Saturday, December 15, 2012

Little Dresses for Africa - Dresses BY Kids FOR Kids

I love it when the girls take off with a project. Such was the case with the Little Dresses/Little Britches for Africa project the girls ran with this month.

A little back story: when we signed up with our new 4H club, the first discussion with the club leader went something like this.

"Welcome to the club. We're glad to have you. So, what can you lead?"

"Ummm...(thinking of all the agricultural skills I absolutely do not have) about photography?"

"Great. Do you sew?"

Not a pause. Not a breath, and certainly no indication that I sew.

"A little bit."

"Can you lead our sewing project? We could really use a leader."

I'm thinking about my 12 year old who knows, at this point, more about sewing than I do.

"Sure. But only beginning sewing."

"GREAT! That's fine."

So here I am, planning the year with lessons like "How to Thread Your Machine," and "How to Turn Corners." I figured we'd move on to bags, and eventually a nine-square mini quilt, perhaps finally take on the statewide sewing service project, Little Dresses/Little Britches for Africa a project of the California 4H State Fashion Review.

I printed out the pattern on my random day of planning, showed it to E and she was off and running. I didn't propose that she even try it now. But she was ready to make something. Now.

Three dresses later, V jumped in to the mix.

The girls had it mastered.

Good thing, because who shows up at our first sewing project meeting? Another little girl with more sewing experience than anticipated.

"So, what kind of sewing have you done," I ask innocently.

"I've made a couple of dresses and skirts."

My first thought: "I'm doomed!"

I have her thread her machine, my machine, E's machine. E threads everyone's machines. Then, together, the girls run straight on with the dress project under E's direction.

Community service project? Check.

 Year-end project? Check.

Plans for the rest of this year? They're in the works.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pumpkins on the Farm

I had wanted to grow our own pumpkins, to have a bumper crop of tomatoes, an overwhelming supply of squash. Instead, this year, we learned a lot about gardening in the country, and we picked up our pumpkins from local farmers who have already learned a thing or a thousand about living with varmints and Nature beyond the 'burbs.

While we carved, I thought about the lessons learned this summer growing season. I thought about the 41 squirrels we caught and placed on our offering rock, far from the house, for the raptors and coyotes to enjoy. I remembered the 9 gophers I trapped and used to train the growing barn kittens about fresh dining opportunities available to them. I remembered the grasshoppers, the heat, the tomato horn worms, the clearly insufficient watering methods.

And I started planning for next year.

Next year, I shall plant an abundance of vegetables in hopes that Nature will take its share, but will leave a bit for our family. I plan to continue building upon the drip irrigation system I started this year, then water more frequently during our hottest months. I'll be diligent about the gophers that make a beeline for our garden, and I'm hoping to become a better shot where those squirrels are concerned.

And we shall have tomatoes and squash and carve pumpkins we grow for ourselves.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

4H - Jumping Right In

Leaving our old 4H club was really tough. Our daughter was on the board, the leaders were dynamic, the kids were active, and there were some tight-knit friendships blooming. Rather than mourn our loss, however, we opted to jump right in to the club in our new community.

First up, after signing up for projects, of course, was our first community service project with our new club - rejuvenating the club's community welcome sign. No one was jumping at the task, and while I'd intended to sit back this year and just learn how the operation ticked, it seemed they needed someone to jump in.


So, one fine, sunny day, the girls and I pulled up on the side of the road just outside town, climbed through the barbed-wire fence, and ripped off the old sign from its incredibly sturdy framework. We had plenty of looks, but not a soul stopped to ask what the heck we were doing defacing the community's welcome sign. I guess a woman and two girls climbing out of a minivan hardly look suspicious.

While the club was prepared to replace the wood and pay for paint, we discovered that the original plywood had been pretty well sealed by that old peeling paint. We finished scraping off the loose stuff, then were joined by one of the club's other newest members and his mom for a stencil-and-paint session.

The following day, the girls and I returned to the scene where I discovered a few things:
- nails which have had the tips ground off are VERY tough to reuse;
- said nails are particularly difficult to use when they don't align with holes;
- I hadn't checked the holes before orienting the art/text (it never occurred to me they might vary from one side to the other - whoops!)
- we hadn't taken into account the space the frame would take away from our sign.

The end result: we did get the sign hung, and no one will be able to tell dull nails worked their way into the wood, but rather than being spaced out in lovely fashion, the bottom edge of the frame serves as a bold underline to the meeting dates and times.

But it's legible, it's autographed, and it should serve just fine for another decade.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Growing Up Outdoors

There is just nothing like spending time outside. And where there's a tree, there needs to be a swing, or a low branch to use as a step. This daughter of ours understands that fact of life to her core.

Though we have the big rope swing across the little valley, these swings from our old play structure were begging to be hung again. This one found its way to a tree just outside our front door where it gets quite a bit of use. The other is still looking for a branch low enough for us to reach, but high enough to offer pendulous play.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Big Excitement in California - RAIN!

I've always gotten pretty excited by rain. Shoot, ANY change in weather thrills a kid raised on the Central Coast of California where the average temperature year-round is somewhere pretty darn close to 70 degrees. But after our first summer on the new place, after watching our grass turn to sticks, then fall to the dirt in a matter of weeks, after day upon day of temperatures well over 100 degrees, this first rain was particularly thrilling. Of course, starting with a thunderous boom helped.

Our first rain of the season woke me shortly after 6 a.m. with an incredible clap of thunder. Moments later, hail was tapping at my window and stomping on my roof. I grabbed the camera and headed outside, but it was pretty darn dark. I managed a couple of shots before running for cover.

Once the hail turned to rain, it took only about half an hour to fill our rain barrels. There's an open barrel on the back porch just because the "V" of the roof dumps loads there. There's a covered barrel along the other side. V lined up a previously uncommitted garbage can to the overflow spout of that barrel, then another which we filled after I showed her how a siphon worked.

Over the course of the day, we took measurements, took care of chores, watched the animals - largely unfazed, played with the siphon and rainwater, then started our first fire of the season in our stove, and hunkered down on the couch to read.

In the end, we received 1.5" of rain in about 24 hours. We call that a good start!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

PB&J Birthday Fakeout

Here's a little something fun to do for a dyed-in-the-wool PB&J lover.

Bake a cake in a bread tin.

Slice as you would other home-baked bread.

Make butter cream frosting, and add just a little TINY bit of cocoa (for color) or actual peanut butter.

Spread the "peanut butter" on two slices of "bread." Slather on some jelly if you'd like.

Serve on a plate with typical lunchtime sides. (I chose carrots.)

Serve, sit back, and watch the response.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

FauxReo Cookie Sandwiches

The break in the heat means a return to the kitchen, apparently. Today, the flour and sugar, eggs and butter, and no small amount of chocolate beckoned. V and I responded to the call and made these FauxReos. (The recipe likened them to Oreos, but I thought this name was much more fun.)

They're nothing like Oreos, it turns out, but they're yummy. Rather than enjoy her first taste with the buttercream frosting intended by the original recipe, V opted to turn hers into an ice cream sandwich. By the end of the day, the girls and I had tried both the ice-cream-sandwich version and the buttercream version. Ice cream was the hands-down winner.

BlueKitty agreed.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Doily Storm

I think I noted in an earlier post that E picked up crochet earlier this year. Well, she's taken off. She used to enjoy knitting, but she's LOVING crochet. She made dozens of hats for members of the cast and crew of "Anne of Avonlea" this summer, has expanded her repertoire to include headbands, flowers, bags and scarves. And now these: doilies.

She started with patterns for these creations, but now she's making up the doilies as she goes along. She's discovered bamboo thread which provides for nice, sharp lines and great color. It's fine work, takes loads of time, but she kicks on the music or an audio book and she's off and running.

I really do hate to see any of these creations go, but as her sister pointed out, she could probably make some money with them. She's experimenting with outlets. The Creston Country Store graciously allowed her to place them there, but they didn't sell. Maybe her prices are too high, or maybe it just wasn't the right time and place. She's going to try again at the Friends of Santa Margarita Library Craft Sale on Nov. 17 at the Community Center, Santa Margarita. Please stop in if you'd like to check them out and support our yarn kid.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Creative SLO Living - Tie Alley

I really don't know what this is about, but I discovered it not very far from the sweater-wrapped tree, utility box murals and other street art during a recent walk in SLO town. It's one of those little finds that make me smile, spark my creativity, bring me joy.

It's the little things:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Summer Scenes on The Farm

It was really hot out here this summer, for far too long. I'd expected a couple of weeks of extreme heat - temperatures over 100 - but it went on for weeks on end. I hate heat, but there were countless redeeming factors. Let me share just a few.

While Mr. B was away at a training, I cashed one of my freelance checks for this wood. Turns out while wood is super expensive, prefab sheds or related kits of any sort are even MORE expensive. So the girls and I installed cedar board panels on the windward side of the existing run-in. I helped them level the first, then we were off and running, the girls working together to bring and line up the wood while I drove the screws. What a team! It only took us about half an hour, at most, to get it done. And, wow, what a difference.

I'm sure the horses will appreciate it, too, once bitter winter winds set in.

Friday, October 12, 2012


It's that time of year again! Apple gleaning season which means applesauce galore here.

This year, the girls and I headed to one of our favorite apple spots. For canning and freezing apples, we really don't need the pretty ones (or the prices attached) so we head out to a Central Coast orchard that offers greatly reduced prices on their windfalls. At $9 per 20 pound bag, it's better than we've been able to find anywhere else around here, but still more pricey than last year ($7 per bag of any size) and the year before that ($7 for as much as you could carry). They're catching on, darn it!

It took us less than an hour to pick up 28 pounds of perfectly good applesauce apples, and twice that long to peel them all, even with the counter-top apple-peeler Grandma Kathy got for each of us kids several years ago. The girls were a great help as we prepped the apples for "sauce today, pie tomorrow."

One giant pot of apples yielded five quarts of the "best applesauce you've ever made, Mom." I need no higher praise than that.

But it's been two weeks, and we're already out of sauce. I guess we'll be needing a LOT more apples.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tomatoes, Hornworms and Hen Diets

Not all was lost this garden season. Sure, we had some issues with pests. Sure, I considered calling it "the year of failure." But that didn't last long. I opted, instead, to call this "the year of learning." Seemed more productive and positive. And certainly has been true.

It all seemed so easy at first: clean out the garden, plan our season, plant seeds and water, right? Well, it did start that way. But then came the plagues. I planted again, though I confess this time I didn't keep track of the things I planted very well. We watered it, weeded it, continued with our battle with rabbits and gophers, and VOILA! Zucchini, squash and tiny, sweet, cherry-style tomatoes abound.

Turns out chickens love tomatoes. They will not, however, chip in around here and eat the giant tomato horn worms which work their way through the garden with ease.

Go figure.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

First Day of School Traditions

You may have gathered by now that I'm a lagging on my posts. After all, it's pretty darn close to a certain girl's birthday and you haven't seen a post about THAT! I apologize. I've been focusing on a few other things lately, and my computer time has been limited to paying gigs - as many as I can get! Let's catch up.

Still, we can't let the year go on without sharing our First Day of School pictures. Yep. We take 'em. Always have. And we continue our First Day of School tradition - after breakfast, backpack loading and photos (this year with a furry addition), the girls walk to school. This year, they walked to the bus stop, since we're out in the sticks, and the mysterious school bus showed up to give them a lift. Funny, the bus driver looks exactly like their teacher who also doubles as the cafeteria lady and, oh yeah, their mother.

Sure, it's silly. But it's fun. It brings us all some grins and giggles and adds to the creativity of our day.

What's YOUR first-day-of-school tradition?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hen House, Hens and Lots of Dirt Movin'

I can't even begin to express just how fantastic our friends are. Without their help, their encouragement and their old projects we'd still be a no-chicken family. Who knows? We might still be living in town, under the flight path at the end of that newly expanded runway, just a few blocks from the upcoming freeway interchange. After all, it was the addition of chickens to our backyard nearly two years ago that really began the ascent to farm living.

Free Chicken: Flo, our first hen, was a hen-pecked mess when we picked her up from friends desperate to find her a home. She'd never laid. We didn't really care. The girls were interested in chickens, farm animals, well, any animals. Flo was looking for a home, and we lived only a few blocks from her original owners.

One Woman's Trash: Hens need homes, and I'm pretty big on recycling. Plus, what can I say, I make do with the budget I have at any given time. So rather than run out and buy a hen house or even the parts to build the whole, I reached out through social media where I discovered a fantastic coincidence. Several sweaty hours, bloodied arms and granny knots later, Flo had a safe night-time space in the form of a transformed rabbit hutch and enclosure. She only spent the most dangerous hours there - the opossum hours, the raccoon hours, the owl hours, night.

Three's A Crowd: By springtime, the girls were enjoying Flo, but we all agreed she could use some friends. Plus, the girls wanted to raise chicks. And is there much cuter than children and chicks? OK. Children and just about ANY baby animal? So we picked up a pair, an Aracauna ("Tiger Ginger") and Barred Rock ("Falconer"), and repurposed some of our own projects to build them their first home before they joined the Big Backyard World.

Changing Spaces: Then came the Big Move of 2012 in which Flo, Tiger Ginger, Falconer and their home came out to the farm, along with the kids, the parents and all of our belongings. We attached their enclosure to a larger enclosure which we'd rehabed on the new place. The big run is under an oak tree on a hillside near the house. The hens are welcome to lay, rest, or run at any hour of the day, and most often seem to enjoy running up to and around the people house. They seem to take the greatest pleasure from pooping on the porch. More than 50 acres to roam and they have to leave their mark on the PORCH!? These ARE pet chickens! Our three hens were joined this spring by another young Barred Rock, "Owl," which was a gift from a new neighbor.

When Jokes Turn Real: A young friend saw our chickens running lose. I had NO idea she was considering getting rid of her brood when she said, "Mom! I want to bring my chickens out here!" I laughed and said, "Do we get the house with them?" Her dad had built a fantastic chicken house and run with all the trimmings. I'd been eyeing it for more than a year, mentally measuring it, taking notes so that someday I might build something similar though I knew the craftsmanship would never compare. A couple weeks later, her mom called to offer the chickens and the house to us, for real. We coordinated our schedules, mapped out a plan, and made it happen. They wanted to exit the egg business. They wanted their hens to go to a good home. They wanted the corner of their yard back that the hens had completely taken over. We were a perfect fit.

New Digs: A week before we were to bring the hen house out by some unknown means, a local
friend bought a new flatbed trailer on impulse. After years of flat-towing his aging Jeep, it was time, and his timing couldn't have been more perfect for us. I wasn't sure he'd let me take off with his brand-new rig, but he didn't even hesitate. With Mr. B, myself, and the wife-husband team who was giving up this house and flock, we were able to open up a section of their fence, move the house onto the trailer, and repair the fence in a matter of hours.

It took two days to prep the site, thanks in no small part to the brick-hard soil around the day pen and so many other spots on the property. We used pick axe and shovel to hack a notch into the hillside above the existing run. Once leveled, I tiled the run area with pavers our friends had included in the package. If we've learned nothing from our first run, we've learned how destructive squirrels can be. The concrete pavers should keep the squirrels from undermining the new hen house.

It's not often that I can visualize my demise, but as Mr. B and I prepped to move that house off the trailer, down the hillside, under the oak tree and into place, I had clear visions of the thing sliding off the trailer and snapping my arm in two. It was kind of like the images preschoolers have where "broken arm" means the whole thing just snaps right off your body. I was pretty sure we were doomed, but Mr. B had a plan; and it worked beautifully.

Free-range Hens: Now our flock of eleven hens put themselves to bed at night - the original three in their hutch, the new eight in their house. Sometimes, they wander into each other's homes by day, even lay eggs in each other's spaces, but they keep to themselves for the most part. By sunrise, they're in the run giving themselves dust baths and tanking up on water for the day. We open their door to the outside world and hope for the best each day; there are hawks and coyotes, foxes and bobcats about. So far, the new hens have kept themselves pretty close to their home rather than ours.

Good thing.

Monday, October 8, 2012

I Madonnari for One

A strange thing is happening as the girls gain a little more independence and learn to express their desires more clearly: they're opting to separate, to seek out one-on-one time with each of their parents. Recently, that meant E and I turned up at a festival we haven't attended without V since, well, before V was born.

We wandered among the chalk artists, talked about the works and found our way to the children's chalk art area where we ran into a few friends. While E created art in a few squares, the adults visited. Then I joined her for some time on the ground before we continued on through the sponsored squares.

Without her sister there, she's much more subdued. While the girls ask for their time away from each other (not in so many words, but that's the end result of these days), they don't seem as buoyant without each other. Maybe it's because they're more relaxed, not competing. Or maybe it's because they miss each other. E is much quieter. V takes the opportunity to asks loads of questions, but also talks about her sister when we're away from E. ("E would like this." "Do you think we should bring xxx home to E?")

On our way out from the festival, a theatre-friend of E's waved her down. "Would you like to join us?" And there she was, down on the ground under the umbrella helping a friend with a large chalk project. And there I was, watching, enjoying, and missing V.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mountains+Water+Cousins=Wild & Wacky Bunch

For each of the past several years, with one exception, the girls and I (and once Mr. B) trekked to a certain campground in the Sierra to float the river, soak in the natural hot springs, make s'mores and otherwise enjoy the great outdoors with my little brother and his family. We always have SUCH a great time, in no small part because, well, their family rocks.

The first year we gathered here was rough. Their youngest was only a year old, if that, and camping was entirely foreign to most of their little kids. Couple that with a long drive, late arrival, hungry kids and tired parents and you can bet it was a pretty nerve-wracking first day or so. My girls were only slightly older, and with only one adult to meet their young demands needs, particularly with so much water play involved, it was hardly a restful trip. But the kids got involved with the dirt and rocks and sticks - 'cause really, who needs toys in the forest - and the weekend was saved.

Fast forward a half a dozen years and we've gotten into a groove. All of us look forward to this trip. When the adults involved utter summer plans that may not include this trip (something both families considered this year for various reasons), all the kids freak. And our constitutions aren't that strong. Where cooler heads might opt to skip a year, stay home, take a break, our hearts pull us back together at this place. It's a tradition. We have to go. And not just for tradition's sake. We enjoy it there. We enjoy the company.

So through the years, we've braved plagues of mosquitoes and yellowjackets, weathered a storm that flooded the big tent, watched the kids grow and enjoyed each other's company. We've gotten to know each other better, had opportunities to play with each other, enjoyed time together.

I can hardly wait for next year's reunion at this special place with this rockin' family.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Father-Daughter Weekend Getaway at Coyote

It's been a long time since my dad and I had a weekend to just the two of us. One beautiful weekend this summer, Dad was headed up to one of our favorite Sierra lakes. His passenger seat would be open.  Mr. B was slated to be home. Dad was coming home well in time for me to settle in before Mr. B headed back to work again.

I asked if I could join Dad in the trip.

It was so spontaneous, I think we were both surprised!

In keeping with Jeeping tradition, we left home  later than expected, perhaps spent longer than expected at dinner, and arrived at the trailhead somewhere around 1 a.m. We could have stopped there. We could have slept there and rolled into camp the following morning. But we were already packed up, already on the trail, and the fun part of the drive, the part that keeps off-highway drivers awake, was just beginning.

As we bumped and thumped and rolled on along the trail through the darkened forest, I suddenly realized that my compulsion to stay up late and wrap things up, to work obsessively at a task, to drive on to the end isn't entirely my compulsion, but a genetic one. Why stop now when we're so close? Who needs caffeine?

We arrived at camp somewhere around 4 a.m., not an entirely unusual bedtime for me. We threw down the tarp, our pads and our sleeping bags. I looked up through the boughs of those Sierra pines, smiled at the stars and, for perhaps the first time in my adult life, fell asleep before my dad did.

The benefit of working through the night was that we were in camp all day Saturday. No packing. No traveling. No muss. We made Queen Snake biscuits over the fire for a brunch-like breakfast. I took a walk around the lake. We took an evening paddle. We sat around the fire and told jokes with other campers we met there. And of course we had s'mores.

Sunday, we didn't exactly rush away from camp. I don't think either one of us was really ready to leave the lake. I looked forward to being home where our sky is open and clear, where my husband and kids were. But I'll miss that lake, those mountains, and that special time with my dad.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Quidditch Wednesdays

Kids find the most fun things to do! Each Wednesday, we gather in a fairly local park with a load of other kids of the same educational ilk.

At least one family is VERY interested in all things Harry Potter. Combine this HP obsession, a playing field, a seemingly random collection of balls and a bunch o' kids and what do you get?

Game upon game of Quidditch. At least one adult may know the rules, but the kids seem to alter it as needed to accommodate the age groups on hand.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Healthy-ish Apple Treats and Bacon Pancakes

I miss making fun food for the girls. I think one of the saddest things about kids growing up is that they don't remember all the fun things we did for them when they were little and easily entertained. Making fun snacks was one of them.

Thankfully, I'm surrounded by inspiring people. Recently, one of my aunts has been sharing some fun food ideas. I'm sure she means to get to them herself, but they've been sending me running for the kitchen to prep the treats for the girls. OK. And myself as well.

 The girls, who often pull together their own lunches these days, enjoyed these treats. The bacon in the pancakes was a little tough to cut, but a sharp knife did the trick. Not sure I'll go with it again, but we'll see.

To make the bacon pancakes, cook your bacon however you like it (baked, in the pan or in the microwave if you must). Once your pancake pan is hot (for us, this was the same pan in which I'd cooked the bacon), lay down a piece of bacon (or more, or crumbles, whathaveyou), pour the batter over the top and cook your pancake as usual with one flip once the bubbles in the batter begin to pop.
V liked the apple treats; particularly the presentation. They were easy to make, and required only what we had in the house. Were they entirely healthful? Well, they're not for the gluten-intolerant, those with peanut allergies or folks who think chocolate isn't one of the main food groups. But it's all relative, right?

To make the apple treats, simply:
- CORE your apple
- SLICE the apple into rings
- SLATHER the apple with nut butter of your choosing - we used peanut butter, but I'd bet almond butter or sunflower seed butter would be fantastic as well.
- SPRINKLE on some granola (we used raw oatmeal)
- DROP on a few chocolate chips
- ENJOY open faced or sandwich peanut butter concoction with another piece of apple.

What are some of your favorite, fun, easy-to-prepare treats?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Caterpillars, Moths and Tortoise News

We have interesting visitors out thisaway. Tonight, V found this incredible caterpillar. It measured five inches long and was as thick as my thumb. We think it might be an Achemon Sphinx caterpillar, which turns into a "hummingbird moth" so call because of it's hovering tendency while feeding on nectar.

V wanted to keep the caterpillar, and given her history with "kept pets," I wasn't game. But, on second thought, there are probably LOADS of these out here. This one just happened to waddle into our mini orchard. Plus, if she feeds it, this could be a fun science experiment.

Turns out the project only lasted a couple of days before she decided to release the caterpillar. Maybe we'll see him again when he flies in his next phase.

Meanwhile, she continues to care for her tortoise. We're down to one again after the loss of her second little tortoise. As the vet said, these are very difficult to raise, and not exactly kid-friendly projects for that very reason. Turns out that perhaps no matter what we'd done for the tiniest tortoise, its care earlier in its life probably had more to do with its demise due to a calcium deficiency which led to a soft shell and, ultimately, it's death. Naming it after the first tortoise (from the same source and died the same death) might not have been a good omen.

Farewell, Leo II.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

There's No Such Thing as a Free Pool

Like so many projects, this one started with a gift. - a free pool E and I picked up down the road. The story was that the pool owner's neighbor had gifted her the above-ground contraption when they built a larger pool, but she discovered it was too shallow to meet her desire. And it didn't have a pump.

No big deal, right? We figured we'd put it up, fill it, and find a pump.

Um. No.

Turns out its nearly impossible to find replacement parts for above-ground pools like these anymore. Their design changes every year, and they're so inexpensive (relative to a real, in-ground pool), that our culture calls for simply throwing away the old and picking up entirely new.

Various attempts at making it work included, ultimately, the purchase of a pump really designed for a larger pool. But it was the best we could do, said the pool store manager who spent more than an hour helping me gather fittings that might work.

Fate stepped in, though, and saved us a bundle. The new filter required sand, but the pool store didn't carry it. Turns out neither did the hardware store. But a trusty internet lookup led me to a mega-department store where, just inside the door, was THIS POOL, complete with all fittings, for a fraction of the price of the pump and fittings I'd picked up not two miles away.

I wrestled the new pool collection into the van, then turned right around to return to the expensive goodies to their store, then headed home.

That's when the fun began. THIS pool came with instructions and FIRST and FOREMOST, it said, the ground must be level and the pool must be placed on some sort of pad. A driveway/concrete slab would have been ideal, but we use our driveway and it's on the hottest side of the house. We're not up for pouring at this point, so we did the next best thing: paving stones picked up from our local brick/block/paver manufacturing company.
Using shovels, levels and lots of sweaty hours, it took us nearly two days to lay the pavers. The ground was brick-hard, so scraping and leveling was a chore. And we'd learned from our previous partial install of the "free" pool that any slant means a big water-level variation from one edge of the pool to the other. Turns out, this uneven pool level can lead to structural failure. The related sudden loss of thousands of gallons of water can cause damage to anything nearby. So we took the time to do it right.

As we laid the final row of pavers, Mr. B smashed the heck out of one of his fingers. I'll tell you what; he's a man of his word. He doesn't abide foul language, and when he smashed that finger, the only indication I had that anything happened was that he jumped an easy three feet into the hair and said, "ouch. That hurt." No exclamation, really. But he turned around and walked into the house. Since he usually carries on after minor injuries, I knew it was a bad one.

I wrapped up the paver laying, he iced his blackening finger, and the next day with the girls' help, we put up the new pool and enjoyed a swim. Sure, it's only 42 inches deep and 15 feet across. But when it's hot and you need a simple dip, it's wonderful. And while an in-ground pool with an end deep enough for proper diving would be a dream, I think the purchase price of this pool and all the pavers was less than we'd spend in any given year maintaining an in-ground pool.

And two days later, we were treated with another visit from one of the girls' Central Coast friends.

The pool? Was the hit of the party.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Best Auntie Ever Farm Sleepover

Among our visitors this summer was our first-ever cousin sleepover with two of the girls' eight California cousins. The girls have never stayed over before, but we were blessed with nearly a week of their company at the peak of summer. Fortunately, it's hot where they live, too, and the call of the horses, tree swing and crafting with cousins won out over ridiculously high temperatures here.
When the older asked when she should be up to go ride, I said, "The earlier the better." We wanted to beat the heat, and in mid-August, temps hit 90 by 9 a.m. Having NO idea that she was a morning person, I told her 7:30 would be fine, though 6:30 would be better.

I rose at 6:30 that first morning JUST in case she was up. Not only was she UP, she was DRESSED and ready to head out the door. So was her little sister. So, down to the horses we went. The older woke every morning at 6:30 for rides. Little Sis slept in two days. Understandably so given that the sleepover bedtime rule at our house is "if I don't hear you, I don't know you're awake." This leads to VERY late nights.
The girls, who don't have a lot of riding experience, stuck to the pasture when they rode on their own. They both used the Old Lady who really needed some time practicing standing. The girls learned to be more assertive with her, and spent hours walking in circles, squares, picking points of interest and walking to them, stopping on command, making rough figure eights and standing. Just standing. That's right. But it was a lesson all needed to learn. Later in the week, I mounted up on our younger mare and we took trail rides around the property.

By day, the girls played, read, sang, cooked, swam at Creston Pool and, ultimately, ran short of ideas so asked if they could paint me. Why not? It was 109 outside. I didn't need to keep doing chores. And how often do kids get a chance to use their parent/auntie as a canvas? Of course, some of the girls also served their time in the "easel chair."

It was SO fun having them, and fantastic to see my girls enjoying some super quality cousin time. I can hardly wait to have them over again! Did it help to have the older text me "BAE?" Not at first. But then she spelled it out for me: "Best Auntie Ever." awwww!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Horse Went Over the Mountain, and All that She Could See?

How many times can I mention how much I've enjoyed having company, even from brave souls who ventured our way despite the high summer temps? Not enough, clearly.

A horse-crazy daughter of a dear friend found her way out our way again this summer, despite temps well above 100, to get in some trail riding and play with the girls. She's a really fantastic kid - smart, thoughtful, helpful, playful, quirky and beautiful - who I love to have around. (Her brother's wonderful as well, but didn't make it out this go-round.)

Said Wonderful Girl joined me for a long ride into the nearby forest where we finally made it to the top of the hill behind our house. (Flatlanders might call this hill a mountain, but it's an easy morning walk to the top and back again if we could just get straight back there from the top of our property.) The going was rough in places, and we had to turn back when the terrain grew simply too steep for the mares. It was a good call.

So what did we see from the top of the hill? MORE HILLS! Next time: pack a lunch, start earlier and make it a day. But it was still a fun adventure, and now at least the curiosity behind this little peak behind me doesn't torture me so much.

We did learn a bit more about our "new horse." I knew our Old Girl wasn't great at hills; she likes to run up them rather than walk and is only just learning to WALK downhill. But I wasn't aware of just how unstable she would feel on a steep hill until Wonderful Girl and I traded rides on the way back down. Turns out she never would have asked to make the change, but she'd gotten uncharacteristically quiet and I figured something was up.

Have you ever driven a motor boat SLOWLY? It's tough to steer, and overcorrecting is the norm. You steer a little bit to the left, but nothing happens, so you steer a little more, and the boat begins to turn. You straighten the wheel to "straight" but the boat continues to turn for a bit, causing drive to correct to the right. By the time the boat is headed straight again, it's too late. It's REALLY headed into a right-hand curve.

Riding Lady (aka Old Girl) downhill was a lot like that, only without the assistance of oversteering. Rather than simply turn and zigzag down the mountain like most regular horses will, she'd turn and slide sideways downhill for a bit before taking hold on "straight" across the hillside. It was very disconcerting. I tried turning her full curves, facing her back uphill after each turn like a junior skier first learning to carve the slopes. That seemed to help, but made for a weird trail down the hillside.

I think we'll hit it again once the temperatures drop significantly and with lunch, water, treats and jacket onboard.

NYC and the Nation Need Public Education, Not Soda Regulation

Today, New York City's health commission is slated to decide whether to limit the size of "sugary drinks"sold in the city to 16 ounces or less. While obesity and its impacts on health are problematic, the city's effort to regulate health through the soda industry while continuing to allow the sale of other potentially deadly goods is off the mark. Funds and efforts should be aimed at public education, not soda regulation.
Ostensibly, the measure is meant to curb that city's obesity rate - more than half of the city's adult population is overweight or obese as are more than 20 percent of the city's preschool and kindergarten children. But while the proposed ban addresses carbonated beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, both health hazards in large quantity, the move would not affect the sale of fruit juices, any drink that includes dairy (e.g. milkshakes, lattes), or alcoholic beverages regardless of size or nutritional value. So while gallon-sized sodas may not be wandering the streets, "health" drinks and caffeine boosts are unaffected regardless of their fat, sodium or caloric values.

Consider: a 16-ounce Coke Classic, the largest allowed under the plan, serves up 250 calories including no fat, 105 grams sodium and 68 grams of carbohydrates, all of which are sugar carbs. Meanwhile, Starbuck's grande Java Chip Frappuccino (essentially a 16-ounce, coffee-and-chocolate milkshake) sports 460 calories with  18 grams of fat (12 of which are saturated fats), 260 mg of sodium and72 grams of carbs, 66 grams of which are straight-up sugar. The venti, a 24-ounce version of that same drink, would not be limited by the ban. A small, buttered popcorn sold at the city's 11-story-tall, 25 screen AMC Empire movie theater is a bucket of 900 calories including 60 grams of fat, 43 of which are saturated. And that oh-so-good-for-you, 16-ounce, vanilla frozen yogurt down the avenue at Pinkberry? 400 calories, 560 grams of sodium and 96 grams of carbohydrates, all of which are sugar carbs.

Low-sugar, or no-sugar drinks sweetened with non-food sweeteners, meanwhile, will continue to be allowed in large quantities despite their questionable health impacts. Aspartame causes headaches and other health problems, though government agencies continue to claim it's safe. Still: 

Meanwhile, the New York City continues to allow the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products known to the entire world to cause cancer, the second-leading cause of death in the United States. More than 10,000 licensed tobacco dealers push the addictive drug, a known carcinogen. (The city did ban roll-your-own tobacco shops last year, but that was to preserve its income from tobacco tax, not to protect public health.) According to the National Institutes of Health, "all tobacco products are harmful and cause cancer" and "there is no safe level of tobacco use." Yet across the nation, the drug which kills 1 in 5 Americans each year is still sold not only by the pack, but by the carton and even case. A chain smoker can adversely affect not only her own health, but the health of everyone around her.

Alcohol is on sale in vast quantities in shops, restaurants and bars throughout the city. According to the NIH, alcohol consumption is related to a vast array of health issues including coronary  heart disease and cancer. It affects sleep and stress levels, transportation safety, infant health during pregnancy, and nutrition.

Firearms are also on sale in New York City at 32 licensed gun shops. Sure, you're supposed to have a pistol permit or register larger firearms with the city. Still, in 2011 there were 314 firearms-related homicides in the city. The numbers are on the rise in 2012, including the death of a 4-year-old playing on a playground, a 9-year-old walking down a street, a 14-year-old returning home from a tennis game. While the numbers are not as staggering as those provided by cigarettes and soda pop, they tragically affect innocents.

 Public education, beginning with leading by example in the nation's public schools, is a more feasible answer than banning any substance. Put time, effort and money toward providing healthy lunches with no processed foods at the nation's schools to teach nutrition while providing for the public health. Teach social skills at early ages so people have the tools to win their own arguments without the use of violence. Teach healthy living skills by increasing, not reducing, the amount of time allowed in school for exercise through physical education and active playground play.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Return to Cal Poly's Design Village in Poly Canyon

For the twelfth consecutive summer, the girls and I headed to Poly Canyon's Design Village for a day of exploring its architectural wonders. The village is an inspiring, fun, whimsical spot, particularly for children and childlike adults. It's one of our favorite, easy, local walks.

Truth be told, we actually do this walk several times each year. It's easy to find, shaded, offers little elevation change and there's always a chance we'll run into some horses to pet and treat. But since 2006, we've led this summer hike as a group event for fans of "Best Family Adventures." The summer hiking series began at the request of readers and had grown to include outdoorsy families of all sorts who may or may not have heard of the books.

The 2012 hiking series also included walks up Reservoir Canyon, San Simeon Headlands and Bob Jones Trail. We had also slated Bishop Peak and Cerro San Luis, but had no takers. The girls weren't thrilled with the idea of warm-season hikes, either, so we called off those hikes. And this year's series was not as warmly received. Too many folks RSVP'd that they'd meet us at the trailhead, then failed to show. I know things come up, but it was a frustrating rate of no-shows. If we do the series again next year, we'll have to come up with something that's more satisfying for all involved.

But I digress.

Our Poly Canyon walk was, as usual, lovely. After paying for parking (the only downside to Cal Poly property hiking), we navigated to the "trailhead" - a well-marked, typically locked gate on a wide, graded, dirt road. The stroller-friendly road is well-traveled by cyclists, runners and walkers as well as local wildlife. The university uses the area for field study. We've run into botany students here and had a great entomology lesson with a student who was making her collection here for class. We picnicked in the shade of the barbecue area in the Design Village, then made our way to the Shell House, a personal favorite, checked out the recently abandoned glass shoebox, played in the Martian house and climbed into the watchtower.

At its peak, this was an architectural jewel, but the structures have largely been abandoned, and vandals have done their worst. My favorite Shell House would be a great student housing unit if it could be returned to its former glory, as would the glass shoebox overlooking the entire village. The Martian house could also be a fun spot for quirky students. Oh, if I ran the world...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hitting the Main Stage - SLO Little Theatre

One of the great things about our move is that we're now closer to San Luis Obispo. We're not in town, which would be incredibly convenient, but we never could have afforded this kind of space anywhere on the cool side of Cuesta Grade, let alone nearer to SLO town. The girls have been taking full advantage of this opportunity to play in SLO, not the least of which was E's summer participation as a cast member in SLO Little Theatre's production of "Anne of Avonlea."

With the help of a scholarship from Grandpa, E enjoyed a crazy summer of classes (at Cuesta), dance (at a local dance company) AND the theater schedule. It was almost like a regular kid's school year. Full of activities, plenty of transit time and not a lot of time at home.

E thrived as "Charlotta the Fourth" in the presentation. The director, Shelagh Garren, was fantastically supportive of the kids while also putting on a top-rate performance. Honestly, I went into it figuring it would be a typical "kids production" complete with forgotten lines, giggles and peeking into the audience. NOT AT ALL the case! The actors used the entire stage, indeed the theater as a whole. There were lights and sounds and great performances by these young actors.

I knew it was her place when, in one scene, E, costumed and made up, joined hands with other actors to dance joyfully in a circle with her peers under the bright lights. It was a scene she's been rehearsing in our livingroom for a decade now. I'm not sure she was acting at that point, but she looked like she was in heaven.

Monday, September 10, 2012

How to Treat Volunteers So They Feel Valued

If there's one thing the volunteer coordinators at La Purisima Mission in Lompoc know how to do, it's showing their appreciation for volunteers. From Day One, our fearless leaders have demonstrated their appreciation for the time we all spend there (and studying away from there) with various gestures. None of them are grand gestures, but all of them are appreciated.

In addition to an annual docent barbecue (to which docents also contribute potluck style) and chili cookoff, docents are fed morning snacks (donuts/coffee/hot tea) on the mornings of day-long efforts and lunch during breaks spelled by volunteer coordinators, parks employees and other volunteers. We're greeted warmly, thanked regularly, and welcome to follow our personal interests when it comes to delving into parks projects. Love the bells? We need a bell ringer! Like to weave? Here's the weaving room and the keys to the wool. Animals? Gardening? Carpentry? Media work? Leading tours? There's no end to the work that can be done here, and they're satisfied if volunteers are happily working.

Even junior docents got some special rubs this year with the first ever campout in the Village. E opted to stay home with our visitors, but V was still excited about this campout which had been on our books since December, well before our visitors had made their plans. So together, V and I headed to Lompoc where, once again, we were warmly greeted and, this time, treated with crafts, s'mores, hot dog roasting around the fire, story telling around the fire, moth catching around the lantern, and finally a late night of giggling and talking in the tule hut.

Thank you, La Purisima, for making us feel so very valuable to you and appreciated. Yes, we will continue driving 160 miles round trip to volunteer with you. Thank you!

Water Handpump Rebuild Project

Not far from the main well is a secondary well which, we've been told, was drilled at the same time as the household well. A rusty, vintage handpump is installed atop the wellhead and, it appears, once fed a wooden half barrel.

It's been a long time since anyone used the pump - it's rusty and the leather inside is long since rotten, and the barrel, left to dry, has fallen apart. We could leave it all there, pick it up and toss it, burn the wood and scrap the metal. But it looks like a fun rehab project, and the girls (and I) would enjoy the opportunity to pump for the goats that may someday live in that paddock.

Turns out just about every forge worth its salt made pumps back in those days, and they were so commonly used (and repaired) that written instructions weren't really needed. So finding instructions for their repair these days isn't easy. I was able to find some basic information in England ala internet, including views of lots of different sorts of pumps.

But it's a simple mechanical device and has only taken a couple of tools to disassemble. I'm having a difficult time getting apart the base of the piston so I can replace the leather. One of my relatives, a saddle maker in Utah, gave us scrap leather on our last visit that way, so I plan to put that to use here, but first I have to get the darn thing apart! I've tried brute force and penetrating oil, but no dice yet. Time for a table-vice so I can get a better hold on it.

Once the leather is replaced, I'll clean up and repaint the pump before installing it back on the wellhead. Then I'll be on the prowl for another half barrel...and goats.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Random Roadkill - Free Piano

You never know what you'll find on the side of the road out here. We weren't too surprised to find the used swimming pool, and we often see barbecues or other small items alongside the road. We know the previous owner here left things out regularly for neighbors to snag. But this was a surprise.

The free piano sat on the side of the road for a little over a week. We had to try it out, so we came to a screeching halt during one trip home. E and I tried the keyboard, which needed a few keys repaired and a good tuning, but otherwise it seemed like it could work for someone.

We already have a piano, and while the girls talked to their dad about how fun it would be to have a piano in a treehouse, they've yet to locate their treehouse building location. And we're all afraid of what the weight of a piano might do to a tree.

The piano disappeared a few days later. We hope someone gave it a home.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Beginning Garden Carpentry Lesson One: Don't Cut Off Your Thumb

In August, I took a day "off" and shelled out for some fuel to head north to Love Apple Farm where I enjoyed a day of "garden carpentry skills" with my sister-in-law. With Mr. B's blessing, and thrilled farewells from my children, I headed out the night before class so I could enjoy at least a bit of time with my niece and nephews before bedtime.

First of all, it was really weird traveling without the girls. Sure, it was nice to be able to catch up on my podcasts (current favorites: "This American Life" and "The Moth"), but I found myself talking to the empty back seats and missing the chatter that generally goes on there.

But I digress.

After a lovely, albeit short, visit with the nephews and niece, SIL and I were off to the farm. She's taken several of the classes here, and I can see why; the calendar is full of lessons so many of us could use, but which have skipped at least one generation. As more of us return to our gardens, the information is invaluable, and while there are plenty of gardening books, blogs and web pages, there's nothing like hands-on learning for getting the message through to the garden phase.

Our visit began with a tour of the impressive garden at the farm which supplies local restaurants with organic fruits and vegies. The hillside terrain is actually more difficult than ours, I would think, but the soil is far superior to our decomposed granite challenge. And the climate is entirely different. I'm sure they'd love to have more of our sunny days, and I'd love to have more of their moist, grey days. And so it goes.

Our course was taught by a thoughtful, knowledgeable, generous guy named Thomas Wittman of Gophers Limited. By all accounts, he's all about sharing knowledge. Even though he makes his living, at least in part, by trapping gophers and other garden pests, his website is a wealth of gopher-trapping information. (It's not like there aren't enough gopher-trapping opportunities to go around!)

We talked gophers and gardens, then tools and, finally, helped to build the first stages of a raised bed before heading to the garden to check out some garden entryways in development. My favorite parts included the hands-on introduction to basic carpentry tools, opportunities to try many of them, and the project that put them to good use.

So, what did I get out of the day, besides some giggles with S-I-L A? A Christmas list chock full of tools that could make life a lot easier here on The Farm, some basic carpentry skills, and more confidence toward tackling more projects around here.

These are the tools I really enjoyed and which would save us loads of time on your garden construction projects:

-- waffle hammer - so the hammer doesn't slip off the nail when it's at an angle. I always wondered what these silly looking hammers were for!

-- string line (chalk line) - for quickly drawing straight, more accurate lines (plus, brings back memories of a childhood spent, at least in part, on construction sites with my dad)

-- milwaukee impact driver (oh yeah)

-- milwaukee mini sawzall - the big sawzall is nice, but might be overkill for most projects)

-- Bosch random orbit sander - sanding by hand is great and fine, but takes an age)

-- makita 5.5" trim saw (circular saw) - our big old saw is both heavy and aged. This little saw would fill in the gaps and be easier to use

-- rip fence for skilsaws - learned how to rip wood to get the width we desire; another simple lesson simply taught

-- 6" Bessie clamps - hard to believe we've never had clamps before

-- mini Bessie clamps - for smaller jobs

-- 1.5" Tenon Tool (veritas) - for post projects - lots of post projects

-- Japanese saw - this was really cool for cutting flush wood-against-wood pieces

-- two sawhorses - we're using stacked bricks or the ladder; less than ideal

-- coping saw - for detail that the hacksaw just can't, well, hack!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bowling on the Central Coast

I had so much fun bowling with Cousin C that V and I decided we should return to the alley again while E was having her fun with SLO Little Theatre (more on that in another post). We both lack in form, but we make up for it in giggles and memories. We enjoyed our snazzy shoes, sliding on the slick wood, trying to figure out why our bowling balls liked to make last-minute turns, trying not to depend upon the bumpers which we discovered during the course of our second game. (Thanks Poly kid who took pity on us!)

My grandpa loved to bowl. I think my mom and her sister probably had their own balls, complete with names engraved, though I can't really be sure. (Would Auntie M even confess such a thing?) I seem to remember bowling with my mom way back in the day when the ball was more likely to throw me down the alley and smoke filled the building. In college, I bowled a little for fun, but in recent years my bowling has suffered.

It's a fun game; more difficult, really, to master than you might think. For me, a mastered game is one in which not a single ball found the gutter. For masters, an ideal game is one full of strikes, the antithesis of baseball. But more importantly, a successful bout of bowling for me involves lots of laughter, social interaction and not a single electronic distraction. OK, except for the electronic scoring which removes ALL confusion about scoring.

Bowling alleys are in short supply these days, but we're lucky to have some fun ones around here. Among my favorite is Mustang Lanes at Cal Poly. Though surely designed to entertain students, the public is welcome here as well. There are incentive cards, electronic scoreboards, shoe rentals and, nearby, an arcade for those of us not so enthralled by the pin game. I also enjoy Pismo Bowl, a funky older bowling alley just two blocks from the Pacific Ocean. If we want to stay on this side of Cuesta Grade, it looks like our new "local" alley will be Paso Bowl with its synthetic lanes. But with wood alleys, fewer miles and pay-by-the-minute parking, I think we'll continue to brave the Grade for Mustang Lanes.

Further down the road, in Santa Maria, was the girls' first bowling alley experience in Rancho Bowl. This was a fun spot to take teens back in my high school coaching days, too, for team building and fun away from the water. And if any bowling alley on the Central Coast is going to make it on its own, it's Zodo's in Santa Barbara. They do a fantastic job of creating events, packaging deals and drawing in various groups from youth to college students to seniors and the rest of us, too with fun events and incentives.

We had a short stop for lunch at a favorite sandwich shop. What do you think V wants for dessert?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Central Coast Renaissance Festival firsts

This wasn't our first rodeo, er, Renaissance experience, but it was for our visitors. They're very kind people and might not even mention it if they were offended, but I wonder what they REALLY thought of the bawdy women, the raucous men, and one particular woman who's nipples simply refused to be reined in by her bustiere.

E was thrilled with her father's purchase of her first corset, and she looked so sweet in it. V, given the option to purchase an item of costume clothing or a weapon, went for the weapon. The girl has a thing for knives, and animals, yet not hunting. Go figure.

As usual, it was hot and shade was in short supply, but Aunt K and I (neither of whom really enjoy the heat) managed, and we found some yummy lemonade with plenty of ice to help cool us.

Important tip: during jousting, it's not "cheek to wind," but "cheat to win" that the crowd is shouting.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

San Luis Obispo County for Frequent Visitors

We all have goofy relatives somewhere. Mine happened to be here, helping us celebrate our new home, earlier this summer. I miss them already!

Aunt K and Cousin C always bring laughter with them wherever they go. When Aunt K and Uncle J joined us on our 2008 road trip, those were among our best miles along that 10,000-mile route. They rode their motorcycle clear from Utah to Oklahoma to pick up a camp trailer for the 'cycle, then into New Mexico and took advantage of our already-stocked (e.g. cook stove, dishes, pantry) trailer to make the trip home before we parted ways. Like that visit, full of fun and laughter around the campfire, K's and C's trip here reminded me again just what we're missing by not being neighbors. Sure wish the world wasn't such a big place sometimes.

This wasn't their first trip. There isn't a lot around here they haven't already seen if we don't count the backcountry. So we returned to some of our favorites: Spooners Cove at Montana de Oro State Park; Morro Rock and Morro Bay's beaches; a ride along Bob Jones Trail with a stop at the Labyrinth before turning around at Avila Pier; La Purisima Mission; downtown San Luis Obispo for Thursday Night Farmers' Market and a look at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. We also introduced a couple of new things to Aunt K - particularly the Renaissance Fair and the California missions.

Had we more time, I think C and I would have done a bit more exploring in the backcountry. She's an adventurous type, and I can see her and I hitting more trails and waterways next time she comes out. Time is limited, though, isn't it? Might have to explore HER hideaway before she makes it back here again. Alaska anyone?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It was a bittersweet farewell to Santa Barbara County as E wrapped up her 4H year. She had served on her club's leadership, taken part in several projects and made some friends including her first best friend. Though we moved months ago, she carried on her projects via commute, and finally wrapped it all up with entries in the Santa Barbara County Fair.

E found her way into 4H thanks to friends who understood her. Until then, we all thought 4H was all about animals, raising and sending to the fair and, ultimately, to slaughter. Yes, we like to eat meat, but convincing the girls that killing "their friends" as they put it was OK isn't so easy. Heathyr, however, was a lifelong 4H junkie with lots of experience in all aspects of the organization. She started us easy with beginning and cooking and beginning sewing; she knew which of E's buttons to push.

In the end, E took part in projects that taught her how to keep those darned record books and introduced her to the intricacies of 4H. She took sewing and canning, cooking and cooking again, horse project, porcelain doll project. Ultimately, she served as junior leader on a fiber arts project which she led in practice, though I was the "leader." (Let's face it, she knows more about fiber arts at this point than I do.)

Funny that the first year she was in 4H, E didn't want to enter anything in the fair. She'd entered in various fairs several of the previous years. But in 2012, she was on with entries in fiber arts (a crocheted hat from wool she'd spun with a drop spindle) and an entry in the special "denim decorating" category commemorating this year's Bluejean & Country Dreams theme. Unfortunately her canned goods (strawberry jam and apple pie filling) didn't qualify for the entry - who knew you needed to enter TWO containers of EACH entry? Live and learn.

E was happy with the results, particularly the check for her denim effort. She used her winnings to buy more yarn, and she's already working on next year's fair entries in multiple categories. And looking forward, though with a little trepidation, to joining 4H again in our new community.

What we learned:
4H is about LOADS more than raising animals;
4H is very fair focused;
don't rely on anyone else when it comes to fair entries - read all the rules yourself.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Fourth of July Suburban-Style

Our children have never lived anywhere fireworks are legal. They've done sparklers at a relative's house in the country, watched an older cousin set off fireworks in front of his house elsewhere in California, watched them from the dunes in Washington and during the Havasu winter pyrotechnic convention display.

This year, with the move, the fireworks story is even more dire. There's no WAY we'll ever be able to do fireworks out in this brittle summer territory.

And so, another reason we're thankful to have friends who include us in their family fun. We returned to our old haunts to join in a BBQ and firework display with friends and (former) neighbors. (They ditched us first!) And we were all treated with the most amazing fireworks display the girls have ever seen on a public street. They had a blast and a half.

Elderberry Sessions - Jam and Pie

"Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries!"
                               - Monty Python's Holy Grail

Well, I'm not sure about the hamster bit, but smelling of elderberries, it turns out, isn't such a bad thing. This summer, we experimented with the native berries and found them, while a bit tart, quite flavorful. And we managed to make our first berry pie with them, then plenty of syrup before the heat sapped us of berry-picking energy.

E spotted the plants growing on our property earlier this year. I though, as I too often do, that she couldn't possibly be right. The only elderberries I'd heard of came courtesy of British comedy, so I figured they'd only grow in cooler climes. Fortunately, E and V had been paying attention during their junior docent training and La Purisima Mission. They've spotted all sorts of plants here that they learned about during those sessions; among them, elderberry.

Once they'd educated me (and, of course, I'd done  more research on the internet and double checked with adults-in-the-know in our new neighborhood), I could see them all OVER the place. Now, on our drive to town each day, I can spot them at high speed a fair distance away.

We checked on our drive-by berries now and again until we discovered they were ready for their first round of picking. One warm, sunny afternoon, E, V and I gathered some bowls and headed out. Together, we gathered enough berries to make our first berry pie using a recipe from our trusty old, red-bound Good Housekeeping Cookbook. The pie turned out scrumptious, but we learned there are LOTS of seed in elderberries. I also learned why it is I've never really cared for berry pie on its own: it's basically jam in a pastry. I eat jam with peanut butter, but I'm not one of those who sneaks spoonfuls of the stuff as a treat. And I've never been big on pie pastry. Still, it was great with ice cream! Next time: use a ricer to remove the seeds and make it a jelly pie.

We returned to our favorite picking bush a week or so later to gather another bundle. Grandma M helped us pluck the tiny berries from the stems and assure there were no leaves in the final product. (Turns out that while the berries are tasty, the leaves and stems are poisonous.) It was time-consuming work, but well worth the effort. We cooked down the berries, used the strainer to remove a lot of the seeds, then returned the good stuff to the pot for more cooking until it jelled. Using the Ball Blue Book of Canning and no pectin we conjured up a pretty good batch of elderberry syrup. I think we could've cooked it longer, but we really didn't want jam this go 'round.

We'd hoped to return for another berry reaping, but the heat got to us far before it adversely affected the remaining berries. We couldn't bring ourselves to get up early enough to beat the sun to the berries, nor to stand in the pounding heat. But next year, you bet we'll be returning for more jam, jelly and syrup makin's, and maybe even another pie.

Friday, August 31, 2012

How to Picnic with Your Horse

This is what I'd hoped would happen if we moved to the country. The day finally came. With a friend over to encourage them to play, to dress up, to head outside, to explore, the girls were hard at it. Then afternoon teatime came and where better to have tea than out in the pasture, right?

It was SO fun to hear the girls giggling and carrying on, and fantastic to see them communing with Maddie. (Lady kept herself clear. She's not used to urchins crawling around in her pasture.) Maddie is really social and, when we hike, typically hangs out QUITE close to us during our snack breaks. We suspect this has something to do with the last owner who informed us that the horse liked French fries and peppermint candies.

To picnic with a horse, however, there are some important safety tips. First of all, the horse must be VERY mellow. Maddie's a follower who we've worked with a lot. We've played with all sorts of odd things around her, as had her previous owner, and we've taken her packing which provided an entirely different desensitization opportunity.

The horse must also know she's not the Alpha animal. YOU must be the boss. If you have a horse that pushes you around when you're standing, you don't stand a chance on the ground. Work with her in the round pen (a LOT), on the trail, in the barnyard. Just put her on a leadline and spend a lot of time on the ground with her, always making sure she knows SHE is following YOU, not the other way around. Be her respectful, but leading, partner.

Don't start giving her treats  mid-picnic. Once you've given her a treat, she's going to horn in on the picnic blanket, the basket even the teapot. Have her stand aside, give her loves, scratch her nose, but make her wait for treats every time. She'll graze nearby if she's really hungry.

And have fun!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

San Simeon Point with Kids

I've been waiting for years to do a legal hike onto San Simeon Point. Until a couple of years ago, the point was owned by the Hearst Corporation, and previously by William Randolf Hearst of publishing fame. Today, it is publicly accessible property owned by the State of California.

We took the walk on a clear, sunny, warm day. This beach can be cold and windy, but of SLO County's North Coast beaches it's among the warmest on any given day due to its south-facing orientation. If the fog's going to burn off along this stretch of coast, it's a good bet this will be the first place to get a peek at sunshine. Plus, it's a great stretch of sand on an otherwise rocky coast.

We'd hoped to meet up with fellow family hikers and were greeted by one great mom and her boys. We waited briefly for the rest of the gang, but having learned from experience that folks often don't show when they say they will, we headed out.

The hike starts with a quick walk down the beach, then an easy walk up the bluff trail. We were waylaid by a forest of climbing trees that grabbed our children's attention and held it far longer than the hiking moms had anticipated. But once all branches were covered at least twice, we moved on down the easy, relatively flat, wide trail to the point.

The hike down from the bluff top is precarious. This is certainly not accessible by any wheeled vehicle - no strollers, no bikes, no wheelchairs. People with canes are unlikely to want to attempt it, nor are people with balance issues. I hiked ahead of the littlest kids in case they lost their footing. I figured my footing was pretty darn good, and my weight would offset their willowy builds should they come tumbling my way.

On the beach, we enjoyed a fantastic afternoon of picnicking, playing and some of the best tidepooling we've experienced in the county.

If you go, keep a very close watch on children and be aware that dangers abound: the tide can trap you on this beach, waves can knock you off the tide pool rock area, the rocks there are very sharp and there are steep drops into the water from the tide pools. The surf here can be very heavy and there's lots of wildlife.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Crochet for Kids

Late last spring, E got involved in crochet. She's loved fiber arts (or just fibers) since she was a toddler, learned to spin cotton balls into string when she was 5 and started spinning on a drop spindle the same year. Grandma taught her to knit a couple of years later, and she became quite proficient. But crochet is her newest thing - and she's excelling.

In addition to help from friends, we've found some nice resources at the library and online. E says the best book for beginners is "Chicks with Sticks Guide to Crochet."  She said it's also good for patterns as are her two other favorites, "Learn to Crochet" by Sue Whiting and "Doilies in Color."

Online, we've found an AMAZING community of helpful, creative folks at Ravelry. It's free to sign up, and there are LOADS of ideas and plenty of helpful hints and straight-up tutorials there. Forgot how to cast-on? Click! We also love the YouTube community for directions.

To crochet, you need only one crochet hook and yarn. We started with lower-quality (ie. cheaper) polyester yarn that we could abuse, but you can start with anything. E has used everything from wool she gathered (from sheep shearing at La Purisima Mission), washed, carded and spun herself to
beautifully roved wool from Yarns at the Adobe, a nice yarn shop with friendly staff in SLO. She's also been working her way through a great bin of yarn gifted to her by a fellow Sweet Adeline. Some of it was vintage wool complete with the original 1950s tags. VERY cool!

Crochet projects including casting on, crocheting, and casting off.

First, cast on:

Then crochet your pattern. There's single crochet:

Or you might want to go with double crochet:

When you have the piece you'd like, you'll need to "cast off" or "bind off:"
Happy Hooking!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Getting Away to Morro Bay

V and I got away to Morro Bay while E was attending classes at the local community college for a few weeks this summer. It's a nice, quiet, little beachfront town that always offers cool weather and wildlife viewing.

V and I are really into the beaches. We like the long sandy stretch just north of Morro Rock, though we don't swim here. Surfers come out during good surf days and take advantage of the rip tide near the rock that pulls them back out for another ride. This isn't the beach to visit if basking in the sun on a warm day is your style. This is a windy beach great for kite flying, walking, running and, on our visits recently, sand dollar hunting.

We spent the majority of the rest of our time in the marina. We walked the boardwalk and decks that run along the marina and enjoyed visiting with neighborhood pelicans and watching young seagulls communicate with their helicopter parents. The "glass"-bottom boat offering underwater tours was enticing, but took a peek and you really can't see very far past the glass. If a seal were to swim RIGHT up to the glass, we might be able to see it. Still, I think we'll try this at some point soon. We'd also like to rent a kayak and take a spin around the marina, and maybe explore the sand spit on the other side. (Mr. B and I walked the whole spit from Montana de Oro State Park to the south, but it's a VERY long haul, particularly for little legs).

There's no shortage of dining opportunities in Morro Bay. V and I found fish n' chips ('cause there's just SOMETHING about being near the ocean that REQUIRES that) at a cute surf shack featuring fun surfer music from throughout "the ages."

V thrives on one-on-one time. I think we'll need to focus on that a bit more.

When Visitors Come to Call

One of the greatest things about our move has been the increase in visitors to our place. Not only do they share in our excitement, but they help us build new memories that make this house seem more like home.

It started with the friends who helped us move, the family who arrived immediately thereafter, a visit from more family that following weekend to help unpack boxes, and friends who wandered by in the following weeks. Our housewarming/farmwarming was an amazing success, particularly considering most of our friends now live 40 to 60 miles away and it was raining like crazy - folks got lost, put up with poor visibility and still made it out here. Nothing makes a person feel more special than when others make SUCH an effort just to share space!

We've also been blessed with many overnight visitors including our cousins from England for a portion of Easter week, our first overnight stay from some of the girls' cousins, stays by the girls friends and my own long-time friends' children. Grandparents have come for stays and my own cousin and aunts have come to visit for a night or more.

I'm not a great hostess. I don't have a lot of practice at it. It's difficult for me to drop the laundry list of everyday chores and new chores to completely focus on my guests, and I'm not sure enlisting guests is really considered "good hostess" work. But I do thank my English cousin for helping us to build fence, grandparents for helping to clean up the farm and move in, aunts for helping to decorate, and cousins for helping train the horses during their stays.

What do you think makes a good hostess? Do you need one-on-one attention throughout your stay? Do you like being left to your own devices now and again? How do you feel about picking up a project when you're visiting a friend/family member?

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