Friday, December 31, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Do you see a road here? Neither do I.

Well, so much for sunshine.

It's still dark outside but you can hear the wind wailing. The snow is blowing so hard the fields look like they're set with fog. The neighbors porch lights look far away and fuzzy in the blow- isolated. Even though the house is warm and toasty I pull on a wool sweater and socks before cranking up the kitchen fires. Nobody has school until next week so most of the kids are still in bed, but my oldest has basketball practice. The mountain boy (bless his heart) is going to brave the weather and drive him the 12 miles into town. (Of course he really loves this kind of weather and the challenge it provides. Driving out there in the frozen tundra is not a hardship but an adventure for him. Weather like this still kind of gives me the vapors.) The coffee is perking and the men are pulling on their cold weather armor. Heavy down coats, felt-lined snow boots that lace up the shin, wool hats, gloves and warm socks. You just don't go out this kind of a storm unprepared. You never know when you might have to walk because of an unexpected breakdown or dumping the car into the ditch (or even help an unsuspecting transplanted Texan who dumped her car into the ditch).

This state is used to storms like these. Though life surely slows, nothing stops. Shops stay open, the school bell rings at the usual time (when it's not Christmas break- much to my children's chagrin), basketball practice continues (much to my chagrin). And the snow plows are out in force (our real knights in shining armor!). It is Montana, after all.

It's good to know that the animals are snug in the little red barn. I pushed a record amount of grass hay into the rabbit cages and laid out extra scoops of cracked corn and a broken open pumpkin along with the regular feed for the chickens last night in anticipation of this blow. All will be fine until daylight at least.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 winter?

It has been sunny for the last couple of days which is really a gift. We just don't see the sun in the winter very often. Winters can be very dreary. Unlike the Southwestern Rocky Mountain range which is colder and snowier, but sees the sun more than once. (I was "warned" about this before we actually moved here.) It's been really chilly..... but sunny. The chickens have been reluctant to venture outside the coop. Who wants to get their bare feet all snowy (except a couple of wild ass boys! See post from December 12!)? So I laid out some hay with some cracked corn on top. Now they can scratch and eat a little and dance around all the while soaking up some vitamin D. Ahhh. Sun in winter- quite a treat.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ode to a crock pot

Crock pot, oh crock pot.

How I love thee.

You are a marvel to behold.

You make chicken chili.

You keep my potatoes warm.

Your innards are easy to clean.

The End.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's the day after.....or really the night after. The family just arrived home from a long post-Christmas evening drive. Starting at 6 pm we were driving in the dark already but we didn't care. It was good to be together without any "new stuff" distractions. Now after the kids are settled in bed each reading a new Christmas book, the red puppy and I take one last turn outside.

The night sky is flat out black- no stars, no moon. But the snow seems to give off it's own light and as we walk along the driveway (actually I walk, the puppy careens this way and that with her nose to the ground) I can see across the fields to where the snow melts into the far off woods. The night breezes are quiet right now but I can hear coyotes baying in the distance. There is an entire mark of the horizon that has no light visible; no porch lights blinking between the trees; no street lights, no sign of man. That's pretty amazing since there are signs of people everywhere. But living here, in the country, in the Montana country, there are large swatches of area where there is no sign of man. No houses, no lights, no traffic noises, just trees and creeks and animals and mountains and snow. I can't see any of these things right now, it's too dark. I just know they are out there. I can feel the emptiness of man-made things and the fullness of nature and it's good.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Oh Holy Night

The kids are snuggled into their sleeping bags on the downstairs den floor. The Christmas tree is decorated upstairs in the family room, waiting for Santa to arrive and bless these "well deserving kids" (they think) with "copious presents" (they hope). They're keeping with the tradition I had with my brothers and sisters when I was growing up.......all sleeping in the same room on Christmas Eve night.

I'd like to say it's because they all want to be together during this very wonderful time. But the reality is that they don't trust each other. The whole family is supposed to see the Christmas tree and all the Christmas bounty at the same time on Christmas morning (another family tradition is to have some of the presents wrapped and some just laying out because Santa doesn't wrap presents- he just doesn't have the time). The children are to wait until a half way normal hour (the translates to some time after 6 am) and come into our bedroom to wake the mountain boy and me. Then everyone is to causally saunter down the hallway (at a break neck speed) to the family room where all can experience the shock and awe of Christmas at the same time.......Everyone. Together. At the same time.

But the kids don't trust each other.
Each one is afraid that the other will sneak up and tippy-toe up to the living room to see the cornucopia of gifts and therefore "know" before the rest ("know" as in "I-know-what-you-got-before-you-know-what-you-got"). So they sleep in the same room on Christmas Eve: trying not to get caught sleeping, watching each other with tired, blood-shot eyes, straining to hear a stray tippy-toe.
Keeping each other honest.

What else are families for?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"You go".

"Oh, you are so kind to think of me, you go".

"No,no, no, thank you so much. But, you may go ahead of me. After all, ladies first!".
"Oh", cluck, cluck, cluck, " thank you but, no. You first".

Nobody wants to go out of the house today.

It's just too cold.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Great Christmas Tree Hunt

Yesterday we ventured out on our annual Christmas Tree Hunt. These trips are always, ummm........ an adventure. (One year after our tree was cut and strapped on the top of the suburban, we got the SUV stuck kind of sideways in the road that lead out of the woods. After a lot of work backing-and-forthing, the mountain boy got the truck unstuck, but we were still backwards in the road. So he just backed down the mountain- 2 MILES DOWN THE MOUNTAIN (!!!!) until we could find a spot wide enough to turn around without getting stuck sideways again. Call me a weenie but I was hyperventilating.)

Anyhoo, we usually load up the kids, a saw, rope, home made hot chocolate, the dog and plenty of cold weather items in case we get stuck in the wilds of Montana. Then we venture out.

This is the road to the "most-beautiful-Christmas-tree-in-the-World". The tree is out there waiting for us. We just have to find it. The-most-beautiful-tree-in-the-world presents itself after we have looked over ever square inch of about 123 acres of state owned woods. (Every. Square. Inch.) Many trees are considered but only one has the perfect shape, height and attitude.

Everyone gets to have their opinion. All get their choice considered. But in the end, only one is chosen as "the most-beautiful". This year took a little longer than usual. Mostly because of the snow. We were trudging in snow up past knees and thighs (and I'm pretty tall for a girl). We almost lost several kids in the process.

("Randy lay there like a slug. It was his only defense". Name that movie.)

Then, it showed itself to us!

We found it! The most-beautiful-Christmas-Tree-in-the-World!!!! The mountain boy discovered it. It was just standing there amongst the other pines, standing tall and straight. Strong. Proud. It had Attitude. And it was kind of close to the road......kind of.

The kids took turns cutting and chopping........

and dragging the behemoth to the 'burban.

Finally, we got that beauty to the car.
And here we are---- kids, dog, parents and a tree with 'tude---- and we didn't even have to drive home backwards !
Thank goodness! I didn't feel like hyperventilating this time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Longest Night

Tonight is the longest night of the year. (Well, actually, the longest night is tomorrow night.) Typically here in NW Montana, we don't get many clear days or nights in the winter. Being in a valley, we see a lot of inversion type weather (IE: cloudy, foggy sky's). I know that there are some areas at this longitude (or is it latitude?) that can view the northern lights or shooting stars in the winter. But we very rarely see any of these heavenly phenomenons. It's just usually too cloudy. But tonight, it's relatively clear. At least kind of. I stole a few moments outside just now to see what I could see. And I could just barely make out the almost-full moon. (I'm kind of a goofball for weather and nature related events. I get this from my Dad. So I'm really excited about tonight's full lunar eclipse.) In a couple of hours, I'm going to nudge my beloved and we are going to venture out of our warm, toasty, comfortable, snuggly (the spell check says this is spelled wrong. I don't believe it.) bed, pull on our heavy, down coats and go outside. Since we live in the country we have a completely unobstructed view of the sky and therefore, the full eclipse of the moon that is supposed to occur tonight. If we can see anything at all- even if it's just a shadow of an eclipsing moon, I'm going to rouse those the kids up. These are the things that make memories and by golly, the kids are going to remember this night! They don't have school tomorrow because they are on Christmas break. So it's a perfect time to GET THOSE KIDS OUT OF BED. THERE'S A HEAVENLY EVENT TO VIEW......MAYBE......IF WE ARE LUCKY.......AND IT STAYS CLEAR......

So stay tuned.
If I can take a picture of the beautiful eclipsed moon, I'll do it.
But we all know the limits of my amazing picture taking skills.
The full story tomorrow. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Tuesday- the night after the monumental lunar eclipse on the very eve of the winter solstice: I got up twice in the night and no heavenly views. It was just too cloudy. So I guess we have to wait another 453 years before the full moon is eclipsed on the winter solstice. Too bad the event wasn't tonight. It's cold and clear outside. 7 degrees above zero and still as a breath. When we lived in the city, you could hear the electrical lines popping and cracking on really cold nights like tonight. Kind of a weird,eerie sound.

Our little town has put on her Sunday best for the Christmas holiday.

Mother Nature has put her special kiss on the land, too.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Oh where, oh where can he be?

My mountain boy husband is up there. Right now. He is up on the mountain in the clinic taking care of sick and hurt people. (He is picking up 2 extra shifts at the ski clinic while home from his regular job in AK.) He has a stethoscope around his neck and a white coat pulled over his rag wool sweater and his blue jeans. If I squint my eyes I can see him waving to me.
He'll be home in about 3 hours then our family will have supper, share some home made eggnog and watch "Hoosiers" for the 153th time (it's not a Christmas movie but we are a BIG sports family so it's kinda like watching "White Christmas" but with sweaty high school boys playing basketball. Well, OK. It's not like "White Christmas" at all. But the kids like it and it is Christmas). Then we will turn off the lights, tuck the kids into bed and snuggle down for a long winters nap. I can't wait.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The bread of Life

Today is bread day.
I don't always bake on Thursdays. It just depends on when we need bread. Today's the day. It seems that the pioneer women I often read about have certain days of the week that have tasks associated with them- mostly chores- wash day, ironing day, cleaning day, bread day.

Today's bread day.

I know how to bake bread.
I've made bread on many special occasions in the past: Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays.... But I've never actually made a habit of it until now. I started because a couple of months ago I read an article in the paper that stated that the DNA combination of wheat had been cracked by British scientists. Wheat was one of the last major food crops to be sequenced. This is because the the genome of wheat is absolutely huge- 17 billion base pairs make up the DNA sequence. Wheat can now be adapted at the genetic level. Scientists have been working on this for years. Now I know this could be good news. Cracking wheat's genetic code could mean that the grain could be modified to withstand drought, climate change or to increase yields. The increasing yields could decrease the world food shortage. Genetically modified wheat can also decrease the United States vulnerability to food issues stemming from possible terrorist attack. Modification has already been completed on corn, soy, cotton, canola and rice. These are all good things.

But it also means that sometime in the near future, all bread and bread products (cookies, rolls, hamburger buns, hot dog buns, muffins......anything with wheat!) could have genetically modified grain cooked, baked and otherwise hidden in the deep recesses of our store bought food. (We as consumers don't even have a choice of whether or not we want to buy genetically modified food because the FDA does not make food companies include GMO information on the ingredient labels.) I used to think that if I made as many of our food products here at home, my children would be receiving the best food I could possibly provide for them. But that might not be true anymore. If the basic building blocks of our wheat, corn and other raw food materials have been changed (and maybe damaged) at the cellular level, using flour or corn meal as a "baking from scratch" option might not be the healthiest food option at all. We don't know what effect prolonged exposure to genetically modified foods is going to be on the human body. And I don't really want to feed my kids anymore fake ingredients than I have to. So I'm trying to learn how to make all our baked goods at home. And if we ever get the word that wheat has been successfully genetically modified, I will buy organic wheat berries from our local wheat farm, grind my own flour and truly start from scratch with food material that is clean and right out of the dirt, so to speak. (Actually, my plan is to start buying wheat berries as soon as I use up the #200 of flour I have stored in my pantry that was bought in September.)

All that aside- baking bread is fun, pretty easy.......and cheap.....(a loaf of bread costs me 18 cents to bake at home) and there is NOTHING better than the smell of freshly baking bread.

Monday, December 13, 2010


By five thirty I'm out of bed and begin warming up the house before the kids get up for school. I turn the radio to NPR where it plays quietly from it's home on top the refrigerator. Today's Monday.....proclaimed the most "unfavorite day of the week" by the kids in this house. Coffee's dripping and huckleberry scones are in the oven by 5:50. (I love scones. The recipe is just a couple of steps different from biscuits but taste oh so much better, though my youngest would argue that. Biscuits and gravy are his favorite.) Scones and thick slabs of fried ham and onions are planned for breakfast, a nice way to start off "the most unfavorite day" I'm thinking. The house is beginning to smell great and I'm yearning for a mug of strong Joe. There's lots to do today and I need that kick start. But the red puppy is whining from her crate cave. She needs to take care of some business outside before I do anything else. I've got just about 18 minutes before the scones come out of the oven. So I pull on some rubber boots and my down jacket over my bed clothes. We venture out together into the cold.

The morning temperatures haven't seen above freezing for almost a month. I guess winter is here in earnest. While the puppy is out making her rounds, I poke my head into the chicken coop. The birds aren't up yet and I can see only fluffed up mounds of different colored feathers in a line across the rafters of the coop all snuggled together. It'll be dark for several more hours so I lay down some chicken mash mixed with a little cracked corn for later. The birds seem to appreciate food right when waking to help warm their bodies after a cold night. The rabbits are still snoozing in their individual cages. I'm not too worried about them. They can tolerate very cold temperatures without much complaint. I'll feed and water them a little later.

As I start making my way through the snow back toward the porch I can see the lights of the warm house streaming out from the kitchen window like a beacon through the darkness. I think of what lies inside: happy, healthy sleeping kids, a strong, safe place to live, lots of home-grown food, my own warm bed (which I won't be back into until tonight), happiness. The only thing lacking is my mountain boy husband home from the Great White North. But he'll be home by weeks-end ready to celebrate family.

Life is good.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Barefoot snow running

We have a strange tradition in our family.

It began several years ago when we moved to West Virginia; the first place our kids ever lived that had real snow.

I don't remember if it began as a challenge from their mountain boy father. Or if the kids came up with it themselves. But the idea is to see who was the toughest of them all by running around the house in the snow.......barefooted. Intestinal fortitude was displayed. Strength- revealed. Stamina- tested. He or she who could run around the house barefooted was pronounced a "true mountain kid".

All four of them used to "run".

But now only two run......

only the toughest......

only the bravest.......

only the coldest.....

and the dog.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Some of our winter food storage ideas

Our food storage system is pretty rudimentary with most all of the produce from the garden harbored in plastic storage bins on the floor of the garage, close to the kitchen door. The garage keeps everything cool but not frozen and semi-safe from rodents (though my mountain boy has reservations about the rodent part. He thinks we've just been lucky to not have a mouse problem in the veggies. He's probably right.)

The red Coleman-type cooler in the top of the picture is filled with about #100 of Russet potatoes. The drain spout at the bottom is open and the lid is ajar to allow air flow and to (hopefully) keep the potatoes fresh until spring (or until we eat them all). What you can't see is that there is a bin beyond the potatoes that has about #25 carrots stored in it. We usually go through the carrots before they get soft or
sprout little roots. Otherwise I would bury the carrots in sand to keep them safe. There's also a couple of #25 boxes of organic apples. We usually get our apples from a friend's tree but this summer was so cool and wet that the local apple production was really poor and I had to buy fruit this year.

There's also a bin of storage onions under the steps and all that green stuff flowing out of the bucket are leeks and some smallish onions that I use for the greens. These guys will be used up in the next couple of weeks as the greens won't last too long in storage.

There are 14 heads of both green and purple cabbage that should be fine in the coolness of the garage until we eat them. If they start to turn, I can cut them up into wedges and freeze them in large gallon sized zip-lock baggies. Of course you can't use them raw but they taste great cooked with onions and ham after being frozen.

The red potatoes are all from our garden in town. We have been using the same potatoes for years, saving the largest from the pile of the harvested crop to be used again for the next springs garden. A friend asked me what kind of reds we used and I couldn't even tell her the name. A long time gardener gave me the first of these potatoes to grow when we moved to Montana and he has since passed. So the actual name of these great, successful potatoes is a mystery. Maybe we should just name them after our friend. What a nice tribute that would be.

We harvested all the extra meat rabbits, chickens and turkeys. Our freezer looks like this:

(The bird harvest was.......interesting and I'll post about it later. But for now, I'm just glad it's a done job.)

A corner of the garage floor looks like this (except that the pumpkins are not sideways):

The pumpkins are for us and the chickens. Last winter I had a couple of squash that got soft before we could eat them so I gave them to the chickens. I had read that the birds do pretty well on pumpkins as a vitamin C supplement during winter. So this year I hit up the local farmers markets just after Halloween for any and all left over pumpkins. I got a great haul for just cents on the dollar. I crack them open and step back as the chickens go crazy for the pumpkin guts. They eat the fruit down to the shell. It's kind of eerie to walk into the coop and see all these spent shells....kind of like the skins of dead creatures. Weird.

That's pretty much it for the root cellar type foods. My mountain boy husband says that he will build rodent proof bins for the garage next summer until we can get either a root cellar dug or built into the "to-be-built" barn. I have some great ideas about storing next years celery, live onions (as opposed to dead or dug up) and leeks.

Right now we have a spare downstairs room that holds the canned goods. But next year we should also have a real pantry to boast about......with shelves and everything! I also need to really think about water storage. We don't have any extra water stored at all. And speaking of water......we really need to look into a hand pump for the well, in case we ever have a true electric outage for any length of time.

Lots to think about.
Lots to plan for.
Isn't it fun???

Friday, December 10, 2010

I love my world.

Right now it's all snowy and bright and beautiful. ........And cold.

This is the road to my house. My wonderful, new, old, house.......

filled with my wonderful, happy kids......

Those sweet, little toots. I think I'll go put some cookies in the oven right now before they get home from school

Don't get too close

See this sock?

It looks like an ordinary sock. But it's kind of stiff. If you get too close the smell burns your nose hairs and makes your eyes water. It belongs to my oldest son. It is one of his dirty baseball socks. The interesting thing is that Fall baseball has been over for about 6 weeks. He found this one buried in the bottom of his bedroom closet.

Don't get too close.

This one is bad.

The exposure could change your life.

And not for the better.

I'm not kidding.

(My son said it was a little "stuck" to the carpet.)

It must be love.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Well, they used to be cute.....

We have 8-10 inches of snow on the level already. The weather guys have been predicting that we would have a big snow year for a couple of months now, and it's not that I didn't believe them but I thought winter would start a little slower than what it did. It began snowing on the evening of November 16th and just hasn't quit.

These are some pumpkins from our friend's garden with just a dusting of snow.....before the "big blow". They were so cute clumped together on our porch....heralding in the Fall. But now they are all stuck together in a solid lump of orangey, white ice, looking kind of strange and sad. I hope I can pry them off the porch before spring or they will be a mass of gooey, limp pumpkin wanna-bees.

It's pouring down snow right now (I still say "pouring" down snow. I'm sure there's a more better way of saying "it's snowing like crazy", but, dang it, I'm from Texas......I don't know any better). And though it's already been snowing for about a month, it's still beautiful. I wonder if I'm going to think this same way in about 2 months when it's still "pouring" down snow.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


It's time to get back to blogging.
Though it's been a nice
(unexpected) break I've been gone for way too long. The words have been backing up in my brain. The words have been screaming in my brain. They have to get out! So here we are.....screaming words.

Lots of GREAT things have happened to our family in the last couple of months since I last posted.The best news is that....... WE BOUGHT OUR HOUSE!!!!! Yup- we are now HOME OWNERS!!! The man who owned the great house we were renting generously agreed to come down to our offer. And we now own the house we have been renting for 2 years. We closed about 2 weeks ago.

Living in this house for a while before buying it has it's advantages and disadvantages.

The pros are-
--we don't have to move;
--we already know the house pretty well so we (hopeful) won't have any unhappy surprises;
--we don't have to move;
--we have 10 wonderful usable acres to spread out onto (I see a much bigger garden, a barn and fruit trees in our future....maybe even our own milk cow!);
--we don't have to move;
--the kids love the house:
--we don't have to move;
--we know our neighbors and our 'hood already;

and the best news of all is...... we don't have to move!

The cons are-
--we won't have that excitement that comes with moving into a house and won't have that "honeymoon phase" but as far as I'm concerned, it's a small price to pay to not have to move! Yea!

The house has been a rental for about 6 years and needs the TLC that comes with ownership. So in the next several months I will be discussing garden plots, barn plans, fruit tree hardiness and wood stove models. Of course we will be painting and replacing the roof (well, the roof will have to wait until summer as the whole of NW Montana is covered in 10 inches of late Fall snow!) and pricing hard wood floors.
So we have some work to do.

But the house is ours! Warts and all!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Computer dead in the water.....

I'm posting this note from the library as my home computer is dead......
I'll have to wait to update any stories from my stimulating life tomorrow or the next day when my connection to the world has been restored.

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Today is one of my most favorite days of the year (excluding the magic of Christmas Eve and my children's birthdays, of course). I absolutely adore Fall. And even though it officially began September 21st, for me, Fall starts October 1. So today is really "All-Falls-Eve". (I know it's not correct to capitalize "Fall" but I can't help it. Sometimes the whimsy of the heart must over rule the regulations of grammar.) The weather is glorious; the sun is bathing everything it touches in color, the southerly breezes are warming my clean clothes on the backyard line, the chickens are taking dust baths in little trenches in the garden space they made just for dust bathing, the turkeys are all spread out in their yard soaking up vitamin D. It's all very peaceful. (Kind of like the calm before the winter storm.)

So to celebrate the glory that is Fall, I'm baking a Jack Apple cake. This is a wonderful recipe that was given to me when we lived in Appalachia way back when. The kids love it. So here's the recipe. It makes two loaves when baked in a bread pan and I already have a couple in the oven as I write this. The house smells amazingly-wonderful. Just the thing for All-Falls-Eve.

Jack Apple Cake

3 large eggs
2 ¾ cup flour
3 large apples
2 cups sugar
¼ cup honey, heated
1 stick butter, melted
a dash cinnamon or more if you like cinnamon
1 ¾ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon baking powder

Peel and dice apples and place in a large bowl with 1 ½ cups sugar (set aside other half cup for topping), sprinkle the cinnamon over the apples then drizzle the warmed honey and mix into a nice gooey concoction . Allow to cool in the 'fridge for 2 hours. Do not skip this step. After 2 hours, add all wet ingredients (half melted stick of butter, eggs, oil, vanilla) and mix with a gentle hand. Add in tablespoon baking powder. Add flour and gently stir the batter. It will be wet. Pour into greased bread loaf pan. Now melt other half stick of butter, add to it the held back sugar and some cinnamon and mix them into a paste. Use a spoon to drip it over the batter. This step makes a kind of crust that bakes into the cake. Bake at 350 degrees 30-40 minutes. Watch the cake. Sometimes it seems to bake fast and you REALLY don't want to burn this baby. When knife comes out clean it’s done. Serve warm with homemade whipped cream.

Then sit back and smile as your eaters will think they have the most magnificent mother who ever lived.
And they will be right.