Thursday, September 30, 2010

And the rain rain rain came down down down

 Hooper Road at 17C, looking east toward Endwell Rug, Endwell, NY, 6/28/06

It's been raining since early this morning, and shows no sign of letting up.  That avalanche of tropical moisture is still streaming up through the Appalachians to the Adirondacks, and the whole eastern area of the U. S. seems to be under a gigantic flood warning.  I am so incredibly glad we don't live on a creek or near the Susquehanna River any more.  In 2006 we lived about two tenths of a mile up a creek on the river.  Our house was on a bluff by a ravine, maybe 30 feet above the river, 25 feet or so above the creek.  Every spring the river would rise and the creek would back up into the ravine, flooding it to a depth of several feet.  That was normal.  But that summer we had over a solid week of rain, culminating in a prolonged five-day deluge from a tropical system.  It was like a moisture conveyor belt straight from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada via New York.

Looking south on Davis Ave., Endwell, NY, 6/28/06

The night the river flooded was really strange.  Obviously we knew the river was rising, and that it was going to be severe.  But the highest the river had ever gone was about 3 feet below the edge of the ravine by our house.  Our house was built into the hillside, so our driveway went down to our basement level, where our car port was under the raised family room.  Essentially, it was a walk-out basement to the car port and the lower level of the yard.  That afternoon and evening the river had been rising steadily.  As the predictions of the crest of the flood came in, we realized that we were in very real danger of having a basement full of water.  We moved our washer and dryer out of the basement, and up to the top of the driveway, and covered them with tarps - our neighbor Dave helped us, even though his house was in just as much danger from the flood as ours.  I put everything I could in the basement up on shelves.  Everyone in the neighborhood was trying to move things up and out of the path of the flood.
Looking south on Shady Dr., Endwell, about 1/2 block down from our street

The lower part of our neighborhood had been flooded many times before; the streets paralleled the river, and stair-stepped down the slope to it.  In previous years various houses on the lowest street had been demolished by FEMA, 20 just the year before from the 2005 flooding, and the land was returned to green space, but there were many houses still on the next two streets up.  That evening the flood inundated the first street, where there were only a few homes left.  Then it crept higher, and into the next street.  The fire department went through around dusk and evacuated both of those streets, which left just one more street below ours.

Susquehanna Valley, view west from Carpathian Hill, 6/27/06

We thought we might have to evacuate, and we actually packed overnight bags and went to visit my sister in town - she and her family lived farther away from the flooding.  To get to them we had to go up and over the hills, because the freeways and main roads in the valley were all closed.  We stopped at one place overlooking the valley and took some pictures.  It looked like God had spilled a root beer float all over the towns clustered along the highway; there was creamy-brown water reflecting the evening light for miles.  After dinner we called our neighbors, who were sitting tight, and they said that our street had not been evacuated, so we decided to go home and wait it out.

We kept going out during the night to see where the water was.  It was the creepiest night of my life.  The highway we could usually hear less than 1/4 mile away was dead quiet, flooded and closed.  There was virtually no traffic on the secondary roads, due to the state of emergency that had been declared, but we heard sirens in the distance constantly.  It was eerily quiet on our block.  As we watched the edge of the ravine, we noticed that it seemed to be moving.  The water was a foot or so below the edge, and still rising.  I went to take a closer look, and realized that the edge of the land was covered with small creatures trying to escape the rising water.  Thousands of worms were wriggling up the bank, some of them even trying to climb the hemlock tree trunks along the edge of the embankment.  Spiders, centipedes, toads, even mice and voles were fleeing the water, all in a strange, silent, squirming mass.  It was like something out of a horror movie, but it was in my own back yard.

The view from the family room, looking northwest, 6/28/06.

By morning the water was right at the edge of the ravine, just barely overlapping into the back corner of the yard under our shed.  It had crested at last.  If it had risen less than a foot more, it would have been in our basement.  (The projected possible crest of the flood would have put the water 1 foot deep in our basement.)  The bottom of our neighborhood was destroyed.  Some houses were flooded into their second floors.  At least one house had its basement wall collapse.  The industrial area across the ravine from us was totally under water.  The water stank of sewage and petroleum, fertilizer and heaven knows what else.  It was totally vile.

The ravine is totally full and slightly overflowing at crest, 6/28/06.  
That's my garden path, beside the car port.

We were some of the lucky ones.  Some people upriver were evacuated by helicopter, because the roads were cut off by rising water.  Many people lost everything.  As the water receded, we joined with our neighbors to try to help others in the neighborhood clean up what they could of their flooded homes.  We took boxes of cleaning supplies to the next block, and gave them to whoever needed them.  I had the kids with me, so I couldn't take them into those damaged homes to help with the cleanup, but they enjoyed handing out bottled water and cleaning stuff.  My husband volunteered with Samaritan's Purse, which dispatched one of their disaster relief teams to our area and used our church as a base of operations.  He helped clear out several homes that needed to be emptied before they could be cleaned (or gutted) and rebuilt.  One family he helped was in our neighborhood, which made it very personal to us.

The bottom of our neighborhood was later bought out piecemeal by FEMA, the homes were demolished, and the area returned to green space.  A couple dozen homes or more were leveled by the following spring.
When we were looking for a new home in 2009, we refused to look at any home on a creek, stream, or river - no mystery why.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Small Victories

- Hearing our son say that he had talked to a kid who had gotten on his nerves the other day, and that he said to him, "No hard feelings," and they were friends again.  This is amazing to hear from our son!  Maybe there's hope that he'll get along with his sister eventually, lol.

-  Finally mailing a box with two framed drawings, one framed acrylic painting, and one decorated wooden cross to The Lemon Tree.  I don't know why it took me so long to get a package out in the mail to them, except that I couldn't decide what to send.  Ceramics or art?  A little of both?  I finally settled on sending the art, and keeping the ceramics here.

-  Going for a walk along the Erie Canal this morning.  I've been wanting to get back to regular exercise, but the first month of school and some serious family stresses over the past couple weeks totally derailed me.  It felt good to get out and walk, and the canal trail segment I was on was so peaceful.  At one point I took a break and lay down on a bench, looking up through the branches of a tree, listening to the woodland sounds nearby.  I hope I can make that walk a more frequent occurrence.  But, I need to take my camera next time - I saw so many wonderful opportunities to capture beauty.

-  Edging and mulching another segment of the bed along the back of the house.  I only have one 6-foot segment to go!  Another project that is taking far longer than I wanted, but sometimes things just have to get done in small doses.

-  Scoring some bargains at the thrift shop today.  It's always good to find almost-new things for bargain prices, and I also found some Magic School Bus chapter books for our daughter, who loves to read.

-  Ordering some daylilies from Browns Ferry Gardens.  I got a $50 voucher when I joined the American Hemerocallis Society this summer, so I tried a new nursery from their participating list (none of my "regulars" were on the list).  I'm getting three bright/hot colored ones for the front yard:  'Forsyth Golden Eagle' (tall, solid dark gold), 'Red Squirrel' (a rusty-orange mini-flowered one) and 'Southern Patriot' (gold with a russet eye and edge - very bold).

-  Collecting seed from my garden - zinnias, sunflowers, amaranth, nicotiana, Siberian irises, daylilies.  I've got a box of seed I need to severely edit, since some of the seed is 5-6 years old.  I hate to throw seed out, but much of it won't be viable now, and my germination rates for winter sowing last winter weren't as good as in past years in part because so much of my seed was older.  Time for a fresh start!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Long Grief, Longer Hope

Having a child with any special need immediately sets parents apart, whether they want to be or not.  Nobody in their right mind would choose to inflict such difficulties on their own child, when even mild differences can have big repercussions for their entire life.  Whether the child is born with an obvious difference and need, or if the need slowly becomes manifest during the child's young life, or is the result of an accident or illness at any age, a diagnosis of disability or difference immediately changes EVERYTHING in the parents' lives.  Many marriages don't survive this shakedown.  Something we've had to face with our son's Asperger's is the grieving of what "might have been" or "should have been" (as if we were entitled to a child with no special needs).  Sometimes this is easier to face than others.

As our son has reentered the public school system, the differences we've seen between him and his average classmates have been both more and less than we expected.  He is more delayed in writing and math than we realized - that difficulty crept up on us over the past couple years, and was one major factor in our decision to seek the help of the public school.  Yet, our son is a typical sixth grader, too - a boy to his core, loving anything with wheels and sound effects, video games and computers, jokes about bodily functions and thinking girls are weird.  He has more social skills than many kids (heck, more than some adults) with AS.  The similarities are reassuring, when we don't know what the future holds for him.

We don't know yet how independent he'll be as an adult.  Obviously we hope for the best:  his own job, his own living arrangements, his own vehicle, his own friendships, and even romance.  But the truth is that he may need our help for much longer than the average young man.  He may not be ready to leave home for college at 18 - living at home and attending community college is the most likely first step for him.  He may need help finding and holding a job.   He may need help maintaining an apartment and some form of independence.   He's likely to make mistakes along the way, just like any other young man finding his place in the world.  I don't know where his road will lead him, but we're likely to be involved for longer than we anticipate if his needs prove to be a barrier to his independence.  That's a struggle to contemplate, because that delays our independence from him.  (Does that sound selfish?  It's not meant to be - but the natural order of things is that children grow up and move on, and so do their parents.  If the child doesn't "grow up," when can the parents "move on"?)

Our son's AS needs are comparatively mild.  Many parents of children on the autism spectrum already know that their child will always need assistance of some sort, from them and/or from professional agencies.  I hope by the time our son is ready to be an adult that we will know how much help he'll need, and of course I hope and pray for his full independence.  I find it scary to feel trapped in the limbo of not knowing how self-sufficient he'll be, and I'm sure it affects my husband as well.  I'm trying to anticipate the future but not dwell on it, since it hasn't come yet, and many things will change before our son graduates from high school.  He's already making up lost ground in school, and I hope by the end of this year we'll be rejoicing with him in his achievements.

Back to the grief:  raising a child with special needs requires letting go of what "should have been," and embracing "what is."  Holding on to the unattainable, unrealistic, totally impossible "I wish it wasn't this way" mindset would deprive us of enjoying our son's achievements, and his uniqueness.  Trust me, he already knows he's different.  He's known for years, and usually it doesn't seem to bother him.  Yesterday, though, he asked me why he was in a class with kids who need behavior plans, why his morning class is different - the other homerooms and language arts/math rooms don't have that chart on the wall, and a list consequences.  That made me so sad, that he feels segregated, yet it also gave me the chance to tell him that some of the kids in his class need that extra help with their behavior, just as he gets extra help for his math and writing.  We need to show mercy to each other for our differences.  Of course I wish he weren't having these difficulties.  I wish he didn't need an IEP at school, or special help with math, or social skills classes with the school counselor, or extra understanding and help in Boy Scouts.  I wish he would stay on task better, keep his temper more consistently, fight with his sister less, and not get on his father's nerves when he lallygags and fritters away his time.  But he is who he is, and I love him just the way he is even while I help him to make positive changes for his own good.  I hope he knows that.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Serving Pieces

 It feels a little like Winnie The Pooh's blustery day today - not that it's windy, but it's drizzly and cool with lots of falling leaves.  I like this weather - it's perfect for taking a nap, or enjoying quiet time with the cats, or working on drawing, or quilting.  This afternoon I talked for quite a while with my sister, and then for another long time with my Mom - family stuff, kid stuff, marriage stuff, stuff stuff.  It was good to share heartaches and struggles and receive (and give) comfort and encouragement.

I finally photographed some ceramics I've had for a while.  I've been debating round and round about whether to send these down to The Lemon Tree in NC, since I haven't had many sales there.  I've finally decided to send a box of my paintings and drawings
down there, and to keep the ceramics here for my Etsy shop.  The profit margin is much better for me on the 2D works than the ceramics, because of the 40% commission the shop charges.   (30-40% seems to be typical in shops selling on consignment, and  40% is too high for me to keep my ceramics competitively priced with other merchandise.)   I hope this works out for both of us, since it's not fair to tie up their shelf space with items that aren't selling, and I'd like to have some of my smaller ceramics back from there to list online. 

We'll see how this works out.  Some days I wonder if I'll EVER make a profit selling my work.  I've got a lot to learn about marketing my art and ceramics, and they're really two totally different markets altogether.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Day At The Museum

I took the kids to the MOST in Syracuse today (the Museum of Science and Technology, that is).  We've been there a couple times before - the kids love it for all the fun, hands-on activities.  It was a good diversion and reward after a very long, stressful week.

I love the salt water aquarium there - I could sit and watch it for hours.  Our kids also love seeing the Toothpick City.  If you haven't seen it, it's amazing - completely constructed by one man over a number of years.  It's composed solely of world landmark buildings, constructed entirely out of toothpicks, and it's BIG.  I can't begin to imagine the amount of work that went into it.

My favorite part of the museum is the large perpetual motion machine.  Our son and I could watch it for hours.  It's quite large, and lots of fun to get "lost" in.  It even has some interactive mechanisms, so you can affect what happens to some of the dozens of balls that continually move through the machine.  The helix tower on top rotates at an angle, so the pool balls inside actually appear to move counter to gravity, up the spiral, at times.

I love the reconstructed apothecary shop at the museum.  It's only open on Saturday afternoons, so I had to content myself today with looking through the windows.  I would love to read every single bottle, jar, and container label - I find that kind of historical minutiae endlessly interesting.

Our daughter loves the geology activities, the exploration tunnels, and the huge multi-story playground - think like a McD's playland, but many times bigger.  This one is about 40 feet tall, and includes a "shooting range" for soft foam balls, a three-story slide, and enough tunnels for a habitrail metropolis.   There were dozens of other activities - plasma balls, pulleys, an Archimedes screw, a flight simulator, models and activities about all the major human body systems, a waterfall, amazing photographs of microscopic details of plants, animals, and minerals, a large gift shop, butterflies, magnetism, radio technology, and on and on.  The kids even talked me into riding the motion simulator, which took us on a trip with the world's worst driver, who crashed into everything.  Our son loved it - crashes and accidents are one of his favorite things to simulate with his toy cars, and he loves to watch automotive crash tests on YouTube.

We had a fun day, and it was good to have the kids out for an activity that didn't end in frustration and arguing, but instead with questions and comments about what they'd seen, and laughter - and an optical illusion we had to drive around the block to solve.  What's wrong with this picture of the Jefferson Clinton Hotel in Syracuse?

This was taken from our parking spot, right out the car window.  Our son pointed it out to me.  WHERE is the left side of the building??  We couldn't see from our angle, so we decided to drive around the block to get "the rest of the story."  It turns out this old building is shaped like a thick U, with one end tapering to a very sharp point on one side (like the Flatiron Building in Manhattan, only a lot skinnier).   From this angle, it looks like the building is one giant facade with no substance.  The left-most windows on the angled left part of the building in this view appear to be fake (or the broom closets have the best view in town!).  When the building gets wide enough to accommodate real rooms, the windows are real.  We were totally mystified by the appearance of this hotel from this angle.  Yep, we're simple souls!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pushback on School, Asperger's and the Future

We knew this was going to be a difficult transition for our son, going back to public school after six years of home school.  He's been pushing back on us quite a bit lately.  He's angry with us for putting him in this new situation.  It's a whole new world for him, and for us.  Doing homework  has been his biggest struggle so far - that is, getting it all done in a timely fashion.  Some nights he's "on" and works through it without much help or supervision from us.  Other nights, he's unfocused and just plain unwilling to work, and we have to sit on him.  I find that to be totally frustrating, because what should be a simple assignment then turns into a prolonged, time consuming PITA for all of us.  Last night was one of those nights.  I'm not going to go through the whole saga here, but I will say that setting boundaries and sticking to them is the hardest part of parenting.  And, consequences are a bear.  Our son is learning that personal responsibility isn't easy, and that the consequences for not being responsible aren't fun at all.  Hopefully next week will be smoother for all of us.

I think this is a characteristic of most people with Aspergers:  they are very all or nothing about life.  Things are black or white, very good or very bad, way up or way down - there isn't much middle ground for them. They dislike surprises, and changes from what they expect to happen are seldom welcome.  Equilibrium and contentment are hard for them to find, and almost impossible for them to hold on to.  I find that very difficult to live with, since I'm a more "middle of the road" person most of the time, avoiding the extremes when I can.  I guess my philosophy of life is "Make the best of it," no matter what happens.  All this drama, all the fuss and bother, all the control-freak-ness of someone who craves and needs predictability and routine is really hard to live with.  Life IS change, but I can't just say, "Get over yourself and DEAL WITH IT!" to them.  Well, I can, and I have, but that doesn't even compute for them, really, so I try not to say it any more.

I try to have compassion for people with AS, because if it's difficult for me to live with them, imagine how hard it is to BE them.  To live in a world where other people just don't make sense, where people seem to thrive on upsetting their routine and expectations, where every relationship is an ever-changing minefield of unwritten rules and expectations, where it's scary to interact with strangers because you never know what they'll say or do - that's a frightening place to be.  No wonder people with AS often act out their anger and frustration, verbally (or sometimes otherwise).  And, no wonder other ("neurotypical") people often don't understand them and get annoyed and upset with their "selfish" behavior.

And yet, I can't help but think that seeing the world differently is their gift as well.  How many great thinkers and inventors, artists and musicians, doctors and scientists through history have had Asperger's Syndrome?  I would bet you everything I own that Thomas Edison had AS.  Bill Gates is reputed to have AS.  I'm sure there are dozens more famous people, and many thousands of people in all walks of life that have it.  How often have they been misunderstood and put down for their differences?  On one hand it makes me sad, to think of the struggles that will face our son through his life (especially in relationships), and on the other hand, I know that the Lord doesn't make mistakes, and that there's a purpose for his way of seeing life through a different lens.  I hope and pray that we can help him find his way through his teen and college years, and into a job or career that will be perfect for him, while giving him the tools to make friends and form healthy relationships.  What more can any parents hope for?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Random Ramblings

Note to self:  don't ever drink green tea with ginseng after 9PM again.  I was awake until after 2AM, and had to get up with our son at 6:10.  Needless to say, I was worthless this AM and went back to bed for a while after the kids got on their buses.

I went to the book sale at the Oneida Library today.  The pickings weren't great in the areas I was interested in (history, science fiction, literature, biography), but I did come home with some good children's books, a couple history books and a biography of Lincoln, and some fiction for myself.   Cheap thrills:  14 books and 2 VHS tapes for $8.

Our daughter has discovered Fraggle Rock, and our son is watching the third Back To The Future movie.  I just bought our son REO Speedwagon and Journey CDs for his birthday next month.   I picked up the movie Spaceballs at the book sale.  I feel like I'm living in an 80s time loop.

Our oldest cat, B. C., is having trouble with his kidneys again, and there's nothing the vet can do about it (except recommend special cat food that costs more than filet mignon, and blood tests that will just tell us that, yes, he still has kidney disease).  You can't really do dialysis on a cat.  He's gone through this a couple times before and recovered, but it's getting worse.  He's drinking constantly, and piddling where he shouldn't (fortunately only in one spot, so I can protect it with plastic).  He's my favorite cat, my old friend, my beloved Bad Cat, and I can't imagine being without him, but I'll be surprised if he lives through the winter.  He's 15 years old, after all.  I don't want him to suffer.  When he starts to be in pain and starts losing weight, I'll have to take him to the vet for the last time.  I hate to think about that, but I know it's coming.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Therapeutic Shopping Is Awesome!

LOL, I don't get to do this very often, but I spent most of today out shopping.  It was finally, at long last, payday, and with some extra money to use in the budget at that.  It seemed like that paycheck would never get here, and we were scraping the bottom of the pantry (much to the kids' very vocal dismay the past few days).  After the kids got on the big yellow magic carpet, I set out on my travels.

First stop, gas and coffee.
Second stop, Dunn's Bakery (a local place, the BEST donuts you've ever had in your life, and great bread) for still-warm-from-the-oven raisin bread and two donuts for the kids to have after school today.
Next stop, I picked up a prescription, and snagged an REO Speedwagon CD for our son's birthday.  (He's really into 80s music, and asked specifically for that group.  Why, I don't know - personally, I can't stand their lead singer's voice. . . .)
Moving on, I went to Aldi and picked up a cart load of dry goods - it's far cheaper to buy things like crackers, snacks, juice and cereal there than at any other store locally.
Still on the road, I swung by the post office to mail an ACEO I sold in my Etsy shop a couple days ago.
Moving on again, Kohl's, to take advantage of a killer sale, coupons, a 20% discount and clearance rack goodies - over $210 worth of clothes for our daughter and I for less than $75.
Farther yet from home, I went to Wegmans (a large grocery store, for those who don't live in NY).  Lunch break!  Tofu and sweet peppers with garlic sauce over brown rice, with a pile of sauteed green beans on the side and cold jasmine tea - absolutely delicious, and I got to eat in peace.  Then another cart load of groceries and the usual weekly odds and ends.
On the way home at last - time for a large Dunkin' Donuts decaf iced coffee as I went - shopping is thirsty work.

And now, about 4 1/2 hours after I set out on my journey, I'm home, and everything is put away.  Whew!

I hope nobody complains that I forgot anything - they can go to the store themselves to get it if it's that important to them tonight.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Almost a morning person

 Sophia napping on my yard work jacket

It's taken a couple weeks, but I'm finally getting into the swing of being up early with the kids for school.  It's a good change, for all of us, to be up earlier, but I knew it would take some getting used to.  I'm starting to really enjoy the early morning routine, the bright dawn light streaming in through our kitchen windows, and the sense that I have extra time all day, even though that's not really the case since I go to bed earlier now as well.

Fall is really here now, even though the equinox isn't until tomorrow night.  Many of the trees are starting to show some fall color, and it's settled into a nice temperature swing from cool nights to warmer days (right now in the 40s to low 50s at night, 60s to low 70s during the day).  This really is my favorite time of the year, weather-wise.  My husband and I have been doing some yard work, spreading topsoil on the area of our back yard that he solarized earlier this summer.  We'll be rolling and seeding next week, and he wants to overseed and aerate the front and side yard as well soon after that.  I'm not so much lawn-oriented, but I have some yard tasks of my own to tend to:  edging a couple of the flower beds where the grass is encroaching, and cutting back perennials and pulling annuals after the first hard frost (which we haven't had yet, but it can't be long now).  And, of course, planting bulbs - my favorite fall "chore."

I need to get the daffodils planted soon - generally it's recommended that they be planted here in the Northeast by the end of September.  If I get mine in the ground by mid- October, they always do fine.  Tulips can be planted any time until the ground freezes.  In some years I've been known to plant last-minute tulip bargain purchases in December.  Crocuses are pretty forgiving too - any time by December seems to work for them.  I also want to plant some asiatic lilies, and I try to get them in the ground by mid-October at the latest, and bury them a little deeper than the package recommends - 6-7" deep is good here in the Northeast.

 Tulip 'Sweetheart,' one of my favorites & on my "Must Buy" list for this fall

At least in our new home we don't have a plague of squirrels to dig up all the bulbs as soon as I plant them - at our old house I had to keep pieces of galvanized wire fencing on hand to lay over newly planted areas to deter the rotten rodents.  I'd leave the wire down for a couple weeks (daffodils, which the rodents don't eat but enthusiastically dig up), to a month (crocuses and lilies, until the ground freezes), to all winter and remove in the spring (tulips, which are rodent candy).  I've also found that it's better to err on the side of burying bulbs a little too deep than a little too shallow.

Although irises aren't true bulbs, they should be planted now as well.  With them, though, you DON'T want to bury the rhizomes.  Irises are susceptible to rot if they're buried, or planted in a location that's too moist.  They can handle a lot of drought and are really tough once established.  The rhizome should rest at the soil's surface, and the roots should be buried firmly.  Sometimes the remnant foliage on top will cause them to want to lean or fall over.  In that case, my trick is to take a couple 8" sticks or pieces of bamboo staking and form an X over the rhizome, pinning it to the ground firmly.  This quick fix can be removed in the spring, once the iris has formed its own new roots.  Irises are one of my absolute favorite spring flowers, especially the old-fashioned "heirloom" ones.  (Generally an "heirloom" iris is one that is over 25 years old - but I find that definition to be too liberal.  Irises have been bred for well over 100 years, and just as in fashion, gardening styles change and affect which plants are bred and which plant characteristics are valued and selected.  Irises bred before about 1965 tend to have simpler flowers, with a more graceful form; irises bred later gradually acquired more extreme ruffling and stiff form, and brighter color combinations became more common.  Modern irises are often quite flamboyant.)

On the left is the iris 'Liaison,' introduced in 1986, and on the right is the iris 'Indian Chief,' from 1929.  The difference in their forms is striking.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Busy life, it's all good

 The Palatine Church, near Fort Plain, NY

The past couple days have been a blur of cleaning, canning, baking, yard work, house stuff, family stuff, and generally running around for my whole family.  Today it's good to be out of the house, although we're still in busy-mode.  This morning our son has a Scout activity at the Great Swamp Conservancy's annual Fall Migration Festival, and our daughter had a soccer game.  We'll regroup for lunch, then head out for another family visit that will take up most of the rest of the day and involve a lot of driving.  The driving is busy and relaxing at the same time - going somewhere, but able to relax along the way.  I'll drive on the way down, and my husband can drive on the way back, and hopefully the kids will bring enough to occupy themselves without resorting to sibling-baiting to pass the time.

Last night I made a double batch of biscotti, and a pan of homemade brownies.  The biscotti are my specialty, and I make them for all sorts of occasions.  Last night I made chocolate chip, but I make many other flavors.  My husband's favorite is Double Chocolate, my sister Tracey likes the Almond, my sister Debbie likes the Brown Sugar Cinnamon Spice, and my sister Kelly likes the Vanilla.  My Mom's favorite is the Chocolate Chip, and my Dad likes the Almond.  I've also made Vienna Chip (cinnamon w/chocolate chips), Cranberry Orange, Gingerbread, Cinnamon Walnut,  and Plain Chocolate.  I'm not sure what my favorite is; I guess I like them all.

When my parents and sister visited yesterday, they brought with them the items from the two studios that fire my ceramics.  I was so pleased with how they turned out this time, especially the large vase.

I like how the tile turned out, too.  Tiles are fun to do - they're like paintings, really.  I also got back three ornaments, two of which are in my shop already.  One still needs a cap and hanger, so it will be listed as soon as I can get that.  Fortunately, the craft stores are all getting ready to put out their Christmas stuff.  (They've had the Halloween stuff out for a couple weeks now - what's up with that??  It's ridiculous to push the seasons ahead like that; it just makes the seasons seem too rushed.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Making Jam


Several times a year, I like to make jam.  Usually when I make it coincides with some special occasion involving my husband's father.  His Dad is a wonderful gentleman, and quite a character too.  The special event this time is his 85th birthday.

I've been giving his father homemade jam for YEARS.  I can't remember when I started, but it was early in our marriage or just before we married, so that puts it back 15 years or so.  Each time I give him several jars of jam, and he faithfully washes and returns the jars when he's done so I can use them again.  Usually I make red raspberry jam, but in the past I've also made strawberry, black raspberry, mixed berry, and orange marmalade (it didn't set - I want to try it again).  This time I made red raspberry, but I also tried making something new - pear jam, and spiced pear jam.  I've wanted to try making that for years, ever since my friend Jenine game me a jar made from pears grown on her own tree.  It was totally divine, absolutely the most wonderful jam I've ever tasted, so I finally tried making it for myself.  It turned out really well, although the spiced pear could use a little stronger hand on the ginger and cinnamon.  It was my first try, so I didn't want to overdo it.

I use the inversion method of canning, where you fill the sterilized jar with boiling hot jam, seal it with a sterilized lid, then immediately invert it on a towel for five minutes or so.  The heat from the jam helps further sterilize the lid and seal the jar (if the lid doesn't seal properly, use the jam right away).  It's not safe for canning veggies or any tomato products (so please don't try it), but for sugary jams and jellies that will be used up within a matter of months, it's reasonably safe and effective.  (Keep in mind, the jam I make doesn't sit in a pantry for a long time - I think the longest I've ever had jam hang around the house is 4 months before being used up.  So, I am NOT recommending this method for people who want to preserve their food for long-term storage.  I know the jam I give my husband's father is used up within a couple months.)

I follow the directions in the package of Sure-Jell and measure the sugar carefully, but vary the fruit amount slightly depending on how much moisture is in the fruit I'm using.  The pears I used yesterday were quite juicy, and the jam is soft set now, so next time I'll know to reduce the amount of fruit slightly.  Also, rather than using fresh raspberries (have you looked at the price of fresh raspberries?  Eeep!), I use three and a half 12 ounce bags of commercial frozen ones.  Four bags gives a very soft set; 3 1/2 is perfect.  I've learned how far I can twiddle with the fruit-sugar balance before I end up with sauce instead of jam (but since the sauce is amazing on ice cream, it's really a no-lose situation).

I usually give my father-in-law biscotti to go with the jam.  I hope I'll have time to make those tonight.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Falling Leaves

I love the autumn, and leaves of all kinds fascinate me.  I love their detail, their strength, their delicacy, their colors, their textures.  Leaves keep reappearing in my art; I don't think they'll ever be boring to me.  I finished this orange maple leaf drawing earlier this week, and got it listed in my shop.  I thought I was done with the leaf drawings for a while, but while waiting for my daughter at soccer practice, I had the tug to do another.  This one is larger, on 8" x 10" paper, and I decided to make it with orange accents for a change.  I like how it turned out.

I need to get busy on my long-delayed quilt.  When my husband was laid off almost two years ago, I spent the winter of his job hunt working on a very simple quilt, just squares of fabric sewn into strips, and sewn together again to form the quilt top.  I call it my humble quilt, because while I had imagined creating a nice, geometric windowpane pattern, I wasn't as exacting as I should have been, and the corners didn't match up well.  So, I deliberately offset some of the strips as I went, to make the quilt top look more like a random pavement of 5" squares.  All of the fabrics are in shades of warm beige and cream, with mostly organic patterns or prints on them.  The edge of the quilt is a wonderful blue/beige/white fabric I'd been saving to make pillows, but I realized it coordinated perfectly with the quilt, so that's what I used it for.  The back of the quilt is a slightly retro pattern of stylized flowers in slate blue/gray and a muted brown on beige - I fell in love with the fabric in the store, and just knew it was the perfect fabric to back the quilt.

I sewed the top of the quilt entirely by hand the winter of 2008-2009.  It may have been crazy, but I desperately needed the mindless busywork to deal with the craziness of a layoff, a job hunt, home schooling and an impending move.  In fact, I haven't used a machine at all on the quilt.  Right now it's fully bound and I did some of the actual quilting last year, on two corners.  Again, it's a humble quilt - my first effort on my own, and I hope nobody looks too closely at it, but I love the colors.  I hope to finish the hand quilting before Thanksgiving, so I can have the quilt on our bed for the winter.  I've also got coordinating heavy fabric to redo our upholstered headboard - another project put on hold this summer while the kids made the transition back to public school.

So much to do, and I feel like I'm still spinning from the adjustment to having the kids in school.  They're not the only ones redefining their place in this world.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mental Space and Chili

I did something really unusual (for me) today: I took a nap. After everyone else went off to school and work, I puttered around for a little while, then crawled back into bed. I've just felt drained lately, ragged around the edges, and not sleeping well (partly related to family stuff, and partly related to seasonal allergies). After several days of feeling like reheated poo, I decided the best thing I could do was just go back to bed. I had some nice, deep, dreamless sleep, and felt much better when I got up, so it was well worth it.

I can't say I was a busy bee after I got up, but I did ramble around tidying stuff, washed some windows, did some pet chores, and moved a bit of topsoil into the back yard. I also spent some time talking to my Mom on the phone, probably the most unguarded conversation I've had with her in a long time. It was good to talk to her, and I'm really looking forward to seeing her and my Dad and my sister Tracey on Friday for lunch.

I made chili today, one of my favorite cool-weather comfort foods. Fresh, hot chili with sharp cheddar, sour cream, and tortilla chips - divine! Sometimes I make it with ground beef, sometimes I go vegan with it, but it's good both ways. Today I made it with ground beef.

Our son had some serious anxiety about going to school this morning. He really did not want to go, and was able to verbalize that it was because he didn't like the "pressure" of having a new schedule and harder work. He had some anxiety in school yesterday and went to the nurse's office for a little while because he said he felt nauseated, but he wasn't sick. Today he pulled the "I'm going to throw up" card on me, and I didn't feed into it - I simply told him that if he had a fever he could stay home, and that if he had the flu he could stay home, but having an upset stomach from nerves would not allow him to stay home. He calmed down, and made it to school, but I called the nurse before he got there to let her know he was anxious and might be seeing her again. She was so nice, and she said she knew he wasn't sick yesterday, and she asked me for ways to help him calm down if she did need to see him again. She was so helpful - I am really, really pleased with how the teachers and support personnel at school are working with him. I'm sure things will smooth out as he gets to know them, and they get to know him. Today went much better for him once he got to school, and he earned some extra video time at home by doing his homework in a timely fashion with a good attitude.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gardening and Voting

I'm sitting home this morning, waiting for the delivery of 8 yards of topsoil, to be used to renovate part of our back yard lawn.  I'll be swiping part of it to build up a couple small beds too.  The truck should be here soon, so while I've been waiting I've also done some garden work out front.  Last fall I planted some ornamental goldenrod - I'd heard good things about it, and seen photos of some lovely landscapes using it.  I was hoping for a nice, bushy, golden, late summer accent at the front of the house.

Well, the goldenrod was a total disappointment.  When it bloomed, it wasn't a nice gold color at all, but a washed out lemon yellow.  Half the plants flopped over after their first rain during bloom.  As the blooms faded their color turned to blotchy cream and brown, and all of them mildewed by mid August. Yuck!  So, today they're out of there.  In their place I planted some autumn-hued mums, in shades ranging from deep gold through bronze to brick red.  I hope they'll be perennial (you just can't tell with mums), and be the colorful late summer/fall mass I'm looking for.  I haven't decided what to do with the evicted goldenrod.  The frugal gardener in me doesn't want to waste them.  The garden designer in me doesn't want them anywhere in the yard.  I think I'll compromise and put them in the back flower bed, where I don't have to see them close up and they can make the best of their new lease on life in that semi-wild area.

I've also spent some time on the computer checking out candidates for various offices.  It's Primary Day in New York, and it's an important one since we'll be electing a new governor in November, as well as a U.S. senator, State senator, U.S. Representative, and State Assembly member.  Here's my plug for the day:  if you're registered to vote, and your state or town is having a primary election, GO VOTE, whether it's for a small local office or governor of your entire state.  No matter what your political affiliation, you have the right and responsibility as a U. S. citizen to have a say in your elected government.  It's worth the time to look into the candidates and make an informed choice.  As I tell people, if you don't vote, you have no right at all to complain about (or to) elected officials.

 It occurs to me that when you vote and when you garden, you end up pulling weeds either way.  Of course, a weed is generally in the eye of the beholder, just as politics is always up for debate.  Still, if there's NO oversight, the garden devolves to wilderness, and politics to an oppressive jungle.  So, get weeding!