Christmastime

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It’s holiday time, everybody! Ever since M was born, I’ve really enjoyed the coziness of the shorter days during the winter. And I love decorating for Christmas. I took the girls to the tree farm this weekend. I picked out a pre-cut balsam, but we still went on the horse-drawn hay ride they use to bring people out to the cut-your-own lots. When we started moving, M said, “I don’t like this!” — but she wanted to know when we could go back on as soon as we were done. She actually picked out our tree (though it was also the one I liked best!), and she picked out our new ornament, too.

I remember having real trees when I was younger, and then we switched to a fake tree at some point — maybe when I was a young teenager? So even though climbing under the tree to water it is annoying, just the smell of a real tree makes me feel nicely nostalgic. And I want the girls to have those memories, too. We have several young firs that the previous owners of our land planted, and they’re way too close together (I’m sure they seemed miles apart when the trees were tiny!). They’re nice trees — in the 4-6′ range now, I’d say — but since digging them up to space them farther apart is pretty unfeasible, maybe a few of them will become Christmas trees in the future.

I’m happy to say that I finished knitting F’s stocking in time for the holidays! It was slow progress for a while, but I finally got to the end. Now I just need to sew a fleece lining for it (which should only take ten minutes, tops, but F has been more limpet than baby lately), and it’ll be done-done. I can’t wait to share photos of it!

Mouse(s) in the House

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Everybody around here agrees that it’s been a terrible year for mice. Well, great for the mice, terrible for us humans. There are just so many of them, and they all want to live indoors! We had mice (and the occasional baby shrew) when we first moved into the house, as it had been vacant for quite a while. But then (ignoring the weeks when M was in the hospital as a newborn and the cats weren’t in the house) mouse sightings/catchings have been pretty few and far between. Until this year.

The cats have dispatched about half a dozen mice and helped me catch about that many again. A few days ago, Bear-Bear cornered the mouse above, trapped it behind a trash can. It seemed almost relieved to scurry into my little “holding pen” cage. The cats had obviously been playing with it — it has only about a third of its tail, and one eye was swollen shut. Because I am a SUCKER, I made it a home in the spare 10gal aquarium I had. The eye has made a full recovery, but now it’s cold and really snowy outside, so I feel bad dumping it in the middle of a field. (My parents over-wintered a mouse they caught last year, so I come by my bleeding heart honestly.) If you were a mouse, would you rather have the freedom to run wherever you please but be out in the cold (or run the risk of being killed if you go indoors) — or trapped in a cage but warm and supplied with food? I wish I could get an answer about that, straight from the mouse.

Oh, and I’ve got a second mouse tenant, too. This one came out of the garage while the girls and I were playing outside. It walked straight over to us (over the snow), almost purposefully, and let me scoop him up with my mittened hands. If you’ve ever tried to catch a wild mouse, you know how odd that is. Maybe word had spread that I’m offering warm beds and fresh produce.

Big Girls

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Time is so funny, isn’t it? The entire time I was pregnant with F, it seemed so bizarre (in a good way) that she’d be nearly seven months old by Christmas. I’m not sure if that seemed significant because M was just little at her first Christmas (only two months old) or if it’s because Christmas always seems to come around so quickly, and how could I possibly have such an “old” baby by then? Anyway, it was a good “eyes on the prize” kind of thing to imagine while waiting for my due date and all during the newborn months. And now we’re almost there.

F started sitting up right after she turned five months old. Just like M, she began one week by being able to sit for only a few seconds, and by the end of the week, she was more or less rock solid. Maybe that’s just how babies are? I was really looking forward to F being able to sit on her own, because it’s easier for a sitting baby to play with toys and therefore to be content. As soon as she started doing it, though, I felt like she was growing up waaaay too fast. And now she’s able to hold herself in a crawling position, rocking back and forth a little. She’s going to be a (lovable) menace once she learns to crawl! M will have no idea what’s hit her — and I know I’m not ready!

Preschool

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Because M has an October birthday, she’ll be nearly five before she can start (public) preschool. Almost six by the time kindergarten starts. If she does, indeed, wind up going to public school. I’m still on the fence about homeschooling, mainly because it depends so much on M (and F). Her willingness and ability to learn from me, her desire to be in a regular class, etc, etc.

But, for now, we’re doing preschool at home. She’s a smart cookie and interested in everything — and we’re together at home, anyway, so we have to do SOMEthing. I bought a Timberdoodle curriculum, which has been a great leaping-off point. M got a little workbook-ed out early on, so we took a break from that stuff. Now I’m trying to let her choose more activities, which means sticker books! (Usborne makes great ones that actually teach her things.) Although she also chose her moveable alphabet today, and I helped her spell words while working on matching letters and their sounds. We looked at some big maps and talked about where various animals live (the most important part of geography, of course). And, while we colored in her new Paw Patrol book, we also did a few of its counting and “which one is different” activities. Not terribly strenuous stuff, but it’s fun to see how it all comes together for her.

Bear-Bear

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Sometimes you walk by your bedroom and notice a lump under the blanket…

Some of you may remember how Birdy spent the first… year? of Bear’s life trying to murder her. I really worried about Bear-Bear’s safety, but she and M had a nice bond, so I didn’t want to rehome her (which would have meant dropping her off at a shelter, since I didn’t know anybody who would take her). Bear’s a little over two years old now, and she and Birdy are totally fine. If anything, Bear is aware that she’s the bigger one now and lords it over Birdy a little — I’ll often catch her “casually” lying at the top of the stairs, refusing to let Birdy come up. But, whereas Beany is usually upstairs with us most of the day, Birdy and Bear-Bear tend to hang out downstairs together. Not exactly next to one another, but in the general vicinity. So that all worked out.

Food Stuffs

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After more than a year of seriously contemplating it, I finally bought a deep fryer. This one. (It was $80 when I bought it — looks like the price has gone up!) I had thought about getting a small, cheap one, but I wanted it to be dependable, and I realized that soon enough there will be three of us to cook for — and that’s when it’s just me and the girls. I’ve used the fryer twice so far, and I’m really happy with it. It feels safe (from a hot oil standpoint), cooks the food well, and the filter and oil storage box are awesome. Once that oil is cleaned up, the frying smell dissipates quickly.

I made donuts to start — how could I not? They were delicious fresh, but I won’t make that recipe again. The dough was a little too light and yeasty, so it was a perfect sponge for the oil. I guess I’ll just have to try recipe after recipe, donut after donut, until I get it right. SIGH.

Yesterday, I made hand-cut fries, following these instructions. Perfection! It’s really satisfying and magical-feeling to totally nail (in my humble opinion) something on the first try, and those fries couldn’t have gotten any better. If you ask me.

I also made ice cream yesterday, and with the leftover egg whites, I baked an angel food cake. We’re getting fewer eggs these days — two of my hens are molting, and one is broody, so only two are laying. But as long as I don’t give in to M’s request to make scrambled eggs EVERY morning, I can save up enough for treats. This is my go-to ice cream recipe. I’ve made it several times now, in several flavors, and it’s been perfect every time. I think the trick (as with so many things) is just to not skimp on the good stuff. Need the cream, need the sugar, need all those egg yolks. I churned in some broken Oreo pieces right before the ice cream was done, so it’s cookies and (real) cream. M approves! The angel food is an older Betty Crocker recipe — no need to reinvent the wheel. It’s just impossibly fluffy. Those chickens do good work.

Changing of the Guard

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Wednesday evening, I went into the barn to close the chickens’ door, and I noticed there were only three hens in the coop. So I called for the chickens (they’re better at coming when called than the dogs!), and I heard one of them start “bock-bock-bock”-ing in the distance, basically telling me that they saw something scary. I went out behind the barn and could see the two hens at the edge of the woods, but they wouldn’t come any closer. So I started to walk into the weeds, which made a hawk fly up from the ground and into a tree. Ah ha. The hens still wouldn’t move, so I picked them up and carried them back to the coop.

Close call, I thought.

Except what I realized in the morning was that I had miscounted. I’d thought I’d seen Mister Chicken roosting with the hens and the young boys on the window sill, where they like to perch. What I’d really seen was Red (one of the young roosters) sitting with the hens and the two Juniors on the window. My first thought (hope) was that Mister Chicken was still out in the woods, hiding. But I knew why that hawk had been on the ground. And, sure enough, his remains were right where the hawk had been. I hadn’t even looked over there the night before, because I thought all the chickens were accounted for.

I’m sure he was caught because he was protecting his hens. Either he actually charged the hawk when it came for a hen, or he was left out in the open, keeping lookout while the hens hid in the woods. He was the best rooster — I didn’t even know roosters could take such good care of their hens. He always kept an eye out for threats (while the ladies milled about without a care in the world), and when he found a particularly tasty treat, he’d call them over instead of eating it himself.

I’m hoping one of his sons will take over his role with the same dedication he had. Red (in the second photo; Mister Chicken is in the top one) is mature and crowing right now, while the Juniors aren’t quite there yet. The hens are being nicer to the boys now, but they haven’t completely meshed as a single flock.

Farewell, Mister Chicken — can chickens fly in chicken heaven?

M is Three

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M turned three on Monday. Can you believe it? She’s still so little — I know I’ll look back at this age when she’s a tween and think, “She was just a baby!” — but she’s also becoming such a big kid. A year ago, she was JUST starting to talk. And last week, one of the preschool teachers (who we see when we go to ECFE) said she always forgets that M is just turning three because M is so verbal. She’s definitely become a chatterbox. It’s so interesting to find out what she remembers and the connections she draws between things now that she can verbalize it all.

I haven’t done parties for M except when she turned a year old; we had donuts for breakfast, lunch at a restaurant, and then my parents came over for presents and cake. M really remembered her second birthday, so she was very excited about this one. I had the dining area all decorated when she came up in the morning, and this year she had a special surprise — a mini bounce house! That’s been lots of fun already. M had told me she wanted a Daniel Tiger cake, and made Trolley. It was my first time using fondant, so I’m just glad she recognized it! She got a few Playmobil sets as presents, some Play-Doh, pajamas… lots of stuff, but I think all things that will get used / played with. She seemed excited about everything, at least!

The Boys

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Out of four chicks hatched this year (two by Rita, two by Aster before she hatched the guineas), all four were male. One of Rita’s was killed at night a while back — I’ve tried to explain to them the importance of going in the coop at night! But young chickens don’t listen and are impossible to catch. So I’ve got three surplus roosters, plus Mister Chicken.

My plan is to keep them unless/until they become a nuisance. Our neighbors have said they’ll take them, so they won’t wind up in a pot. (Though, when they’re refusing to go inside at night, I’ve often thought they’d look quite nice with a coating of bread crumbs — and I’ve been a vegetarian for fifteen years!) The three of them are closely bonded, and it’s fun to watch them wandering around together. I really wish we would have gotten a couple of female chicks, though; the hens are slowing down their egg production for the winter, and M and I are almost out. Only three left in the fridge!