go out for coffee, go shopping, whatever you enjoy - go do it ALONE.  Hire a sitter if necessary, but do it.  You'll be much better off for the mental and physical space in the long run, and so will your family.

I could probably go on and on, but I'll stop here.  Maybe I'll pick this up again in a day or two.  You can probably tell that this post is being sparked by events in my own household lately - so I'm trying to take my own advice and clarify my own thoughts.  And I've planned some alone time for Sunday afternoon - I can hardly wait.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Semi-lazy days of summer


Today has been beautiful, at least by my standards:  cooler (about 70), breezy, high fluffy clouds and lots of sun.  The kids and I had a laid-back morning and early afternoon, then my sister-in-law came to take our daughter to the NY State Fair.  Our daughter was beside herself after lunch, waiting for her aunt.  I'm sure they'll have a wonderful time.  The agenda includes seeing as many horses as possible, visiting the Webkinz Truck, and consuming some fair food.

Our son and I went for a nice walk on a trail beside the railroad track that goes through town.  It's a main line, quite busy, which suits our train-loving son just fine.  In fact, he doesn't complain about walking for exercise when we walk on the "rail trail."  He found an old railroad spike to add to his collection, and we saw three trains - two long freights, and an Amtrak passenger express.  We also stopped at our local Tractor Supply store, and he bought himself little die cast models of the "General Lee" and a sheriff's car.  A quick stop at Aldi's to stock up for the weekend, and now we're home.  I'm making Kraft Mac 'n Cheese for his dinner, he's on the computer watching Lego videos on YouTube, and as far as he's concerned, life is really GOOD today.

My other accomplishment for today was buying and setting the post for my new bird feeder setup.  I dug the hole and got it set, and screwed in the base and "candelabra" on top of the 4x4  to mount the feeders.  The central, big feeder is back up, but I'll have to wait for the next paycheck before I add the arms and the other feeders.  I've got a niger feeder for the finches, and a peanut feeder.  I'll post pictures when it's all done.  Still, the birds found the new feeder setup right after I finished it and went inside, and they seem to approve.  The new feeder sits higher, and I can see it more easily from the window.

Last night I did some TLC around the front of our house.  The ornamental weeping cherry was overgrown, so I gave it a haircut and pulled some weeds.  I'm not a big fan of weeping cherry trees, and I wouldn't have planted one in my own design, but this one was already established when we bought the house, and nice enough that I decided to keep it.  Thankfully, it blooms white instead of sickly candy pink, and its trunk is thick enough to show the lovely, shiny, almost coppery patina many cherries develop at maturity.  It's main drawbacks are that it needs to be trimmed a couple times each year, and it's a Japanese beetle magnet.  Next year I might have to break down and spray the tree with an organic insecticide to control them.  Also, next year I'm considering removing the two large junipers from in front of the porch - they've outgrown their space, and dominate the front of the house.  Again, I would not have planted them there, but when you buy a house you make do with the landscaping until you can make the changes you want or need.  There's always another project, another plant, another change - and that keeps gardening fun.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sunshine and bird feeders


This evening, at long last, we have SUNSHINE.  We've had a wet, overcast spell for 4 days or so, with a brief period of sunshine yesterday morning that didn't last, and I've been missing the sun, so I'm very glad to have it back now.  I'm not generally affected by grey weather, or seasonal affective disorder either, but I was really missing bright light and blue skies by this morning.  Welcome back, sun, and thank you, Lord, for bringing it.

Ever have a day where you feel like you're just dragging yourself around, and killing time until you can go back to bed?  I've felt like that today.  I made myself do a bunch of chores - mowing the back yard, vacuuming the downstairs, going out to run errands to the school, the post office, and a couple other places.  It was too cool to take the kids to the pool, which had been Plan A, so I decided to get those other things done rather than sit home and dwell on my weather/tension headache.  My neck is still as tight as a coiled spring, but I'm loving the sunshine, and determined to not take my blues out on my family.  I would dearly love to go get a massage, though.

One of the places we went today was Wild Birds Unlimited.  My lovely mother-in-law and father-in-law gave me a gift certificate from there for my birthday, and I wanted to get the parts to build a large bird-feeder station.  I've got feeders, several different styles, but I've only used the big one on a 1" metal pole for the past year.  This weekend I'm going to sink a 4x4 piece of treated lumber into the ground and mount a wrought-iron looking candelabra  system to which I can attach various feeders.  The whole thing won't be done in one weekend (I still need a couple extender arms and hooks), but I wanted to get the base done.  I'll mount the "feeder tree" where the single feeder is now, outside my office window, about a dozen feet from the house, in the lawn.  That way anything that falls and germinates can simply be mowed down.  I might need to get a squirrel baffle - we'll see.  We have all of one juvenile squirrel around our yard, and it certainly can't get into the big feeder, which has perch mechanism that closes when anything heavier than a blue jay lands on it.

I love watching the birds, all year long.  Our new home has somewhat different birds than we attracted at our old home, since our other house was beside a wooded ravine, and our new home is in a much more open neighborhood.  It's been fun identifying the birds I'm not familiar with, and seeing familiar friends as well.  Orioles, white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, several kinds of sparrows, and cardinals are regulars in our new yard.  The bluebirds visit occasionally, and we had a red-winged blackbird once.  I've seen barn swallows cruising the neighborhood, and of course robins and mourning doves, but nary a blue jay. I don't see many chickadees, either, and they're one of my favorites.  They're always so bold and friendly.
These feeder pictures are all from our old house.  When I get the new feeder tree set up, I'll get pictures to share. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sunshine in the Garden


My friend Blondee was kind enough to pass this sweet Sunshine Award on to me yesterday.
Thank you so much, Blondee!
So, now I will pass the Sunshine Award along to someone else:
I love her blog, and I really love her shop, Shady Side Farm on Etsy.
She's a home-schooling mother of four (two in college now), a farmer's wife, 
a skilled weaver and fiber artist, and a delightful lady.


Please follow the rules listed to accept the award.
Copy the flower to your hard drive to re-award it in your own blog.


Rule 1 - Post a link back to the person who awarded the Sunshine to your blog, giving them thanks.
*
Rule 2 - Pass the award on to blogs you love. No more than 15 blogs, please!
*
Rule 3 - Share 7 things about yourself.

Here are my 7 things, randomly chosen from the cluttered storeroom of my psyche:

1.  I like to be barefoot.  I spend as much of the summer that way as possible,
and much of the rest of the year indoors that way as well.

2.  I enjoy weeding.  It's peaceful and almost meditative. 
But, it's still better to do a little bit often than a lot all at once.

3.  My first car was my grandfather's 1969 Chevelle Malibu, a real muscle car. 
I called it Beast.  It was a great guy-magnet, but they were always
disappointed that it had a 307 engine instead of a 350. I still miss that car.

4.  I love to drive in the evening, alone, with the windows down and the music turned up.

5.  I love Ella Fitzgerald's music.  She swings, she soars, she serenades, she scats, she's amazing.

6.  I like spicy food - Mexican, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, American, I'll try anything.
But I like heat with flavor, not heat to be masochistic. 
I have my limits, and I value my taste buds!

7.  I like to paint - rooms, that is.  It's relaxing. 
Sometimes I prefer to use a brush for the whole room,
rather than a roller, because it's easier on my hands.




Dance of the Seasons

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 I made this slide show for my friend Tami, who writes the Living Palm blog,
to particpate in her Monday Mix-Tape project,
on the theme of dance this week.
The pictures are all from my garden at our previous house.
Until I started looking at these photos earlier this year,
I didn't realize how much I had crammed into that small yard. 
I always love seeing the seasons go round.

Enjoy the Dance of the Seasons.



Monday, August 23, 2010

Discipline stinks sometimes


Whether it's with kids, pets, or myself, discipline can be a tough row to hoe.  I've run up against all three today, and it's been a bit of a marathon, I must say.  But, the alternative is not pretty; it's not even tolerable.  So today I'm the bad guy, enforcing the rules of respect and cleanliness for my kids, and trying to break a cat of a very bad habit (again).

The kid stuff is partly just good old fashioned kid crap (attitudes and sibling rivalry), and partly our son's autism issues (inflexibility of routine, and overreacting to having his routine upset).  Sometimes it's really difficult to tell where the pre-teen crapola ends and the genuine Asperger's issues begin, and there's a considerable amount of overlap in the behaviors.  I feel like I'm always walking a tightrope, trying to discipline what needs disciplining, and trying redirect and relieve things related to our son's AS, and having to decide in a split second what really needs to be addressed, what's really going on (the attitude, which is intentional, or the AS, which is not).  That's exhausting, to tell the truth.  Add sibling rivalry into the mix, and things get really snarled up.  Then I have to discipline the younger one for her behavior/attitude issues, and she doesn't have the excuse of AS - she's just a typical girl, who's figured out how to get her brother's goat so well that the goat in question has frequent flier miles on the Annoying Little Sister Express.

Compared to the kid stuff, the cat stuff is small potatoes, but no less frustrating.  One of our cats, Sophia (she's almost 14), was really traumatized by our move last year, but minded her manners except for the occasional mess in the basement all year.  Last month we went away for 5 days, and although she and the other cats had the run of the house and all the food/water/clean litter they needed, she was really upset that we were gone.  She let us know in a very smelly, offensive way.  Since then, she's gone back to the scene of the crime regularly and made a mess in the same spot.  We can't have her doing that, but we aren't willing to give her away or take her to a shelter.  We've had her since she was a kitten; she's ours.  So, after trying a number of ways to control her access to the area she keeps going back to, we've decided to put her in a large cage (with litter, food, water, and a comfy place to sleep) whenever we have to leave the house. (Keeping her in the basement just resulted in a very messy basement - ick.)  She can be out if we're here to watch her, but if we go out, she goes in (to the the cage, that is).  Tonight is her first night in the pokey.  She's quite upset, and of course doesn't understand why we're doing this to her.  I hope she'll get used to this routine after a while.  Listening to her cry is no fun at all.

Oh, and disciplining myself?  I've discovered that well over 80% of any behavior modification program involving my kids actually involves modifying my own behavior first.  Everything from my body language, to my words, to my attitude has to come under my own discipline before I can effectively change my kids' behavior.  That's hard work, and to be honest sometimes I really resent it.  If they'd listen the first time, I wouldn't have to go through all the difficulty of changing how I approach situations involving their behavior in order to best change their behavior.  Being the grownup in the equation is the pits, sometimes.  In fact, I'd rather act like THEM more often than I'd like to admit.  Sometimes I have acted like them (please don't ask me how often - it's embarrassing to admit how long it's taken me to figure this out), which never results in anyone's behavior changing for the better.  Darn this maturity thing, it's no fun at all.  But, it generally works.  Over time, it works.  And someday, hopefully, I'll have two reasonably well-mannered, well-adjusted, socially-acceptable, mature adult children.  It's just that looking at them now, at almost 9 and almost 12, that day seems very far away indeed.  I have to keep reminding myself that I was no paragon of maturity at those ages either.

Just ask my parents.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Diamonds and Girls


Yesterday and the night before, my daughter and I got to spend a lot of time together, just us, while the guys were out camping.

My husband and son left Friday at dinner time to go camping with our son's Boy Scout troop.  It was a gorgeous evening, so my daughter and I enjoyed a trip to Zem's for ice cream and miniature golf.  She got to watch a movie at home, and we had a long snuggle and story before she went to bed.

We started the morning yesterday with our church's tag sale, to raise money for two missionaries.  We went to help out, but of course my daughter couldn't leave without getting something as well.  Many of the items were in a "$1 for a bag full" section, so I gave her a dollar and let her poke around.  She was very pleased with her treasures (which included a dolphin wind chime, two glittery star-shaped pillows, a miniature basket, and a necklace, among other goodies).  I had to ask her to leave a couple items behind when she got overenthusiastic with her bag-stuffing.

After that, we set out for Herkimer, NY, to visit the Herkimer Diamond Mine.  The "diamonds" are really beautiful double-pointed clear quartz crystals, which you can "mine" for yourself, either by digging through the gravel, or cracking rocks with a hammer.  We tried both methods, and had much better luck looking through gravel, although we knew we wouldn't find anything really big that way.  We spent a couple hours getting happily grubby, and came away with a tiny handful of gems.  I'm going to make the largest one into a necklace for her, as a keepsake.
These are some of what we found - my little treasure trove.  Juliana has her own handful of gems, just as nice.  We had a small lunch there, and went on to my sister-in-law's, to visit and have dinner with her.  We always enjoy spending time with Teresa.  We eventually went to dinner at Yetty's in Herkimer (a wonderful little Italian restaurant, one of our favorite places to eat over there).  Before we moved here, I had no idea anyone would even consider making pizza and putting the sauce on top of the cheese.  That's just WRONG,  but it tastes great.  Last night I had eggplant Parmesan and cheesy garlic bread and salad - totally delicious.

My daughter was going to spend the night with Teresa, then go to the county fair with her today, so I left them after dinner and headed home.  I did some shopping for school supplies on the way - it's amazing how relaxing it can be to shop alone.  People who aren't the primary caregivers for children often can't understand that - how wonderful it is to be ALONE sometimes.  To make the evening complete, I got to enjoy listening to an entire album (Journey, "Escape") on the way home.  No interruptions, no arguments, no talking, nothing but me, the music, and the drive.  Sometimes the simple things are the best, aren't they?

My alone time didn't last, though - the guys had to come home early from their camping trip, due to the weather, around 9PM.  Still, I was glad to have them home safe (instead of trying to earn their "Junior Lighting Rod" merit badges), and I enjoyed the change in routine for the day.  We'll have to go to the diamond mine again, and look for more buried gems, but the real treasure was spending time with my daughter.

The Album is Dead


The record album, that is.  I think I may be the last person owning internet access to realize this, but I finally "got it" last night.  You see, I love music, and always have.  I'm not a musician; I just enjoy music, in many genres and from many eras.  Growing up in the 70s and 80s, albums were just a part of life, and I had my favorite artists just like anyone.  Back before CDs, records and tapes were IT, and you had to listen through them from beginning to end, unless you took the trouble to make your own mix tapes (which I also did, and recorded stuff from the radio so I didn't have to buy a whole album just to get a song or two I liked).  Life with music just isn't like that any more.  The age of CDs, MP3 players, iPods, personalized internet radio, and Pandora has made the album all but irrelevant.

I realized all this last night, when I bought myself a copy of Journey's album "Escape" and listened to it from start to finish in the car on the way home from my sister-in-law's.  I was alone in the car (not a normal occurrence for me, to be child-free), so I wasn't interrupted.  I love Journey's music, but I've been listening to it on compilation CDs and YouTube, where I can pick/choose whatever I want.  To listen to the whole original album, in the sequence it was intended to be listened to, was wonderful, and helped me appreciate the music and musicians even more.  Kids these days (LOL!) may not know what they're missing, with their 4 minute sound-bite attention spans, and ability to have everything instantly, digitally at their fingertips.

I think I'm getting old. . . .

Friday, August 20, 2010

Productive, in a roundabout sort of way


Well, this week has been a real marathon - who would have thought summer break could be so tiring?  I miss having the kids out at Summer Enrichment or VBS.  School starts soon, and with it the new routine, but until then I feel like I'm just riding the river, going where it takes me, shooting the rapids and enjoying the shallows.

Yesterday was one of those "Where did the day go?" days, but in a good way.  I got lots done, in a random sort of fashion.  Some cleaning, some cooking, some art, some Etsy, some time to myself, lots of time with the kids (who were still having issues).  But, I did get one drawing listed on Etsy - that's it above, the puzzle drawing.  The puzzle is an American symbol for autism awareness, and I've wanted to do something with that symbolism for a while, since our family has been affected by Asperger's Syndrome.  I'm pleased with how it turned out.

Today was finally payday, and grocery day.  It's also the day I had to take some stuff to the church tag sale for a friend, and get my husband and son's camping stuff ready for a Boy Scout weekend away.  We had breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts, which was a rare treat, and it tasted so good today.  This afternoon I think I've gotten all the camping gear together, and the last load of laundry so the guys have clean stuff to wear.  I hope they have fun, and that the weather is good.

While the guys are away, the girls will play.  Tonight I have a date with my daughter to play miniature golf and get ice cream at Zem's, a local favorite place to spend a summer evening.  Tomorrow I'll help at the tag sale for a couple hours, then take my daughter to the Herkimer Diamond Mine (not really diamonds, but double-pointed quartz crystals, which you can search for yourself).  After that we'll have dinner with my sister-in-law, and my daughter will spend the night with her.  I'll have a whole night on my own - how did that happen?  I think I might go to Barnes & Noble and enjoy some quiet time.

Yesterday I finished another drawing, something a bit different from my usual style, but I really like it.  It took a while, almost 7 hours from start to finish over three days.  I'll get it properly listed on Etsy later today.  Here's "Psychedelic Peacock" for you:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Worst Mom In The World. . . .

. . . . is ME!  According to my (grounded from all electronics and friends today) daughter, at least.  Her attitude has been terrible the past couple days, and getting on top of that has been a serious pain.  I should call my Mom and tell her that Bill Cosby's Curse ("May you have children just like yourself!") worked twice over, and very effectively, but now that we're both older she'd laugh at me at my well-deserved comeuppance, then commiserate in genuine sympathy that I got it.  It's amazing what having kids of my own has taught me about my parents.

My daughter just came in form the garden with her first ripe cantaloupe - oh, the excitement!  She planted them on a whim (she doesn't eat melon usually), and I've never grown them, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  Her vines have thrived, and she had seven melons ripening - now six.  We'll enjoy the melon with dinner tonight, and both kids said they'd try some.  She also has been harvesting handfuls of strawberries from her plants, which were just put in this summer.  They're small and sweet - we can hardly wait for next year, when she'll have more.

I planted blueberries this spring, and of the eight plants I put in, only four have made it.  I wasn't too impressed when they arrived from the place I ordered them from (they weren't real strong plants, and a couple looked like they arrived dead).  We're going to make raised beds in that area, so the plants will get lifted and replanted in September, and I'll add new plants (from somewhere else) next year.  I've always wanted to grow my own blueberries, and in a raised bed I can control the pH and soil texture - blueberries like acidic soil, and lots of organic matter.  They'll benefit from the used guinea pig pine bedding litter, of which I have a never-ending supply.

The tomatoes and peppers are starting to roll in from the garden now.  I need to make salsa in the next few days, to do something productive with the abundance.  I've also got a couple really nice eggplants to use to make eggplant "Parmesan" casserole this weekend.  It's so nice to have a vegetable garden again, after going without one for several years at the old house (due to a plague of woodchucks, and a serious problem with squirrels).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Raising Kids is a Pain

I know, I'm Mistress of the Obvious today.  It's not even lunch time yet, and I'm ready for my kids to go to bed.  Oh, the drama!  Oh, the tragedy!  Oh, the bickering!  Oh, the ATTITUDE!  I don't think Calgon will be enough to take me away from all this today, lol.  One of them is already in time out, and the other is pushing their luck.

So, in the interest of maintaining my sanity until bedtime DOES get here, I'm going to take the kids to the pool in town after lunch, throw them in (metaphorically, of course, but I must admit that doing it personally would be so very satisfying), and leave them there for a couple hours.  At least.

I like to draw while they're in the pool.  That seems strange, taking drawing materials to a place filled with water and random splashing, but it's really great.  They're occupied, and I have plenty of time to linger over a drawing, let my mind wander, and relax.  Maybe I'll take my comfy folding chair today (the benches at the pool aren't kind to my behind).  And my camera, in case our son decides to take the plunge and go off the diving board.  He's been trying to nerve himself up to do that for several weeks now.  I know he could do it; it's just getting over the mental hurdle to try something new that's holding him back.  I hope he does it today.  It would be so good for his self-confidence.

I also need to go rummaging around in the basement to see what we can donate to a tag sale our church is holding, to benefit two missionary families (one in Haiti, one church-planting in the U.S.).  I know I've got useful but unused things that would be far better off in someone else's house, and the money is for a good cause.  I've also got a number of books I'd like to photograph and list on eBay - kids' books that could be better used by someone else.  It's amazing how much time it takes to photograph and list things, but the small amount of extra money is welcome to pay for minor unplanned purchases (like supplies to build the new guinea pig cages - definitely not a regular item in the budget).

Budget.  Eeewww, that's a tough topic around here right now.  Being financially responsible can be a real pain sometimes.  For instance, we only have one regular credit card, with a fairly low limit.  Time to pay it down, since some unexpected things this summer have pushed it close to its max.  My husband is going back to grad school, and taking a class this fall.  His employer will reimburse him after the fact, so we have to front the money.  It will be worth it in the long run, but it's a short-term hassle.  One of our kids needs to start the process for braces - another expense coming at us like a train down the tunnel.  And I've still got to have some dental work myself, which we just found out our dental insurance will pay only 20% of - not a nice surprise, since it's a major procedure, costing $$$$, and not for cosmetic reasons, either.  My husband is such a good financial manager, very responsible and on top of things.  But even the best management can't anticipate the things life throws at us while we make other plans.  Hopefully with some economizing and discipline we can get ahead of the curve again by spring.  I keep reminding both of us that we are still blessed beyond most people in the world.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Best Use of Space, and Fresh Bread

The office space is finished, like I posted yesterday, so here's a picture of the end result.  That's our cat Molly approving of the sunbeam and the perching spot (the best vantage point from which to watch the guinea pigs on the other side of the room).  I like how this paint reflects light through the day, sometimes seeming a little greener, and other times a little more gold-green.  Eventually I'll have to rearrange again, when my husband makes the art table for me this fall.

Our house isn't being used the way it was designed.  The "office" is actually our dining room, but since we have an eat-in kitchen we don't use it as a dining space.  The actual living room of our house is my husband's office/music room - he has a Hammond organ, a Kurzweil electric piano, and an Axiom 61 keyboard, along with his Mac and his favorite reading chair.  He enjoys making music, so that's his room.  Our family room is where the seating and TV are, so it's our de facto living room.  I guess we're not the only family using their house space for uses other than the traditional arrangements.  I see no point in having a formal living room, or formal dining room.  That's not important to us.  Using the space we have to be creative and enjoy our avocations takes priority.  Eventually, though, I'd like to finish half the basement into a rec room.

A friend mentioned on Facebook that she made fresh bread this morning.  That sounds so good, I might just have to do that myself today.  There is nothing as good as fresh bread, warm from the oven, with real butter melting into it.  (I have dibs on the heel!)  I have a favorite recipe, adapted from the "Beard on Bread" cookbook by James Beard.  I modified his "Basic Home-Style Bread" to incorporate white whole wheat flour.  Here's my recipe, with apologies to Mr. Beard:

1 package active dry yeast
2 cups warm milk (about 115 degrees)
2 tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tsp. salt
3 cups white whole wheat flour (King Arthur brand is best)
2-3 cups white flour

Place the warm milk in a large bowl.  Mix in the salt, flour, and yeast, and allow to proof (sit for 5-10 minutes to start the yeast growing; the milk will start to look foamy on top).  After the yeast has started to become active, add the canola oil, and gradually add the white whole wheat flour, mixing well after each cup.  A wooden spoon works best for this.  Begin adding the white flour, until the dough is stiff and ready to be turned out onto a floured counter top or kneading board.  Knead for about 10 minutes (until the dough is supple and smooth).  In a clean, large bowl, add a couple tablespoons of canola oil.  Place the dough in the bowl, turn it to make sure its covered with a little oil on all sides, cover it with a clean cloth, and set it aside to rise.  (If you're doing this in the winter, make sure it's in a warm place, like a cupboard, or a room with a wood stove.)  It should double in bulk, and this will take 1 1/2-2 hours.

After the dough has risen, punch it down, turn it out onto a floured surface, and knead it again for a few minutes.  Divide into two equal parts and shape into loaves.  Place each loaf in a lightly greased large loaf pan.  (You can also make three smaller loaves and use medium loaf pans, but you'll need to reduce the cooking time slightly.)  Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk again (covered, in a warm place like before).  Bake at 400F for 40-45 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.  Remove them from the oven, let them rest for a few minutes, and turn the loaves out to finish cooling.  (This recipe makes good sandwich bread, and amazing toast.)  Enjoy!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Start to finish


Sometimes it feels so GOOD to do a home improvement project from start to finish in one day.  That doesn't happen very often for me, truth be told - life often delays or short-circuits even the best-laid plans of the average DIYer.  But today everything went so much better than I expected that I got the whole dining room/office painted, cleaned, and rearranged in one go.  I'm so please with how it turned out, too.  This wouldn't have been possible without my friend Sharon, who kept our daughter for the day, and lent me her son to occupy my son while I worked.  And I have to thank my husband, who did the dishes for me while I finished up the project.  It was very peaceful to work through the day, with my favorite tunes playing on YouTube, and a couple short Facebook breaks to give my arms a rest.

Remember the vase from yesterday's post?  Here's another photo of it, glazed and ready to be clear-dipped and fired:

And, to round out a very good day indeed, my abstract maple leaf drawing sold today, as well as two books I listed on eBay.  Soon I can start my Christmas shopping, which I always do early and opportunistically.  (Please don't shoot me for mentioning Christmas shopping in August! *ducking*)  I like to be able to find a really perfect gift at a really good price whenever possible, so I plan and shop ahead.  This year I'd love to be able to purchase some gifts from a few of the really great shops I know of on Etsy.  I've got IDEAS, and some lovely things saved to my Favorites list for certain people. 

I'm really looking forward to the holidays this year, because I was so stressed and burnt out last year over home schooling that the Christmas season went by in a haze.  I know it was a good holiday, and I enjoyed the season, but the overlying tension was no fun at all.  Hopefully this year I'll be much more relaxed (and more fun to be around. . . .).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Shades of Gray


We got some much needed rain today, a gentle soaking under a misty gray sky.  Normally I really enjoy the rain, especially listening to it, but this particular weather system brought me a headache.  I didn't feel 100% all day (and still tonight, after a day of advil, mucinex, and even after a rare nap after lunch, I'm dragging).  But, my garden is loving the moisture and cooler temperatures.  I went out and pulled a couple armfuls of weeds from the front flower bed, which was relaxing enough.  With the moist soil, the weeds pulled easily, and I brought a handful of dandelion greens in for the guinea pigs, which totally made their day.

Tomorrow I'm going to try to make a start on painting our office/dining room.  Our daughter will go spend the day with friends, and our son will have a friend from that same family here for some "guy time."  The room will be painted a very pale celadon green, almost the color of the background of my blog, come to think of it.

The guinea girls are settling in to their new home and routine very well.  Cocopuff, normally the skittish one, almost fell asleep on me today.  They're such great pets.  I'll put their new cages together over the weekend, after the painting is all done and the room is rearranged.

This fall my husband will be making me a table for my art projects.  I'll put it under the windows in the office, where I'll have all the natural light I want.  I can imagine working there through all the seasons, watching the birds at the feeder and the kids on the swing set, and the garden as it goes through its changes.  I've never had a dedicated work space for my art before.

I've been working on a couple new drawings this week.  I finished adding color to one tonight, and worked a little on the second, but the work was bothering my eyes and aggravating my headache, so I went out to pull weeds instead.  The first drawing is of four interlocked puzzle pieces, covered with my usual designs.  I've been wanting to do an autism awareness piece for a while (the puzzle piece is an American autism awareness symbol).  The second piece is much more free-form, and with totally different designs filling in the shapes (reminiscent of a 60s flower-starburst fabric).  I plan to accent it with multiple colors, just for fun.  I'll get photos of both drawings soon.  I also might be going down to the Binghamton area to visit friends later this week and pick up some finished pieces from The Clay Ground, and drop off the three ornaments I just finished for firing.  I'm really going to try to bring my shop inventory up to 100 items by November, in the hope of making some Christmas sales.

Quiet day, quiet evening, kids in bed comparatively early.  I think I'll head that direction too.  Good night!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas in Sour Cream Chili Sauce


Have I mentioned that I love to cook?  I thought I'd share one of my favorite recipes, one that my husband and I really enjoy (but the picky kids won't touch with a 10 foot pole - their loss, and more for us).  It's called "Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas in Sour Cream Chili Sauce," or in our family shorthand, Black Bean Enchiladas.  My favorite time of year to have this meal is during the winter - it's a wonderful cold-season dish - but we thoroughly enjoy it any time of year.

Sauce:
4 cups milk (I use 1 %; 2% or whole are fine too)
1/2 cup white flour
1 cup sour cream (I use light sour cream, but whole is even better)
1 (4.5 oz.) can diced green chilies (Old El Paso brand is good)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Filling:
2 1/2 - 3 cups cut up cooked chicken meat (I like to get a rotisserie chicken from the store and strip the meat from it)
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn (or even better, 2 cups FRESH corn)
1 (15-16 oz.) jar of chunky medium salsa
1 tsp. ground chipotle pepper
1 tbsp. ground regular chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin

10 whole wheat flour tortillas
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

In a 2 qt. pan, combine the sauce ingredients and whisk together.  Slowly bring up to just barely starting to boil over med-hi heat, stirring occasionally.  As soon as the sauce starts to thicken, remove it from the heat and set it aside.

In a large bowl, combine the filling ingredients.  Stir together thoroughly.

You'll need a LARGE casserole dish, or two smaller ones (like a 9" x 13" and an 8" x 8").  I use a big 12" x 15" x 2" one.  Each enchilada will take approximately 1 cup of filling.  Spoon the filling into the middle of the tortilla, fold it around, and place it folded side down in the dish.  In the big dish you'll have 8 parallel against one long edge, with two lengthwise against the other long edge.  Once all the enchiladas are filled, pour the sauce over them.  Cover loosely with foil, and bake for 45 minutes at 350.  Remove the foil and spread the shredded cheddar all over the top.  Bake for another 5-10 minutes, until the cheddar is melted.

We use this as an "all in one" meal, with no side dishes, but fresh fruit salad would be a good accompaniment.  Serves 5 to 8, since some people will want only one enchilada, and some will want two.

You can vary the spice in this dish.  I like it moderately hot, but you can use mild salsa, less chili powder, and omit the chipotle if you want to cut the heat down - but it really is good with the chipotle!  Also, you can go totally vegetarian with it - just use 4 cans of black beans and omit the chicken.  It's great either way.  But, DON'T use corn tortillas!  They'll turn to mush (yes, this is the voice of experience - they were tasty, but it was a shapeless, gooey kind of meal).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Jasmine-scented nicotiana and shooting stars


Last night I was up late, and on a whim I decided to go outside to watch some of the Perseid meteor shower at midnight.  Our back deck faces due east, so I had a wonderful view of the night sky.  It was cool and clear, with a slight breeze.  I sat in my favorite rocker, and watched the sky.  I could see the Milky Way clearly; it was amazing.  It put me in mind of the worship song, "God of Wonders:"  God of wonders beyond our galaxy, You are holy, holy; the universe declares Your majesty, You are holy, holy.  Lord of Heaven and Earth. . . .   It also reminded me of the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon where Calvin is outside at night, and he yells, "I AM!"  at the sky, then adds as an afterthought, "Said the dust speck."

Next to the deck I have a large clump of tall, jasmine-scented nicotiana.  It's extremely fragrant at night, and as I sat and rocked and watched for shooting stars, the heady sweet scent flowed over me in waves on the breeze.  It was truly divine.  I sat out for almost an hour, and saw quite a few meteors - a handful of really bright ones, and more little ones.  It was so quiet outside, and I could have sat there for hours.

I grew the nicotiana from seed this year, winter-sown in February.  It's remarkably quick to grow from a little seedling to a 4 foot tall candelabra of long, nodding white flowers over lush green leaves.  It tends to flop a bit - I've got mine tied to the deck railing with twine.  It's not an elegant solution, but, OH, the scent is glorious!  I got the seed from one of my favorite catalogs, Select Seeds, and the variety is actually called Nicotiana alata 'Jasmine.'  It grows well in partial to full shade, and average to moderately moist soil.  It should abundantly self-seed, so I don't think I'll have to winter sow it again, but I'll save seed to share.  I think it's my favorite winter-sown annual, and I've sown quite a few over the past 6 years.  (Nicotiana 'Lime Green' is also a wonderful plant, but it's not fragrant.)  I'm still working on that bed against the back wall of the house - it's the last place in the yard to get my attention.  If the weather moderates this weekend, I'll clean it up and finally mulch it.
This is Nicotiana 'Lime Green.'  It's a much shorter plant, about 1 1/2 feet tall.  
The flowers are truly apple green, and it makes a neat rounded mass. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Books and Cats


I am an incorrigible bookworm.  I have books all over the house, and always a pile "in progress" on my night stand.  I can't imagine not reading every day, and it's my favorite bedtime routine, to settle down for half an hour or so of book time before falling asleep.  This is our daughter's bedroom bookshelf.  Her brother has a jam-packed shelf of his own, my bedroom has two bookshelves, the living room has one, the family room has one large one, and the office has two smaller ones.  And I'm not counting the books still boxed in the basement. . . .

I need more bookshelves.  (That's the cry of the true bookworm - not, "I need to get rid of some books," but, "I need more space for my books.")  And I have gotten rid of some books over the past year.  I've given some to the library, and sold some on eBay, and taken some to a paperback trade-in store.  But I still love to get new books.  I don't tend to spend a lot, either - used book stores, garage sales, and thrift stores are all great hunting turf for new reading material.  I buy books for myself, books for my husband, and books for my kids.  I can think of far worse things than having lots of children's books in the house.  So, I am perennially in need of more/better storage space for books.

My husband has taken up woodworking.  He's planning on making another bookshelf for our bedroom this winter (a low, three-shelf console-type arrangement, so I can put art on it and above it).  I'm sure it won't take me long to fill it right up.

So, what am I reading right now?  Let's see, I'm working through "The Civilization of the Middle Ages" by Norman Cantor, I just finished rereading "Soul Music" by Terry Pratchett (I love his books!), and my sister gave me "Amazing Rare Things:  The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery" by Martin Clayton.  I've also just picked up a National Geographic "The Biblical World:  An Illustrated Atlas" at the Salvation Army for $1.99.  Yes, I'm the kind of person that reads atlases.  And encyclopedias.  I may not be a certified geek (I don't have any techy ability whatsoever), but I am most definitely a history/nature/biography nerd.  I don't have a trendy bone on my body, and I'm okay with that.

Somehow books and cats just seem to go together, like coffee and biscotti, or hot chili and sharp cheddar.  One of my favorite children's books is called "The Library" by Sarah Stewart and David Small.  It's about a girl who LOVES books.  She always has her nose in a book.  She hauls them home from the library and the book store by the wagon-load, always with a cat nearby.  She grows up and collects books her whole life, even working in a library, until her house is filled with them - wall to wall, floor to ceiling, and on every surface.  Finally, she decides to create a library and give all of her books to it, so she can still read them any time she wants to.  Then she moves in with a friend, and they and their cats live happily ever after - with some books, of course.  This beautifully illustrated story reminds me of my sister Debbie, who is just as much of a bookworm and cat-lover as I am.

I've got three cats:  B.C.  (Bad Cat) is my little old man - 15 and going strong, totally black, and wonderfully loving.  Not real bright, though - his initials have also been  taken to mean "Brainless Cat" and "Bozo Cat" at times.  We adopted him from a shelter when he was 9 months old.  Some bright soul thought it would be clever to name the black kitten "Satan," but that name was so totally inappropriate.  B.C. is a licker, and that's how he got himself adopted:  he meowed for attention from his cage, was incredibly friendly, and when I picked him up, he licked my chin.  I brought my husband back to see him, and when my husband picked him up, B. C. licked his nose.  My husband dutifully looked around the shelter at the other cats, all the while carrying the black licking furry-purry, so I knew he was hooked too.  B. C. purrs like a Geiger counter - there's a hitch in his gitalong, you might say.  And his voice has gotten kind of hoarse with age.  He says "muh-ow" instead of "meow."  He's a snuggler and a lover, and he's invariably attracted to whoever in any given group of people visiting us is allergic or averse to cats.

Sophia is our little old lady cat, almost 14 and showing her age a bit.  She's a fluffy, Maine Coon wannabe, and not real big.  There's not much cat under all that fluff.  We got her as a kitten from the animal shelter at the BOCES where I worked at the time.  She was found as a stray wandering at 6 weeks old.  She was tiny and fuzzy, with huge bat ears, big paws, and a big voice.  Her name in the shelter was "Fluffy the Mouth."  She's still fluffy and talkative, but she never grew into her paws - we thought she'd be a bigger cat, but she's just a small cat with big feet and big ears.  She likes to sleep on my shoulders while I'm at the computer, or in my lap.  She makes a very warm, snuggly scarf on a cold winter's day.  Her favorite place to sleep is in the laundry basket (preferably on clean laundry).  She has quite the feline vocabulary, and is the most talkative of our cats.


Our youngest cat is Molly.  She's a tuxedo cat, 4 years old now.  We adopted her from yet another shelter when she was about 8 weeks old.  We got her because my daughter wanted her own pet, and my husband figured that if we got another cat, then we would NOT get a dog.  We're not ready for a dog, no matter how much our kids have lobbied for one.  So one day we visited the shelter (just for fun, of course) and looked at the kittens.  They kept them in a small room, running loose, so we could go in and get to know them.  This tiny little black and white kitty, kind of thin and scruffy, almost immediately climbed into my daughter's lap and made herself at home.  She curled up, she purred, and she batted at any other kitten that tried to love up my little girl.  It was love at first sight for them, so I called my husband and the deal was done.  Molly has grown into the largest of our cats (which isn't saying much - she weighs maybe 11 pounds), with incredibly soft, thick "bunny fur," and lemon-lime green eyes.  Unfortunately, she and Sophia do NOT get along.  Molly is the most stereotypically CAT of all of them - she only snuggles on her terms, and she doesn't like to be picked up, but she's friendly and sweet, with a high-pitched meow.
Cats and books, books and cats - I don't want to have to live without either one.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Of kids and guinea pigs.

I am so encouraged after going to our son's CSE meeting this morning. We met with the two teachers who will work the most with him, the school psychologist/counselor, and the director of Special Ed services. They were extremely well-prepared and had everything organized and ready to go. The preliminary IEP was very good, and only needed minor changes as we discussed our son's needs and strengths. There was some good give and take of ideas between all of us, and my husband and I left the meeting feeling very comfortable that this group of teachers and counselors will do well by our son. There will be issues and hurdles for our son as for any kid, but as far as being prepared to work with him where he is and help him improve in social and academic areas, I think it will be a good experience. (I sincerely hope I don't look back on this post and think, "What went wrong?" in a few months - no one can see the future, but at least I don't have any second thoughts about this decision now.)

Tomorrow night I'm going out with my sister-in-law Teresa and our friend Estelle. Our birthdays are all close (Estelle and I share one, Teresa's was the next day), so we decided to plan a girls' night out. Nothing too fancy, but we're going to a Greek restaurant in Utica called Symeon's. I've been there before - wonderful food. Teresa ordered an ice cream cake for us, too. Sweet! I've known Estelle through Teresa since we moved up here and she connected us via Facebook, but I only met her in person a couple weeks ago. She's really great, and I'm looking forward to getting to know her better.

I need to get out in my garden and harvest some veggies. I've got sweet and jalapeno peppers, roma and yellow tomatoes, onions, eggplant and yellow zucchini squash, all ready to harvest. I want to make homemade salsa, and eggplant "parmesan" casserole (no frying involved), and chunky veggie pasta sauce this weekend.

Oh, the picture above?  It's our temporary guinea pig "playpen."  Before anyone points out that our guinea pigs would be much better off in cages, I have to say, "Thanks, I know, and I'm doing something about it."   Until I get the cube and coroplast (C&C) cages set up next week, though, this is the best way to give the guinea pigs some run-around room.  The Guinea Girls are so funny - they run around and jump and chase and burrow like crazy when they're in the playpen.  After they're done, I put Cookie in the playpen, where he enjoys sniffing around and burrowing.  The new cages will be significantly bigger than the large bins the pigs are in right now, with much better ventilation.  I need to get a table for Cookie's cage; the girls' cage can stay on the cabinet top.  Who would have thought guinea pigs would be such good pets?  I've learned a lot since we got Henry several years ago.  I've always been a critter magnet anyhow, so now we're up to 3 guinea pigs, 3 cats, and two fish tanks (one 75 gallon with 8 goldfish and a betta in our family room, and one 12 gallon with one goldfish in our son's room).  I wouldn't mind adding a fourth guinea pig, to give Cookie a companion, but we'll wait and see about that.