Thursday, November 26, 2009


We give thanks on this special day. Not only for turkey and family and friends.

And good fortune and blessings and another beautiful day.

But ALSO because...

The last window is in.

Just that pesky dormer left, and the house exterior will be complete.

The exterior doors are all in, primed and waiting for their paint. This is the front door. The transom will have divides in it...we install them at our leisure. I'm thinking this door needs some sort of punchy color. Red? Green? Purple?

And lastly, I give thanks that my children savely returned from their excursion out on the scaffolding.

And that I didn't drop dead of a heart attack while they were out there.

Thank you, God, for all these things.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not a moment's peace

My folks' dog, Mick, is a good dog, the third in a series of labrador retrievers over the last 40 years (yes, they've each lived to ripe old ages). But Mick, unlike the previous two, has had just my folks in the house most of the time. And even though he is a lab, arguably one of the friendliest breeds around, I think he needs a break sometimes from the chaotic presence of two five-year-olds.

Of course it could just be he's enjoying the view.

Or maybe he's posing, waiting to be admired.

But the kids see him and invade his moment. Even from this distance, I can hear his sigh of resignation.

But what's this? A treat? For me?

OK, I guess you can stay!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The splendors of nature

Autumn is one of my four favorite seasons.

It is here in full force in Tollhouse. Here is the Chinese pistachio in my folks' front yard. I think I've gotta get me one of those! Wouldn't it look striking with the white farmhouse?

The girls are trying to get to those gorgeous colors.

Every time I'm out and about in this beautiful area, I appreciate the views. We are in the Sierra foothills. The foothills are not quite mountains by Sierra or Rocky Mountain standards, but right on the ragged edge. There are lots of slabby granite faces like this one.

This is Tollhouse Rock, and yes, it has some climbing routes on it. And yes, we have been climbing on it, but not recently. Maybe ten years ago, we climbed the "Tollhouse Traverse", a diagonal crack running from the bottom center of the face to the upper left section of the top. It was well set up for a three-person team, one skilled leader (Mark), one spasmoid in the middle (me), and one skilled follower (our buddy Brent Borchers). It really was great fun, and I actually hope to do it again.

Just to the left of Tollhouse Rock is a formation locally known as "Squaw's Tit". No one knows why.

OK, yeah, I guess I can see it. But look at perky and round. That doesn't occur in nature. It's gotta be fake!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Ugly Wall

Now, you may be wondering about the ugly wall, and whether or not it is living up to its name.

Up to the end, it proceeds like the other two before it.

But gets ugly.

Here is Mark getting ready to work near the top of the wall.

He climbs up our tallest ladder, but then:

He swings out into space on his climbing gear,

and pulls himself up the rope with his ascenders (climbing gear with which he is fortunately quite familiar).

Yep--it's ugly, but it's also almost done, and THAT is beautiful!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Crazy Hair Day

Last Friday was Crazy Hair Day at Sierra Elementary. We did something really crazy.

Can you guess what it was?

Yep, we switched the ponytails! (for anyone who doesn't know, "the code" is Mae has one syllable and always one pony). I have to admit, it was a little disconcerting even for us as parents!

Fortunately (?) Mae also had the last traces of a black eye she got last week getting clocked by a door. And she has two teeth missing, and Abigail only has one.

So I'm quite sure we still know who is who.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's not easy being green

The Halloween paraphernalia lingered around in the house, until Abigail noticed some face paints (procured during her short-lived desire to be a frog, before the pink fairy concept took its insidious pink hold). She asked if she couldn't, pretty please, be made up like the witch shown on the packaging. How could I refuse?

She practiced her best cackles, and had fun riding her duster.

But did I throw the make-up away after that? No-ooooooooooooh.

So a couple of days later, the girls wanted to try their hand APPLYing the make-up. I was more than happy to oblige.

They took great care, enhancing my natural zombie-witch qualities.

The shining result!

As Kermit The Frog sang:

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why
Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful
And I think it's what I want to be

Thank you, Kermit...I couldn't have said it better myself!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The cemetery

Last summer, when the girls were 4, we were on a big RV tour of the Northeast. As we traveled on the back roads, we passed many small cemeteries. The girls commented:

"Look...a park!"

"No" I explained, "That's a cemetery."

Now I'm struggling to find the words that will make this as benign and un-scary as possible.

"After a person dies, their spirit leaves the body and goes up to heaven, where they see everyone they love and are very happy. They don't need their body any more, so the body is buried in the ground."

The girls were very accepting of this. So the next time we passed a cemetery, one of the girls says

"That's a cemetery, where they bury the body after a person dies."

At this point, I'm feeling very proud of how smoothly this little lesson went, until the next comment:

"Yeah, they bury the bodies, but NOT THE HEADS!"

So much for un-scary!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Interesting costume ideas

My 5-year-old daughter Mae has come up with some really interesting ideas for her Halloween costume next year.

Idea #1: "Mom, next year, I'd like to be invisible".

I had to tell her that while this was a really CLEVER costume idea, it was beyond my meager costume-making ability. But isn't the confidence that she has in me awe-inspiring? Heck, maybe I can give it some more thought...

Idea #2: "OK, then, I'd like to be a baby calf, just being born."

I had to tell her that I didn't think the other kids were ready for that yet.

And I'll leave you with THAT pretty picture in your head!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Moo Moo feeding

Every afternoon from about June through the next March, the cattle need to be fed. We usually make this into a hayride-- a festive occasion complete with frisbees, footballs, and an ice chest full of cold beverages.

Mick, my Dad's trusty dog, usually drives the truck up to the pasture.

OK, actually, he rides shotgun, and lets the guy with opposable thumbs drive the truck.

We check on the cattle, like our new little cutie:

After a good round of pass and frisbee, we meander back down to the homestead...

so we can get in a couple of hours of "American Idol".

Just kidding, but I think you knew that.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Two down, two to go

The second wall is finished! From this angle, it looks so...DONE, doesn't it? Like we should move in next week! I think we'll wait for the running water and flushing toilets though.

And then we go over here, to what Mark calls "the ugly side".

Not because that side is less beautiful, but because siding it is going to be more difficult due to the height. Check out our tallest ladder leaning against it! Mark really wanted to put "the ugly side" off until last, but our front door is not ready yet, so now by default, we'll do the front side last.

Here we are standing around on a Friday afternoon, admiring the progress.

But wait...who is that man standing there in front of Mark?

It's our nephew Zack! He is back to help out through December. His first semester at Chico didn't go well, so he's taking some time to regroup before taking another run at it in the spring semester. Some tough lessons learned under his belt, but there certainly is a huge silver lining in it (for us)...he is a great help to Mark! And he doesn't whine and cuss at Mark like his other help.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The scoop on the poop

I'm getting insight like I never expected on what happens AFTER you flush the toilet. Being out in the country, we are on a septic system. I'm not sure what I pictured as a septic tank, but it wasn't this:

This big concrete box is our septic tank. And if you REALLY want to, you can access the inside through these port holes on top.

The sewage flows from the house into one side of the box. Here is what the inside looks like (um...this picture is sideways and I can't fix it, so cock your head to the right)

Although the far wall looks solid, it ends about 2/3 of the way up the wall of the tank. The sewage pours into the first side. As the first half fills, the solids sink, and the liquids flow over the divider. Once the liquids reach the level of the "out pipe" on the far side, they flow out to the leach field, a series of perforated pipes out in in our pasture.

In a perfect world, the solids break down and the system is self-sustaining. In reality, the solid side usually has to be pumped out every so often. And those portholes are how it's done!

So now you know the scoop on the poop. Tell your friends!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


We had a blast with Halloween this year. Abigail wanted to be a fairy, and Mae wanted to be a raccoon. And, just like last year (Abigail as a Hershey's Kiss, and Mae the colorful rainbow pony) everyone could tell what Abigail was, and Mae had to explain...her costumes are just tougher to execute! Plus she didn't want to wear any make-up, or her ears. She did insist that she wanted a fish to hold in her hand, which I thought was a clever detail. I'm not sure anyone could identify the stuffed sock as a fish, but it satisfied both Mae and me.

We carved jack-o-lanterns with the cousins.

We baked zucchini muffins for the school party. And they were a hit!

We went to the Halloween carnival at the high school, where the girls rode these itty bitty ponies.

They also rode the gigantic bouncehouse tiger slide countless times, which left them pretty tired, but we HAD to go out trick-or-treating, right????

So out we went, trick-or-treating country style: driving along the dark country roads, looking for houses with festive signs. We stop, get out of the booster seats, assemble our costumes, ring the doorbell, then return to the car, disassemble the costume, and strap back in. Needless to say, this is an arduous way to earn your candy! Fortunately, the girls and I both tired of this after an hour, so we returned home with just the right amount of loot to satisfy the girls.

Now...on to Thanksgiving!