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)...how 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.

Splash!

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 APPLESAUCE TIME!

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!

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