The Land of Aches and Sneezes

Greetings from cold virus central!

I had thought we made it through with relative ease, but then either we had a second virus hit right away, or this cold had a nasty one-two punch. This second wind has been much, much worse. With Maddie nannying for a friend’s family, we seem to be passing our germs back and forth between the households (sorry, Lisa!).

Today I’m directing school activities from the couch, under a wool blanket.

Oona has finished most of her reading and is knitting. Emily will draw out her reading assignment for as long as possible while she cuddles various kitties. Neve is handling the home-ec portion by cleaning the kitchen and taking out the garbage (you know she’s desperate to escape another day of schoolwork when she volunteers for dish and garbage duty). They’re all feeling just a bit salty that they didn’t get a buttload of snow days like their public school counterparts did.

Hey, algebra waits for no man.

Also, Happy Groundhog Day!  We’ll be watching the Bill Murray movie after schoolwork has been completed and Oona has made us popcorn.

We’ve also been talking a lot about weather; it’s warmed up quite a bit, and we had rain yesterday. With the smell of fresh, green earth in the air we all felt ready for spring. It’s a cruel joke, of course. There’s still plenty of time left for winter to hit us with more snow or polar air. Still, a couch-bound girl can dream, and spend time looking at seed catalogs and planning out the 2016 gardens, right?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this year’s gardens, and farm work. We didn’t breed, so there won’t be any lambs or kids this spring, but that’s okay. We wanted to focus on getting our current flock healthy and fat, and repairing fences and outsmarting our escapee dogs and goats.

We ARE expecting a shipment of chicks sometime later in the spring, since our current hen situation is lacking; we have maybe 15 hens, and a few of them are getting on in years.

Not only will we be adding to our chicken flock then, but we will also be ordering more bees. My hive seems to have absconded sometime since Christmas. There’s a complete lack of any bee in there, not even dead ones. There is one potentially erupted queen cell, but it’s hard to tell.  I HAVE noticed honeybees flying around the last few days, however. They are going into the old hive and stealing honey from the stores that were there. I only ever see maybe 8 or 10, but I’m hoping that means that my absconded colony found a good home to overwinter.

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There’s also these lovelies that recently arrived. When I’m feeling better I’ll be in the kitchen whipping up some of her yummy recipes. The challenge is choosing one to start with! (well, actually, the challenge is not eating 10,000 calories worth of baked goods every day).

And, since I’m unable to manage much else, I’ve of course been working on my sweater.  I finally got to the point where I put my sleeve stitches on a holder and I’m working on the lower body. I’m really pleased with how it’s going.

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Now let’s all keep our fingers crossed that today is my last day of feeling like garbage; Emily gets her braces on tomorrow!

 

 

Snowed In

After two full days of high winds and heavy snow, the sun woke us this morning, bright and blinding over the deep blanket of snow.  I’d say we got at least two feet; in most places it is knee deep, and the drifts between the cars are at waist-deep (and I had to chase a loose hen through there).  We are all impressed that we never lost power, though who knows when all the schools, etc, will re-open.

Sadly it wasn’t only the sun that woke me this morning, but a terrible cold that’s left me achey and miserable.  Good thing I managed so much work yesterday and could reasonably relax today (though I will admit to having done all of today’s chores and feeding in my pajamas, in a sickly, Cold & Flu Alka-Seltzer – induced haze).

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Yesterday there were points where I did begin to worry about the sheep. Not because they had no shelter to escape the snow, but because they had no interest in availing themselves of it. They simply took turns gorging on hay and laying in the snow to chew their cud, allowing it to build up on their backs.

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Sabine and Orzo weren’t exactly thrilled about being out in it, but they spent enough time running about in it that they kept the area around the hay bale and feeders rather packed down and easy to access.

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Oona braved it for longer than anyone. It was pretty hard to see with the wind blowing the snow directly into our eyes, but she loved it.

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I just couldn’t believe how heavy and for how long it snowed; I haven’t seen winter weather like this since I lived in New York. Not this intensity, anyway. I love this kind of weather, and I know how crazy a lot of people think I am for it. But I will tell you this: if we reliably had snow like this that stuck around, I’d be investing in cross-country skis.  I miss that!

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I’m loving this view from the living room window.

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With the weather outside so…..frightful (ha!)…..I did what any sane person (who loves to eat) would do: I made cinnamon rolls. As always, I used Susan’s recipe, because it’s fool-proof.

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I’m so glad I did, too.  Waking up feeling like the back of a bus this morning was made somewhat better when I simply had to pop a roll in the microwave for 10 seconds and I could console myself with a delicious treat.

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The cats spent the day watching all of the birds out at the feeders.

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And THIS, my friends, is a happy man who worked very hard and fixed his tractor.  He’s currently out plowing. We did discuss wishing we knew for sure who the neighbor is that threatened our dogs (we’re pretty sure, but not 100%), so he could plow everyone else OUT, and him IN.

Oh well.

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He’s out there anyway. Most of the neighbors will be very happy and thank him. Some won’t. That’s life, and people, I guess.

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Either way, I’m grateful it’s him, and not me. I need to sleep off this cold virus.

Right after I enjoy how still, and clean, and fresh everything looks and smells. Breathe it all in, everyone. It’s fleeting.

 

Blizzard!

We’ve been waiting all week for impending doom in the form of a blizzard. All of the kids’ (and mine, let’s be real) fevered dreams of epic amounts of snow seem to finally be coming true.  The weather reports have been wildly different in the total amount we should expect; anywhere from 3 inches to 30.  Either way it doesn’t actually matter to us, because our road isn’t going to be plowed. Since the developer is no longer in the picture and our road isn’t state maintained (and our tractor is currently broken), we are officially stuck home for the duration, and potentially a while after.  Generally in our county the power tends to go out during storms like this (last time a storm like this blew through, many people were without power for a week or better, including Susan), so we’ve prepared.

The generator has been checked and we have extra fuel for it. Our kerosene heater has been serviced and we have plenty of kerosene.  The cars are all full of fuel. We have plenty of food and animal feed. We have plenty of books and knitting and board games.

In other words, bring it on!

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The kitties are another source of both warmth and entertainment.

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This guy is pretty happy with the prospect of idle laps this weekend, just waiting for him to fill them.

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I’ve also been baking a lot. This is the batter for Smitten Kitchen’s Banana Bread, and it is THE BEST banana bread I have ever made or eaten, ever. Probably because it contains this:

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I need to buy stock in this bourbon, because seriously, HEAVEN.

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I also made some regular bread to go along with dinner, which was a delightful Kale and Potato Soup.

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I added a sprinkling of sharp cheddar on top and everyone loved it. It was the perfect foil to the cold and blowing snowstorm happening outside, and a great reward after the work to make sure the animals would be okay.

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Just as the snow was starting this morning we got the heated buckets filled with water. We left the gate in the position that allows everyone access to the covered front porch, and I filled the goat shelter with fresh straw and hay. There’s a fresh hay bale out for them to eat. They’re all set to get snowed in, too.

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Basil and Caramel wouldn’t let anyone else in for awhile.

I’m not looking forward to lugging more buckets of water out tomorrow morning first thing, but all things considered, I’ll take it.  With a broken tractor, having to manage buckets out in the back pasture would have been a complete disaster. This winter, it’s just a few steps outside my front door. Absolute heaven compared to last year!

Paul has been in the garage all day working on the tractor, and now that I’ve gotten all of our creatures (and ourselves) fed for the day, I’m going to settle in with knitting and a lap cat. It’s still coming down out there (and the wind is crazy!), so I can’t wait to see how things look in the morning. But for now, it’s cozy time!

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First Snow(ish)

Yesterday we were very pleasantly surprised by several bouts of thick flurry activity. The kids were ecstatic, and we all just wished it would actually snow, rather than just tease us.  Still, we did get a tiny bit of dusting on the deck and the back of the sheep.

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See? You can just tell there’s a bit starting to stick on Darby’s back. Barely. Squint, maybe.

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It’s there, I swear! Let’s just hope that this isn’t the sum total of our winter experience this year, because for several years after we moved to Virginia, this really WAS all we saw.

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When the gate out front is open all the way, the sheep, goats, and dogs have access to the front porch.  It’s not ideal for us humans, because it means poop everywhere, and they’ve broken several porch rails. They like to sit by the door, though, and stare in at us.

Yesterday was also our first day back doing school again. It went well, considering we are all way off our sleep routines and no one wants to do anything other than cuddle kittens and do fun things.  Getting back to reality and regular life and appointments  is hard. Emily is getting braces in a few weeks and our lives are consumed with visits to various dental specialists when we are not working on school or doing farm chores.

I’ve been chugging away on my Chimney Fire.

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I hit a few snags early on (once when I needed a bit more clarification and then realized “continue in pattern” simply meant to “knit the knit stitches and purl the purl stitches”, and once when I had to go back and place extra markers to keep the sleeve pattern and the increases on the sides better delineated.

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Since then I’ve been flying along at it and it has been a very enjoyable knit.

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And yes, since you asked, it IS covered with cat and dog fur.

In this house, it’s a rare item indeed that isn’t blessed with fur.  From school work……

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……to puzzles.

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And A Soggy New Year!

I had plans for some cute holiday-style pictures with the flock, but alas. Too much rain and mud.  I was able to get out very briefly the other day during a rare dry spell and get some halfway decent pictures of a few of them, but otherwise we’ve been stuck inside.

It’s not rained at all today, and the sun came out finally, so hopefully we will be drying out to an acceptable level soon!

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The one bit of good news with all the rain is that the back field is getting pretty green. I’m glad we have been able to rotate everyone out front for awhile and give the pasture a chance to rest and recover and grow.  Then of course there is the issue of shoring up the fencing out there before we can put the flock back out.  For now, it’s nice to see that it’s not a wasteland.

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And now, because the internet was clearly created for cats, I give you gratuitous feline pictures!

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My little Miss Dilly.  She’s been spending quite a bit of time at the vet lately.  A few weeks ago we noticed a lot of bruising on her.  According to her bloodwork, her immune system was attacking and destroying her platelets, so her blood was unable to properly clot. She’s been on steroids and antibiotics, and will go back in a week or so for more bloodwork. She’s doing pretty well, and she’s the easiest cat ever to medicate, which is a blessing!, but I still worry about my little baby cat.

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Sweet and cuddly Widget.  This little guy is the lap-lover we’ve always wanted. Most days he travels from lap to lap, sampling everyone’s cuddle offerings before deciding who he will settle in with for the long haul.

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Baby Poppet. We’ve been calling her “Miss Schnurrbart” (schnurrbart being German for “mustache”).  That tiny little white upper lip just kills me with its cuteness. She can be very sweet and snuggly, but not nearly as much as Widget. She’s got a much more bossy, independent streak to her.

The older two kitties boycotted pictures. They are tolerating all the kittening happening here lately, but it’s clear that they feel we should be very grateful for their graciousness.

Lighting the Solstice

I have to admit: I kind of love the winter solstice. Not because it’s the shortest day, or even because it means the days will begin to grow longer. I love it because I see so many of my friends rejoicing it. So many of us lighting candles and trying themselves to be a light in the dark. It’s also a day that’s been recognized and celebrated for a millennia; it’s kind of profound to feel that sort of connection with so many of those that have come before us.

We missed the summer solstice at Stonehenge by a matter of weeks, and though it’s become a bit of a carnival atmosphere, it’s something I truly wish to do one year.

Last night we lit all of our candles, turned the tree lights on, and ate cookies to celebrate. Now that I think of it, I should have had some bourbon and egg nog. (Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon and Homestead Creamery natural eggnog is a killer combo!)

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All of my favorite things at this time of year are those that sparkle and glow.

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Now THESE. These you have to make. Meringue cookies that melt in your mouth and are dead easy to make.  I made the espresso ones and cocoa ones (I added red food color because I was planning on adding peppermint with the cocoa and then forgot. Tonight I’ll make another batch and won’t forget – though I’ll make them green).

The recipe is simple and straightforward. Last year I just used a spoon and plopped small rounds onto baking sheets. This year I used a pastry bag and star tip. I do like to make them a bit small so they are bite-sized.

There’s just a few days left until Christmas. I haven’t quite finished my baking, but I got all of my boxes that I am sending out packed today (they’ll likely be late, but……better than never, right?).

Baking Christmas

Every year I draw up an ambitious list of cookies I plan to bake, and every year I begin to falter a few days before the holiday, having worn myself out in the process of producing so many goodies.

This year I have an ace up my sleeve: Neve.

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She’s been a great help with prep work and with getting everything into and out of the oven and onto cooling racks.  She’s also made up several batches of Peanut Butter Blossoms on her own.

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As always, we also made a large batch of Hamantaschen.

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Once again I also attempted Springerle. In the past, these cookies have consistently defeated me. This year I tried a new recipe, using King Arthur Flour’s Speculaas dough. There was a lot of chilling, rolling, chilling, molding, chilling, chilling, and more chilling. The results? Not too terrible. Not perfect, though, and I had a hard time with them. Still, I consider it progress!

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We have many, many more to go, but the doughs for our butter cookies and gingerbread cookies are already chilling and ready to be cut and baked.  I am going to try and get the Meringue cookies whipped up tonight to set in the oven overnight.

I also felt overly ambitious (or stressed?) and decided to make the gingerbread for our gingerbread houses this year. I used the recipe from the America’s Test kitchen cookbook and simply measured out shapes for the houses by hand. Neve wasn’t thrilled with how thick it was (and not perfectly straight-edged), but Oona was ecstatic that she had a house she could actually eat this year.

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Emily and I have been stuffing ourselves with all the extra gumdrops. I am going to need a major sugar-detox after this Christmas!

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Tomorrow I’ll work on getting the cookies ready for the kids to decorate, as well as trying some new recipes. That is, if I have the time. Paul is taking them out to see the new Star Wars movie so I can wrap gifts (and drink gluhwein, of course). For a few glorious hours I’ll have a Christmasy house all the myself (and the kitties).

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