Country Living Series

Friday, October 20, 2017

Real-life zombies: Fascinatingly creepy

Found this guy (gal? -- probably) on our woodpile last week.

Notice how well she blends in with her surroundings.

Praying mantises are fascinatingly creepy. Everything about them -- from their lightening-fast, powerful arms to their propensity to eat their mates to their opportunistic grabbing of prey even as big as hummingbirds -- makes me glad they're only a few inches long.

You know all those zombie movies that are so popular? Well, to me mantises are the zombies of the insect world. They want brains, man. They're slow and fast at the same time. They're relentless in their stalking.

Yep, zombies. "Braaaaaiiiiinnnnnssssss....."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Stacking UP

Don and I have been cutting and splitting lots and lots of firewood lately. Winter's a-coming, after all.

We've traditionally stacked wood on the front porch.

Trouble is, the front porch will only hold so much -- maybe a cord, if we really stuff it. That's one of the reasons we always cut wood throughout the winter, rather than stacking up a winter's worth of firewood in one spot. (I guess we could always build a woodshed, but it just hasn't happened.)

So this year Don started stacking firewood on the side porch. This is a fine idea, except it too can only hold so much. In large part this is because there are no side supports to hold up the wood, so we can only stack it a few feet high before it wants to topple down.

So, smart guy that he is, he simply installed some 2x6s braced against the porch roof, and voila: vertical wood storage.

He put in a 2x4 under the roof awning where the 2x6s are braced, making them secure. The boards are slightly angled in and the bases are held in place by the weight of the firewood. The beauty of this arrangement is the boards can simply be removed as the wood is used up.

As we split more wood, he added more boards.

Like the front porch, this side porch faces against the prevailing wind, so it will be largely protected from snow.

He has room for just one more board, then that side of the porch will be filled.

I must say, all this extra wood gives a very nice feeling.

Vertical firewood stacking. What'll they think of next?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lament for my hometown

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "Lament for my hometown."

I am stunned by the devastation of these fires in Wine Country. The whole catastrophe is tragic beyond belief.

If this map is accurate, the house I grew up in has been incinerated. Thank God my parents are safe -- they retired to Southern California several years ago -- but the rural neighborhood where I grew up apparently is gone.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Apples, start to finish

For the first time since leaving our house in Oregon (where we had mature pear and apple trees), I harvested apples from our own fruit trees.

The apples were neither large nor abundant, but not bad for a first crop.

Despite the trees' youth, most of the fruit was still above my reach. At my height, this isn't uncommon. The fruit-picking basket came in handy.

I only got nine pounds, but hey, it's a start.

Since we didn't have any more apple pie filling in the pantry, I decided to turn the whole batch into pie filling.

I used fruit pie filling directions I got years ago from the county extension service.

Blanching the apple slices.

Starting the filling.

The filling, thickened.

Adding the blanched apples to the filling.

As usual, on days I have kitchen projects, I have the remarkable skill of dirtying every dish in the kitchen.

Seems like a lot of work for just five quarts of pie filling. But it's pie filling from our own apples -- and that's a thrill!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How hard is it, really?

I was searching for something on the blog when I came across something I posted in 2012: "Take the challenge: ONE WEEK without spending!!" (I'll pause for a moment for you to hop over and read that post.)

I'd forgotten about that entry, and with chuckles I read it out loud to Don before speculating how long it had been since I'd spent any money. Let's see, today is Tuesday, and I was in Coeur d'Alene for errands last Monday, so that's a week without spending any money. Ta da!

To us, going weeks (that's plural) without spending is just par for the course. After all, we're rural and we work at home, so it's not hard. But I began to wonder how difficult it is for others. A quick Google search later and I came across this 2009 article: "The agony of seven days without spending."


And that was just one article. I came across another, and another, and another -- all relating the difficulties of not spending money for anywhere from a day to a week to a month.

I read all these testimonies on the hardships of avoiding take-out food and restaurants, of resisting the latest lipstick color or on-sale sweater, of the eternal demands from parking meters and toll roads.

And I wondered: Are we really so unusual that not spending is no biggee? I don't mean to sound sanctimonious or snotty, I'm really curious. Apparently these "spending fasts" don't include regular bills such as electricity or mortgage, but instead focus on discretionary spending and everyday money drains.

How do others feel about this? Is not spending money for a set period -- say, a week -- easy or difficult?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Napa in flames

My hometown (Napa, California) is in flames.

The sheer quantity of fires which sprang up overnight and roared into infernos before winds of 35 to 50 mph makes me think arson is the cause, though that's just speculation on my part and has not been confirmed. But whatever the source, fires through Napa and Sonoma Counties are clocking a tragic toll of burned homes, businesses, and wineries.

It's hard to follow what's going on from this distance, but familiar place-names are leaping out at me from every news article. My parents moved outside Napa in 1972 when I was 10 years old, and I grew up in a semi-rural area a couple miles up Monticello Road on the east side of the valley. I believe parts of Monticello have been evacuated, but I don't know the status of my childhood home. (My parents retired and moved elsewhere several years ago.)

It breaks my heart to think of Wild Horse Valley Ranch at one end of the region (where I took horseback riding lessons as a kid) to Stornetta's Dairy at the other end (where every schoolchild took multiple tours) being burned -- not just because of the structures and livelihoods, which are bad enough; but because of all the animals (horses, cows, etc.) unable to be evacuated.

This article noted, "For long time Napa Valley residents the massive fire rekindled memories of the 1981 Atlas Peak wildfire. In that blaze, 23,000 acres were burned, $36 million was done in damage, 65 structures were destroyed and 11 people were injured."

I remember the Atlas Peak Fire eerily well since it nearly burned us out. It was terrifying.

Please pray for the hardworking emergency personnel and firefighters, as well as those displaced or burned out.

If there are any blog readers in the area, please check in to let us know you're safe and to give us news.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Mr. Darcy visits the lake

Knowing the importance of exposing a young pup to as many different experiences as possible while young, Don and I took Mr. Darcy to the lake so he could learn to splash and swim before the water gets too cold.

At first he was very cautious about this enormous expanse of hydrogen hydroxide.

Don tossed a stick right close to the shore, and Darcy was reluctant to get his feet wet to retrieve it.

But that caution didn't last long. Pretty soon his natural retriever instincts kicked in, and he got bolder.

Don tossed the stick in a bit farther each time, and Darcy bravely went after it.

This was repeated until Mr. Darcy was far enough out to actually paddle a bit. He was getting fairly tuckered by this point, so we went out on the dock.

He definitely has an instinct for water, this pup, so we'll be bringing him to the lake as often as possible (weather permitting).

So far Mr. Darcy is shaping up to be wonderful dog -- obedient, eager to please, playful, loyal. He's definitely a people-dog and always wants to be with us. It's so endearing in the evening to have him lie down literally on my feet while I'm reading a book.

For those who have been asking, we'll be looking for a lab pup for Don probably in the spring. Two young puppies in the house at the same time would be a bit much; but once Darcy grows up a bit, having another puppy would be far more manageable. Until then, Darcy flies solo.