Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Lite

If you've been wondering what we've been doing this holiday season, I'm going to suggest that you simply go back and reread the baking posts from last year. That pretty much covers what I've done since Thanksgiving.
Lefse, Kringla, cookies, fudge, caramels and brittle are all done. I haven't had the heart to drag out any of the rest.
The girls have done all of the decorating. That's one of the advantages of having children that just keep getting older every year. They remember where everything goes and are responsible enough to be careful with the fragile items. I just opened the boxes and let them loose.
I slapped some paper on the presents and they artfully arranged them under the tree (which we wouldn't have at all if it wasn't already pre-assembled in the basement). I have a little bit of tatting to finish and then I'm done.
M is happily crafting with perler beads and whatever else she can coax me into bringing out.

The holidays take a certain emotional connection to pull off with pizazz. Combine a lack of pizazz (it's more like pffzt!) with my already dominant slacker traits and what you get is truly pathetic.

There's always next year.

~There is another component to this. More on that later this week.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Den of Dragons

I hope that, in some small way, this will explain my recent absence. I beg patience. It will get better (or so I'm told).

Not too long ago, a friend (you know who you are!) posted a quote by JRR Tolkein on her blog:
"It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him."
I have had reason to ponder this quote in depth, and if you'll indulge me an extended metaphor, I'll share.

Grief is the dragon that currently resides in this neighborhood. Most of the time, he's pretty hard to forget, but if you do happen to slip and "leave him out of your calculations", then you are likely to be blindsided by an attack that leaves you feeling scorched. He might follow you into the grocery store or hide in the trunk of your car, but he's never far away. The constant battle to keep him at bay is exhausting and, on many days, leaves little room for other occupations.

This dragon is a trickster too. He is invisible to almost everyone else. Others in your life may be aware of your brush with him, but most of them assume that it was a brief encounter and that he has gone on his way into other parts. You know this is not so. Daily you deal with the pain of the wounds he has inflicted on you and by night you feel the heat of his breath in your eyes. The freshness of these scars also brings to mind the pain of dragons fought in the past. Dragons, after all, seldom walk alone.

There is good news however. Over the course of time, this dragon can be tamed. There will come a day when you will be able to name him a friend and together you can pour over the gems that he is hoarding. For, like all dragons, he is the keeper of a treasure trove. Someday, he will spend more time in his den, along with all of the other dragons, and you can visit him there. He will keep you warm, and you can pick through his stash, recalling the happy circumstances under which each jewel was acquired.

You will never slay him, but he will no longer be your enemy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Silence is Smelly

Did you know that it costs about a hundred dollars to have the inside of a minivan cleaned? And that sometimes, it's totally worth it to let the professionals do it? Yep.

Several days ago, a UFO (unidentifiable foul odor) was detected in our van. It happens. We shrugged, sprayed some Oust and went on with our lives. Yesterday when the smell became something between stinky cheese and elmer's glue, I went out and emptied the van of all the wrappers, discarded junk mail, and assorted childhood debris. Since I found no sentient life forms, I shrugged, sprayed some more Oust and kept going.

By the time we left for swimming lessons today, the fumes had reached the eye watering, gag inducing stage somewhere beyond spit up and leaky tomatoes, and I knew it was time to get serious.
I took the seats out of the back and discovered that someone (who shall remain nameless, but her name begins with the same letter as minivan, and mess, and "Wow! Mommy is really Mad!") had spilled an entire cup of orange juice on the floor and neglected to tell me.

I have never in their lives punished either of my children for spills. Spills happen. I've never even punished them for spills caused by carelessness, although I have held them responsible for the cleanup.
But silence? This silence is not golden. This silence is sticky and spawning in the carpet in my car. And someone has got to clean it.
Just not me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Cuppa

Ever hear of the Bunn-o-Matic coffee makers? I've got one.

Want a cup?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rabbit Trails

*apologies to Liz in advance.

Now that we're growing by leaps and bounds, I've decided to split hares off this blog and make a run in other parts. I'd like to introduce Leaning Tree Acres, rabbitry, petting zoo and home to any other furred, scaled or otherwise non-human ventures that we decide to undertake. Hop on by!
Other than general cuteness, all rabbit related news and photos will posted there. Everybody has to have their own hole, you know!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Historical Marker

I can't help myself. When I see one of those little brown signs with the arrow, I have to follow it. If only so that we can laugh about the inane item or event that someone thought needed a sign. Many times, you'll drive off the beaten path only to find a worn placard relating how some person who would become marginally important at some later date spit on a rock in this spot, thus making it nationally significant and worthy of a monument.

Then there are sites like the one we found today. It teeters on the brink of significance, but I can't ignore the timing. I just finished reading Exupery's Wind, Sand, and Stars (again) a few days ago. It's an autobiography of sorts, about his time as a mail carrier over France, Spain, and Africa. It was published in 1939, 5 years before the plane crash that precipitated his writing The Little Prince.

With this in mind, you can imagine my delight when we followed an impulse today to find a historical marker whose sign we pass frequently. I've looked before, but failed to locate it. Today we succeeded. This is what we found:

I'm thinkin' there needs to be a stamp. Yes?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bunny Bulletin

This last weekend was quite eventful here at the NitroZoo. For those of you not following on Facebook, we had two rabbits due to kindle last week. Since I still haven't received my Idiot's Guide (although I've almost earned the badge by now), it ended up being way harder than it needed to be, but that's par for the course for me.

According to my calculations, Little Bear was due on Friday and Violet was due on Sunday. However, I mixed up their dates and had them one day off (I was looking at the calendar from '09 at the time). That might not seem like a big deal, but it started a sequence of mistakes on my part. First, I gave Little Bear her nest box too early. She promptly kicked everything out of it and started using it as a toilet--which I took to mean that my nest building skills left much to be desired. I later learned that it usually means they aren't pregnant in the first place.

I didn't give Violet her nest box at all until I saw her desperately trying to build a nest from the few scraps of hay she could find in her cage. When the light bulb did finally go on, I gave her the box and she frantically started bundling newspaper and hay. All while I was hurrying to get baby saver wire in place on her cage (not done because I thought I had several more days). I ended up giving up on the wire and just sliding boards in place to keep kits from falling out. Violet delivered only a couple of hours later. She is a first time Mom and had some trouble. She ended up with only one that survived--a (possibly) chestnut (I think) buck, just like his Papa. He is currently designated as A11.

Right on (the correct) schedule, Little Bear started nesting and delivered two healthy (possibly) black otter (I think) bucks. They are A12 and B12

Papa Charlie, RIP 10/25/10 (No, I don't want to talk about it)

Most breeders have a way to organize ear numbers to include quite a bit of information in a very abbreviated way. We have finally figured out a system for ear tattoos here. Pay attention now. There is going to be a test.
Each sire and dam in the rabbitry has a number. At the moment, we're still in the single digits. Charlie was buck #1. Violet is doe #1, and Little Bear is doe #2. Each kit will receive a letter. Males go before females (It's a pedigree thing, not a chivalry thing). So a male kit would have an ear tattoo that is Letter/Sire's number/Dam's number and a female kit would have an ear tattoo that is Sire's number/Dam's number/Letter. Lost yet?
Violet's singleton is A11. A (in the front) because he is the first (and only) male in the litter born to buck #1 and doe #1.
Little Bear's are A12 and B12 because they are two males (A and B--in the front) born to buck #1 and doe #2.
With this system, we will be able to tell gender and pedigree at a glance. By adding the abbreviation for our rabbitry (the name for which is still being decided in committee), we'll have a complete picture of the rabbit and it's background.
Please don't make me 'splain this again.

Speaking of names for the rabbitry...Got any suggestions? And before you get all cutesy and punny on needs to at least hint at being a serious business venture.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Horse Clean Up

Only a couple more miscellaneous horse stamps and we're done. Time to clean up after the parade.

Baby's First Pony, 2" x 2 1/4"

My Little AQ Pony (I couldn't help myself), 3" x 2 3/4"

She needs a name, don't you think? Marjorie is already taken, though.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When is a Horse Not a Horse?

For the Horsin' Around event, a number of people carved different images for a series called "When is a Horse, Not a Horse?" You could look on the event page for some of the other interpretations of this theme. For mine, I carved 5 different stamps. See if you can guess what they are (no fair peeking first):

1 1/2" x 2 1/2"

2 1/4" x 2"

1 1/4" x 2"

1 7/8" x 1 1/4" (bonus points if you figure out both answers)

2" x 1 3/4"

Some of these stamps will also be up for adoption, either together or separately, after they come home from Cherry Valley.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Horses in Art

There were four stamps in the Horses in Art series for the event (Horsin' Around, in case you're jumping in mid-stream). What can I say? The fat cave pony is my favorite. This series of stamps will also be up for adoption to be planted permanently elsewhere after they come home.

Cave Art, 1 7/8" x 1 1/8"

Chinese Art, 2" x 1 1/8"

Horse Rearing, 1 3/4" x 2 1/4"

Stylized Art, 1 7/8" x 1 3/8"

Friday, October 22, 2010

Horses in Mythology

The Horses in Mythology series contained 5 stamps. Since Winnebago County is a bit...(trying to think of a nice word for anal retentive...) um, controlling, they can't remain as permanent plants in the park where the Horsin' Around event was held (which was amazing, btw. Trail Rider and Co do a fantastic job with their events.). As soon as they come home, this series of stamps will be up for adoption.

Centaur, 2 1/2" x 2"

Hippocampus, 1 7/8" diameter (I saw this exact image in embossed gold on someone's bag at the event. Very cool!)

Pegasus, 2" x 1 3/8"

Unicorn, 1 1/2" x 2 1/8"

Epona, 2 3/4" diameter (Martini Man carved the same image for the event. Talk about good taste!)

The two biggest challenges for me in carving for the event were 1) finding images that didn't all have the same look to them, and 2) finding images that remained kid-friendly--especially in the mythology series. Not sure how well I succeeded on the first, but I was pleased to be able to accomplish the second without too much headache. Epona was the hardest (No, Don't do a Google search.). Maybe that's why MM and I ended up with the same image. It was the only acceptable, carvable one we could find. Now, if this had been a pin-up event, I would have had options. :P

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Now that the Horsin' Around event is over, I'm going to start posting the stamps that I carved. It will take a few days and by the time we're done, you'll probably be as tired of horses as I was. Let the Stamp-ede begin!

Toward the end of the carving marathon, I decided to start a Horses in History series. I had at least four images picked out, but this is the only one that was finished. I found a patch for the Pony Express National Historic Trail, and since patches and letterboxers are a natural match....well, it had to be done. We had picked up an old fiction story about the Pony Express for spare change at a library sale years ago, so I turned it into an altered book to put the stamp and logbook in and it became a HIPS box. Stamp size is 2 7/8" x 2 3/4".

Now, I'm happy to report, the stamp is headed west to be planted as a traditional box on the actual historic trail of the Pony Express. The Pony Express might have been a short lived venture that left it's originators bankrupt, but the idea was and still is big on bravado and romance. You know you've dreamed about it at least once.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Barn Quilts of Kankakee County

Too bad it's not Grateful Friday--but I can't wait!

Yesterday, I took my Mom and Aunt with me to tour the Barn Quilts of Kankakee County. This was Mom's birthday present, but we had decided to wait until the fall trees were in their glory. We could not have picked a better day.
  • The weather was perfect and the colors were magnificent. I am in awe of God's creation and man's creativity. 
  • I am humbled by the gracious hospitality shown toward strangers.
  • I am thankful for His protection, both for us as we traveled many miles and for our precious men-folk who experienced a small field fire while harvesting. (Yes, my initial reaction was the same as yours. The fields are wicked dry this year, but they are wise and experienced. It was quickly contained, no one was hurt, and no damage was done. Thank you, Father!)
  • I am also appreciative of close-knit family relationships, as I am aware that not everyone is as fortunate...and time is fleeing.
  • I am thankful for folks with a passion to preserve history and culture and share it with others in such a personal way.
  • I am happy that I was taught how to read a map!
  • Most of all, I feel ridiculously fortunate to be living here in the country myself. I cannot begin to count all the reasons that makes me feel blessed.
But you probably want pictures, right?

Specific information about many of the barns and quilt blocks is available HERE. We still have more to see in Kankakee County. And then it's on to another tour! I'm going to see if there are plans for Barn Quilts in my own county. We'll see where this takes us!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


How many animals do you need before you can say that you have a petting zoo? I think we're there now. Dog, cats, fish, caterpillars (for the time being), snake, and now...bunnies.

Charlock, or Charlie, is a Chestnut buck and about a year old. Violet is an 8 month old Black Otter doe. They are both Netherland Dwarf  rabbits, the smallest of the recognized rabbit breeds (only 2 pounds as adults). They are a breeding pair, matched to balance out the other's weaknesses. Be sure to stay tuned to see how all that works out. = :) 
I'm not even sure which direction I want to go with this venture at this point, but it will likely involve baby bunnies. It is my intention to go to the ARBA show in Bloomington this weekend and come home with at least two more rabbits. I do not have the funds (or the justification) to purchase expensive pedigreed stock. However, you can start your own line. Sounds like a great educational project to me. The girls will learn about genetics without even realizing it.

In spite of bringing them home last night in a horrific thunderstorm and trying to get them settled in the middle of the flashing and crashing, they both fared well through the night. Charlie is a sweetheart, and Violet seems calm, but curious and outgoing.

Many of the breeders name their rabbits (at least the ones they keep) according to a theme. We've decided to use Wildflowers to name  our bunnies. Violets need no explanation, but this is Charlock. It is in the Mustard family. The funniest name we've seen is a 2# buck named Terminator. Somebody has been watching too much Monty Python.

Oh, and for those of you who are connecting the fact that we also own a snake--your fears are unwarrented.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Banded Garden Spider

This is a Banded Garden Spider, or Argiope Trifasciata. It is related to the Black and Yellow Argiopes (Writing spiders) that I posted about HERE. Out of more than 30 of the argiopes that I've found in my yard, only two of them are this type. They are just as common as the black and yellow kind (just not in my yard), but I think the metallic silver on their backs makes them way cooler.

We're protecting (that means I told the kids to leave them alone) about half a dozen garden spider egg sacks. While I wouldn't want one crawling down my shirt, fearing and destroying them is irrational. They're great at pest control. I didn't have to spray for Japanese beetles this year because of them.

*On the butterfly front--The Black Swallowtails that we have been waiting for seem to have stalled out. It has been more than 3 weeks now. That means one of two things. Either this generation will overwinter and not emerge until spring, or we've had catastrophic caterpillar failure. Which would be very sad. I'm going to give them a few more days and then find cold storage for them, just in case.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Log Pile

Getting ready for a letterboxing event in October. Over the weekend, I put together 20 logbooks. Paper is cut for more, but my hand was too sore to squeeze the hole punch any more, so the rest will have to wait.

I've been carving like mad too, but I can't exactly show you the stamps yet, now can I? None of the boxes can remain permanently, so I will be able to post pictures later. I will tell you this: I probably will not be carving any more horses for a very long time. :)

Monday, September 20, 2010


Gross-out potential ahead. Proceed at your own stomach's risk. You've been warned.
The first time we fed Kernel, our corn snake, I couldn't  help but laugh. He's still only as thick as my little finger, and his supper was bigger than his head. It wasn't a problem. Did you know that snakes can dislocate their jaw in order to swallow something really big? And still breathe while they are doing it? Yep.

I'll never forget our 11 year old daughter giving a long, drawn out "Thaaat's sooo groooossss!", all while her face kept moving closer and closer to the glass in order to see better.

Wanna see? Yeah, I knew it.

How to eat something bigger than your head:

Open Wide....


Now spend the next three days sleeping it off.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Portrait of a Newborn

Portrait stamps are difficult, there is no question about it; but there are several things that can make it even more difficult.
  • Teeth--I don't care who the carver is, I have never seen teeth done well.
  • Familiarity with the subject--Carving a stranger is harder than carving someone you know (okay, that sounds weird). Knowing a person's expressions and personality helps in determining what is important in an image.
  • Potential for offense--If you carve the image of a jellyfish, it's not likely to walk off in a huff if you botch the job. Carve your Mother in Law, though, and you'd better get it right.
  • Babies--even the babies themselves aren't familiar with their own expressions, so how can anyone else be? Add to that their rapidly changing bodies and you have a conundrum in short order. And of course, hands are so very key to a baby's expressions--and we know how easy they are to carve, right?
Now that I've pointed out how hard portraits stamps are, it's going to sound obnoxiously self serving to say that I am very pleased with how this stamp turned out. But I am enormously happy (and relieved) with the results, in spite of how intimidated I felt in the beginning. I think I will always feel that way about such personal images.

I'll let you know what Mom thinks when she gets it.

Monday, September 13, 2010


On Friday, we officially kicked off our school year with a huge field trip. And I mean huge in every way. We drove to Indiana with my parents (Hi, Grammy and Grampy!) and went to Fair Oaks Farm. Fair Oaks is one of the largest dairy farms in the US. I am still trying to process the scale of the things we saw. Here are some of the highlights:
  • We saw two calves being born. Hands down, this was the coolest part of the day. After the first birth (which was a little difficult), it was wonderful to go back in the barn and see both Mom and baby doing well. I would have put that little boy (he only weighed 60#) in the back of my van and brought him home if they had let me.
  • We toured the facility in a climate controlled, bio-secure, luxury bus.
  • We saw the "Dairy-go-round" carousel where they milk the cows 3 times a day.
  • We learned how milk, cheese, and ice cream are made--and sampled some of each.
  • We learned how the farm takes the manure and turns it into electricity to power their facilities. Yes, way. (or maybe I should say Whey.)
A little dairy farm math, or Cowculating, if you'll indulge me:
  • FOF has 30,000 cows. 3,000 each on ten separate farms.
  • They own 25,000 acres of land. 20% of that land is preserved in forests, streams and unfarmed buffer zones to support wildlife and prevent erosion.
  • They have 80 some births a day. Boys are sold, girls stay (and are kept within the same herd for their entire life).
  • Each milking cow produces up to 10 gallons of milk per day. I forget the exact numbers, but that's around 20,000 gallons every day (not all of them are producing milk all the time).
  • Each cow eats up to 100 pounds of food and drinks up to 30 gallons of water per day.
  • Each cow also produces (and you knew this was coming) up to 150 pounds of waste per day. About 60% of that is liquid. Which means, with 30,000 cows, the farm processes 1.6 million pounds of manure every day. I promise, I will never complain about cat boxes again. This was also where I stopped wanting to bring that little cow home with me.
There is a lot more, but at this point my brain starts hurting. If you are ever near Fair Oaks, I would highly recommend a visit. But maybe not with really little kids (below 1st grade). The birthings are...well, births. Exhilarating, but messy. Use your discretion. The place is very kid friendly, but you should know that you never come in direct contact with any of the animals. That is for the cows' protection (and yours), but if you're expecting a petting zoo, it could be a little disappointing (we knew, so it was okay). The information comes at you pretty fast, and much of it would be over the little ones heads. Oh, and if you have kids with sensory issues, you might want to skip the 4D mooovie (sorry).

How about some pics? I'll warn was not our best photography day. It's hard to take pictures through glass, and of perpetually moving children.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tats for Two

In spite of the seeming inactivity around here, we have been busy. On top of letterboxing, carving, volunteering, mowing, school planning and such, I have also been tatting my little paddy paws off.

This piece is for my cousin, who just gave birth to a long awaited first child, and baby girl. Since I'm pretty sure she is unaware of this blog, I doubt she'll see it before it arrives. The doily measures just under 6" and is made using beautiful hand dyed thread by YarnPlayer. YarnPlayer has a tatting blog with links to her Etsy store HERE. The thread is a 30 weight called Garden Afternoon. The colors are so vibrant, it makes me want to lick it. Don't worry--I've resisted so far. It only took between 9 and 10 hours, so my speed is certainly improving. The pattern is from the book A New Twist on Tatting, by Catherine Austin. It is pattern 34. I have been checking tatting books out from the library to evaluate them before I add them to my wish list.

This piece, which I'm dubbing "Spearmint" until something more original strikes me, is 4 1/2 " and is made with a 30 weight variegated Lizette thread. The pattern can be found under the free patterns tab on Jon's Thread Escapade blog. It is the Magic Moment Snowflake. I have no specific plans for it, except to squirrel it away for Christmas.

I am learning to read different types of patterns, and have also discovered that patterns calling for 2 shuttles can still be tatted with a single needle. I also snapped a needle in half. I guess that means my hands are getting stronger, huh?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Of course, the camera batteries died when I needed them most. So, I missed the shot where the crop duster looked like he was going to go right through the bedroom windows, taking my scalp in the process. This is all you get.

Every few years, when the beetles are out of control by normal means, the crop dusters come and spray the fields that are most effected. I am always amazed at both their skill in flying, and at the precision of their application. They navigate around power lines, buildings, fence rows, and trees--sometimes in very tight spaces. The equipment they use, along with some way cool GPS technology that puts Garmin to shame, allows them to spray exactly where they want, and nowhere else. I wouldn't want to be in the field when they come by, but the garden next to the end rows is safe. It was quite a hoot to watch the kids running around shrieking and falling to the ground when he roared over them.

Makes me want to watch Pancho Barnes again. *sigh*

Monday, August 30, 2010


Part of the appeal of living in the country, for me at least, is all of the accidental delights that bring joy to the ordinary. One of those delights is the Barn Swallow population here on the farm. I love their acrobatic swooping around my head when I'm mowing. And I love their neighborly chattering as they gather on the fence row and the gutters outside my office window. Their back and wings are the most beautiful shimmering dark blue. And they eat mosquitoes too! I especially love how the little babies silently spy on you as you walk under their nests in the barn. Those in the picture above are almost ready to set off on their own.
I will miss them when winter comes.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Musing on Mowing

I am really, really, really getting tired of mowing. Normally, by the beginning of August, the lawn starts looking crispy and thin; and I can get away with only cutting the grass every 2 weeks or so. Not this year. I'm still mowing every week; and the grass is still lush and green. Don't get me wrong--I'm happy for the grass. After 7 years, it's finally starting to look more like a lawn, and less like a bean field. We've had fewer thistles, and no puff ball, mutant mushrooms this year. The crab grass, dandelions, and other weeds I can live with because they are green and mow just like the grass. But my spleen is tired of getting bounced around for several hours every week and I'm ready for frost.

Last night, in an effort to break up the monotony, I carried my camera with me. Aside from the blast of adrenaline when the camera bounced off and almost got mowed (thankfully, the strap got caught on one of the levers, saving it inches from the blades), I think it was a success. Here are a few of the shots.

Chinese Mantid

Lots of berries right now-red, white, and blue!

"I'm hiding. You can't see me!"

Hyssop-I really need to plant more of this. The bees and butterflies love it.

Sedum-Purple King, maybe?

Liz, I know the challenge was for our town, but I thought I'd start with just my yard. How'd I do? :)