Thursday, April 26, 2012

Things Are Getting Hairy

Babies grow up. Oh, do they ever. And their hair grows too. But it couldn't be time for our little man to get his first haircut, could it? Already?

Keith made the final call, saying his boy should look like a boy, not a girl. (He may or may not have referenced a few long-haired young male celebrities.) So out came the clippers. You didn't really think we were going to take Bert somewhere for his haircut, did you? We neglected to get an immediate "before" shot, but here's a pretty recent one.

We headed up to the bathroom, stripped Bert down to his diaper, put him in his Bumbo seat, and went to it. We just put the 1" guide on the same clippers I use on Keith and did his whole head, then trimmed up around his ears and evened up the back with scissors. I started cutting first, and Keith took a turn later. Bert kept trying to push my hands away.

He was more curious than scared, which was good because I was concerned he would get upset by the buzzing of the clippers.

He wasn't exactly happy, but he wasn't screaming.

"What are you doing to me?!?"

"I said a little off the top!"
 Doesn't it look like it tickles him here?

Lookin' good huh? What happened to our little baby? He looks like a kid now, not a baby!

PS: With two heads of hair to cut, those clippers are really paying for themselves! Too bad I can't just get a buzz cut too...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Just A Day at the Beach (Sort Of)

A while back we decided we wanted to have a sandbox for Bert to play in.  Of course, us being who we are, we weren’t going to spend $100 on a sandbox.  But, just because Bert’s parents are cheap doesn’t mean he can’t have nice things.  So, we decided that we would build a sandbox out of an old tractor tire; no shortage of those at the farm.  Honestly, I’m sure Tara’s mom would have been overjoyed to have one less lying around up there.

So that was the plan, until one Sunday a few weeks ago when we happened to be driving by a flea market and Tara spotted one of those green plastic turtle sandboxes – for only $5.  Tara already told you that story.  She’s got eyes like a hawk! (And her hearing isn’t too shabby either – Bert’s gonna have a heck of time trying to get away with stuff as he gets older). 

A few weekends ago, during some unseasonably warm yet wonderful weather, we decided to set up the sandbox.  But, I got to thinking (imagine that!).  Putting the turtle on the concrete patio would be asking for trouble if Bert fell.  On the other hand, just putting the turtle in the grass meant I would have to weed whack around it and possibly damage the plastic (and get thoroughly annoyed every time I had to cut the grass).  So, what to do?

I had some old 4x4” wooden boards that I found on a scrap pile a while back (of course – what else would you expect from us?).  And, Tara was getting tired of having them lie around the garage so I thought building a platform for the sandbox would be a great way to use them up.  See honey? I told you they would come in handy.

I started by having Bert measure the 4x4’s.  He mostly wanted to chew on the pencil.

I screwed them together to form a square.  Easy enough. 

We didn’t want the sandbox to be too high off the grass so I decided that it would be best if the 4x4’s sat down in the ground a few inches.  Low enough to just poke above the grass but high enough that I can easily weed whack around them.

Next issue; finding a way to keep the lid on.  Over the years I have seen a number of people place heavy objects on the lid to hold it down: bricks, cinder blocks, etc.  In every case, the lid collapsed and sometimes even cracked apart.  And, it always looked bad.  With that in mind, I decided bungee straps were the way to go.  I screwed holes into each of the turtle’s “feet” and affixed an eye bolt to each one.  That way, the bungee straps hook to the eye bolts and hold the lid tight against the bottom of the turtle (and you barely notice them which is the best part).

We leveled out the ground and laid down some newspaper to keep the weeds from growing.  I have to say, laying the newspaper on a breezy day proved to be the most frustrating part of the entire project.  Of course, Bert seemed to enjoy it.

Speaking of Bert, he just couldn’t wait to start playing in his sandbox.  Although, probably best to wait for the sand, huh?!

Bert tried to help put the sand in but the 50 pound bags proved too much for his little arms.  I guess we’ll let it slide for now, considering each bag weighs more than double his total mass.  So, he did the clean up work instead.

Once the sand was in the box, Bert dove right in.  We’re pretty sure he ate most of the sand in the box.  It was a little low when he was finished playing.  But, he seemed to enjoy himself.  He’s not ready to start building castles yet but we’re working on it.  We’ve got a lot of nice weather ahead of us.

The last thing we need to do is create some type of shade so our fair skinned child doesn’t shrivel up in the hot summer sun.  We’re not sure how to accomplish that.  We’ve gone through a number of ideas but none seem to be the right fit.  So, we’re open to suggestions!

By the way, did you notice our lovely grass?  Nice and brown isn’t it?  That’s our Zoysia grass.  It always takes forever to green up in the spring and by the end of September, it’s right back to brown.  The strange thing is, for whatever reason, only half our yard is Zoysia grass.  The other half is some other variety that is always green.  Throw in some low-lying spots that I filled in with topsoil and new grass seed (not of the Zoysia variety) and our yard is a patchwork of colors.  We’re pretty sure our neighbor hates it (we do too).  But, it’s not going anywhere – I’m not ripping it all out.  It’s just grass.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Many Sides of Bert

Last week we had Bert's nine month check-up. He is right on track for his developmental targets, and is following his growth curve beautifully. He weighed in at 21 pounds, 10.5 ounces. I expected him to weigh more, but maybe he just feels heavy from lugging him around all the time! He is 28.5" long and his head circumference is 17.75".

What's that? You'd like to see a couple new pictures? No problem!

The caped crusader.

The reader.

The driver...

Or maybe the passenger. It's open for debate.

The laundry (un)sorter.

The tool man.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Down to the Wire

Awhile back, you read about our posts and trees for our espalier apple tree fence. Nearly five months later, guess what we finally got around to? Yep, wire to train the tree branches on.

Disclaimer: This whole project is an experiment for us, so you probably shouldn't treat this like a tutorial. We are just trying to make a fruit-bearing fence in the most cost-effective, least time-consuming way. Maybe in a decade, we'll actually have an apple to show you.

Last time my mom visited, she brought along some fencing supplies my dad could spare from the latest high-tensile fencing project on the farm. We tossed around a few ideas for stringing the wire but settled on inserting eyebolts in the two end posts, drilling holes in the middle posts, and running the wire through. I got the job of measuring and marking for eyebolts and holes, Keith took care of the drilling.

Feeding the wire through and tightening it didn't take long, but it was easier as a two-person job so I don't have any pictures. But here is the wire in place.

Keith used some clips to clamp the wire back on itself. If it needs tightening, we should be able to turn the eyebolts to get some more tension. If I remember right, it is a 12 gauge wire. (If you don't have a farmer friend or family to give you some fencing supplies, you should be able to find them at a hardware store or a place like Tractor Supply. I saw all the stuff we used at our local Ace Hardware.) Some of the articles I read suggested doing three tiers of wire, with about two feet between each tier. Since our posts aren't all that tall, we did two tiers of wire, with about 15" between them. As soon as the branches start growing, we will gently tie four from each tree onto the wires and prune the rest of them away. Which reminds me that I should be reading up on how and when to prune trees.

I was a little worried this spring that our fence row was going to be an expensive failure. The perennials were looking quite skeletal, and the trees were looking like a $90 collection of large dead twigs stuck in the ground. Then the perennials starting perking up and showing some green growth. All but one, which I started to dig up to replace with an Easter lily from my dad, only to find that under the mulch there were some little shoots struggling towards sunlight. So all my deep-discount perennials have survived. The trees are still leafless, and bud-less, but there is definitely color under the bark so I think they are doing just fine, having survived the rabbit attack during the winter.

Though we won't be making pies with quarter-acre apples anytime soon, we are excited to have our fence complete. Now it's just up to the trees to do the growing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Upstairs, Downstairs

The House at Riverton
By Kate Morton

I've been hearing a lot about the show "Downton Abbey" on PBS, but I have only managed to catch one episode. I was intrigued, but since it is listed as "Masterpiece Classic" on the channel guide, it never catches my eye as I surf through the guide, eventually settling on something like "Doomsday Preppers."

That one episode of "Downton Abbey" was on my mind as I started to read The House at Riverton. Both take place on large English estates, intertwining the lives of the servants "downstairs" and the masters and mistresses of the house "upstairs" in the early part of the 1900s. Riverton is home to the Hartford family, with lively daughters Hannah and Emmeline taking center stage. Their ladies' maid, Grace, is a keen observer in their lives, never guessing that she will have a hand in how their lives and ultimately, the tragedy that befalls them, unfold.

Grace has pushed her years with the Hartford family aside, desperately trying to move on with her life. It isn't until a filmmaker approaches her about her memories of the death that occurred at a Riverton party that she revisits the estate and the events that shaped her life, revealing its mysteries in her final days.

The House of Riverton is full of secrets and questions of loyalty as the characters try to find their place in the world, and question the roles society has burdened them with against the backdrop of World War I and the glamour of the upper class.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Planning and Planting

With all this warm, summery weather, we are itching to start putting things in the ground. I keep checking and rechecking seed packets, thinking that one of these times, I'll turn it over and it will say, "Plant me now!" None of them ever do. Most things have to be planted after any danger of frost is past, and despite near-90 temperatures this week, we might still get some frost this spring. (Mother's Day is generally considered to kick off the safe planting time around here.) So, I have been pacifying my greener-every-year thumb by reading up on a gardening approach called "mini farming" and plotting out where things will go in our large garden and the new raised beds we put together a few weeks ago.

So far, I have only planted some lettuce, radishes, and spinach in one of our new beds along the side of the house. This year, I want to stagger the planting of our salad veggies so that we can use it as it comes on, instead of having a whole bunch ready at one time and most of it ending up in the compost bin. I will do a larger planting of spinach to be ready all at once so I can freeze it though.

I also planted white and vidalia onions around the old clothesline posts where we put beans the last two summers. The rabbits ate our beans last year, so they need to be in a fenced area this time but our neighbor said the bunnies don't bother his onions, so we are trying them in an unfenced spot. I still have a handful of onion sets leftover so I might still do a row in the garden.

Next up for planting will be turnips, carrots, and peas, which can withstand some frost, and I think we are past heavy frosts for this year. At least I hope we are, because our strawberries and blueberry bushes are all in bloom, and I would hate to lose all those berries. What we really need is some rain. I've probably jinxed us for getting any significant rainfall anytime soon since I had Keith put up the rain gauge over the weekend.

Eating a Kiwi

Bert is a really good eater. In fact, I would say he devours food. He will pick through the food on his tray to eat what he likes best first, but then proceeds to eat every last bite. Over the weekend, we introduced him to kiwis. It wasn't love at first bite, but he did end up finishing it and actually ate another one at breakfast this morning. At 5 for $1 at the farmers' market, he can eat as many as he wants. Here's Bert trying out the kiwi.

Popper would say he was just upset over wearing a John Deere bib.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


I read the first Twilight book because my neighbor loaned to me. When I was finished, I looked at the rest of the series she had handed over and decided I had better things to do with my time than read a few more thousand pages about teenage vampires. What better things did I have to do, you ask? Apparently, read 766 pages about adult vampires.

The Passage
By Justin Cronin

Loaned to me by the same neighbor, I will admit I was a bit wary of another vampire book. But, she told me that several of the readers in her family had enjoyed The Passage even though science fiction isn't usually their cup of tea. Ok, I was game. It's a book, I like to read, and there isn't much I won't crack the cover on.

The vampires of The Passage are called virals, and it all starts with a US Army Special Weapons research project. Death row inmates are injected with a virus strain from deep in the jungle that makes them into a super-human creature. When they attack humans, their prey either dies or, in approximately one out of ten cases, transforms into a viral. I'm sure you can see where this is going. The virals escape their secret test facility and make their way into the world, the virus spreading rapidly despite quarantine zones and military action. Some of the age-old vampire fighting tactics still hold, like shooting them through the heart, garlic, and light.

Fast forward nearly 100 years, and the story centers on a group of survivors at a compound in California. They have fended off the virals for decades and created their own pocket of society, not knowing if there are any other humans left. They live in a world the blends colonial practices of farming and weaponry with the leftovers of modern times, patching together a light system with electricity off the deteriorating grid to keep the virals away at night. As their batteries begin to fail, the virals strengthen, and a strange young girl shows up at the compound, the tight-knit community begins to self-destruct. A small group sets off from the compound to try to solve the mystery of the virals and discover what has become of the rest of the world.

Did it get a little far-fetched? Of course it did; it's science fiction. But that might have been what kept me interested: it was so far off the beaten path of story-telling that I was constantly surprised by how the story unfolded. The characters were believable, even if they existed in a world outside the scope of my imagination. The pace of the book was just right, not rushing through parts nor getting bogged down in details so it kept me turning pages.

Are you intrigued? I was. And guess what? In the new standard of vampire stories, there will be a sequel! (Apparently, all vampire stories need to be long and in multiple parts because vampires never die. Never.) I liked this well enough that I will probably read the next one, which is due out in October. You might say I've been infected.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Brownie Bliss

I had a grand plan to make these brownies the last time my mom was visiting. I asked Keith to pick up the Werther's caramels the recipe called for, and he did exactly as I asked. But, as I often do while reading instructions, I had only scanned the ingredient list and didn't realize it specified chewy caramels. Which definitely makes a whole lot more sense because why would you put hard candy in brownies? So the recipe went unmade until we made another stop at the grocery store. The wait, though, was worth it. And I should probably make these for my mom sometime because she would like them.

Dark-Chocolate Brownies with Caramel and Salted Peanuts
from Country Living (April 2012, I think)

1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for buttering pan
10 ounces (about 40) chewy caramels (preferably Werther's), cut in half (I would probably cut them even smaller next time)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
7 ounces bittersweet (at least 60 percent) chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light-brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup salted roasted peanuts

1. Line the bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. (Don't skip the parchment paper; these would probably be pretty impossible to remove without it.) Butter paper and sides of pan. Place caramels, flour, and cocoa in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.

2. In a double boiler set over simmering water, melt butter. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Remove from heat and let cool, about 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, preheat over to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together sugars, eggs, vanilla, and salt until very thick, about 3 minutes. Stir in chocolate mixture. Stir in reserved caramel mixture and peanuts, mixing until just combined.

4. Spread brownie batter in prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool in pan. Refrigerate brownies until chilled, 3 to 4 hours, before cutting into squares.

If you put one in the microwave for about 20 seconds, it will get all gooey and delicious, like one of those lava cakes places like Applebee's have on their desert menus. If only we had thought to get some ice cream to go with them...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Weekend

We spent Easter weekend at my parents' house on the farm. As usual, it was a whirlwind of visiting and eating, but wonderful to see so much family. Bert got to hang with his cousin, second cousins, first-cousins-once-removed, grandparents, great-grandparents, uncle, great aunts and uncles, and of course mom and dad. He enjoyed ham, mashed potatoes, baked corn, and lima beans during our pre-Easter dinner, some ice cream while celebrating his great-grandpop's 89th birthday, and waffles on Easter morning. And he took his first few tottering steps! Must be that good country air.

"Hey cuz! I haven't seen you since Thanksgiving!"

Building bunny towers

"I think we have a little dirt in the carburetor."

Talking boats with Grandpop and Ernie

Reading with Mom-mom

Decorating eggs the way Keith did as a kid 
Some intense egg decorating

"What do you think the Easter bunny brought us, Uncle Travis?" 
So egg-cited!

Not quite the flavor Bert was looking for

The Easter bunny must have read the post about
the new sandbox because Bert got some tiny
sand toys!


No question who that kid looks like, huh?

"Let's go Popper!" Even Jeter is ready for his rhino ride.
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