Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Eve Eve

Hoo. We're down to almost just one more day until the big event. We've shopped, wrapped, decorated, baked, and cleaned for the past two weeks. One set of guests departed this morning and the second set of guests arrived forty minutes later. I think the coffee pot, washing machine, and dishwasher haven't been fully emptied for more than two hours before being run again.

I've got buckeyes, chewy ginger cookies, cocoa almond pinwheels, lemon pecan shortbread, cheese crackers, and brown sugar cookies on the counter, along with the remains of a pan of malted chocolate brownies that I made Steve to keep him out of the other cookies earlier this week. There's a baked ham  and the makings of a big vat of white chili in the fridge for Sunday. I'll be baking a birthday cake tomorrow morning for my father-in-law's birthday, but I have no idea what we're having for breakfast beyond another big pot of coffee. After today's cookie extravaganza and tonight's dinner, I really shouldn't think of eating anything but plain oatmeal with skim milk tomorrow.

It's been a busy day with relatives visiting and cookie making and much laughter. Ally has had trouble going to sleep tonight, no doubt tortured by the anticipation of opening gifts tomorrow morning with Grammy and Papaw. Then we're in for another round of visiting, gifting, and over eating, followed by yet another day of visiting, gifting, and over eating on Christmas Day.

I am going to be totally exhausted by Sunday night, but in a good way. I hope everyone else is having a pleasant holiday weekend, no matter how you choose to celebrate it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

December 8, 2011

I just endured my third lockdown on the campus of Virginia Tech. The first lockdown was during the April 16th massacre in 2007. The second lockdown was earlier this summer when several kids visiting campus reported a suspicious individual, who was never found by the police, and the incident was thought to be a prank. Then today, a police officer was shot on campus and the shooter apparently killed himself a short time later.

I would like to think that the law of averages suggests that I, and the rest of Virginia Tech, shouldn't have to worry about another incident like these.

Nikki Giovanni gave a memorable speech during a convocation held on campus several days after the April 16 shootings. Her words have stayed with me since then, although I never imagined there might be a need to repeat them after another unsettling, inexplicable day of violence on campus.

Dr. Giovanni's words on April 17, 2007, were as follows:

We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech.

No one deserves a tragedy. We are the Hokies. We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nearly Wordless Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011

I blinked and discovered that it was already Thursday. Then I blinked again and it's December already. Sigh.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Blizzard of Oz

When I was a little girl, my paternal grandparents took me to the Land of Oz and Tweetsie Railroad attractions in western North Carolina. I still have vivid memories of that trip, along with a very well read and tattered copy of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, which my grandparents bought for me at the Land of Oz.

As it turns out, The Wizard of Oz is one of Ally's favorite movies. When I heard about the annual Autumn at Oz event held on the grounds of the old Land of Oz theme park, I knew I wanted to take Ally there to experience it, too. Like in the old theme park, the Autumn in Oz actors play the roles of Dorothy and her friends and they escort you along the yellow brick road to key scenes in the book. You meet up with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and vanquish the Wicked Witch of the West as you find your way home to Kansas.

So the first weekend of October we decided to take a short family trip down to Boone and Banner Elk, North Carolina. About a week before we left, the forecast for Banner Elk was sunny and mild, with temperatures in the 60s. Perfect! I had picked out a sweet blue and white outfit for Ally that she could wear with a pair of red glittery shoes for a great photo with Dorothy.

About three days before we left, the forecast had changed to sunny and cooler, with lower predicted temperatures. 
The event organizers sent out an email asking all the visitors to prepare for possibly cold weather. Um, okay, it would be too cold to wear the blue and white outfit but Ally could still wear those ruby red slippers.

The night before we left, the forecast had bottomed out to highs in the 40s with snow and sleet showers. The event organizers sent out another email reminding visitors that the event would take place as planned regardless of the weather, so please dress warmly. Well, carp. I immediately dug out an assortment of scarves, hats, gloves, and warm shoes. Banner Elk has an elevation of 3,701 feet, but Beech Mountain, the site of the actual event, has an elevation of 5,506 feet. We were going to freeze our Munchkins off.

We piled into the car Saturday morning with our cold weather gear and drove off to western North Carolina. In Boone we saw a car with what looked like an inch of snow on it. After lunch we drove up over to the little town of Beech Mountain. Snow flakes began swirling out of the sky. There were police officers in the road directing visitors to the entrance to the Autumn at Oz event. You know it's cold when the police officers have enough cold weather gear on them that you cannot even see part of their face.

We had tickets for the 2 to 4 pm time slot. We began driving up the road to the event around a quarter to 2 pm. It looked like we were driving up a back road into an old ski resort (which is exactly what it was), and then we came upon the line going into the event. All of the ticket holders for our time slot arrived at the same time and we crawled up the side of the mountain.

We had been driving up the mountain for about an hour when Ally woke up from her nap. She marveled at the snow sticking to the trees and ground outside her window and then informed us that she needed to go use the bathroom.

We didn't know how far we were from the entrance. There was no end to the line of cars in front of us (or behind us, for that matter). We didn't see any buildings for a long while, and then we only saw private residences. No bathrooms in sight, and there was really too much snow on the ground to contemplate peeing behind a tree. Then Ally announced, with an greater sense of urgency, that she had to go poop.

Desperate, we called the Beech Mountain Chamber of Commerce, the event coordinators, to ask if there was a bathroom nearby. They were exceedingly unhelpful and didn't even seem to realize that there was a major traffic jam trying to get into the event. Ally let out a whimper.

Nothing will instill panic in a parent like the thought of having a bathroom emergency. Since we were at a standstill, the line of cars having advanced only a couple of yards over the past ten minutes, Steve decided to take Ally and walk up to the entrance. In his haste to go find a bathroom he nearly left without a jacket, let alone gloves or anything else.

I got in the driver seat and waited. And waited. And waited. The line of cars continued to creep. About a half hour later I spoke to Steve on the phone. They had *just* gotten up to the top of the mountain and found a Port-o-potty. I would call them again when I got up there and parked the car.

Long story short, it was almost 4 pm before I was able to pull into a very small and very muddy field that served as the parking lot for the event. It took 2 hours to get to the top of the mountain! Thankfully Steve was able to take Ally into the event while they waited for me, so they had already met Dorothy, Auntie Em, and the Scarecrow.


Ally had even gotten to pet Toto.


Ally had been a trooper while waiting for me, but the weather had taken its toll. My poor child was wearing only a fleece windbreaker and a pair of tennis shoes in the middle of strong, gusty winds that kept spitting wet snow. I brought Steve and Ally their gloves, hats, and coats, but it was too late. Ally was cold and tired and ready to leave and go home about 15 minutes after I found them.

I had hoped for a fun-filled family outing but instead it was an absolute disaster. Thankfully Steve had the idea of ducking back into the event at the end of the yellow brick road so that Ally could have her picture taken with Dorothy and the others all together.

Right after that we headed straight back to the car and left. Really, it was our only option. It was getting late in the day, the event was closing down soon, and the weather wasn't improving as the sun started going down. Ally was upset and we were disappointed, but risking hypothermia simply wasn't worth it. So we drove down the mountain, had dinner at a barbeque restaurant, and then checked into our hotel in Boone.

The next morning Ally was very excited about having breakfast at the hotel's breakfast bar. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth trying to have a family vacation, or if we should just check into a local hotel for a night or two just so Ally can eat at the hotel's breakfast bar. At least we'll have vivid memories of our trip to the Blizzard of Oz.

Monday, November 14, 2011


So it's the middle of November and everything seems to be dried up brown or dead gray outside. The trees are bare, the grass is brown, and everything else looks withered and hard hit by repeated frosts.

Not my favorite time of the year. But October, oh October was beautiful this year...












If you're looking for me this week, I'll be under the covers trying to deal with the time change, lack of light, and the otherwise blahness of November.

Chilly Dog


It's been a little cold here lately....

Monday, November 7, 2011

Indian Corn

My friend's husband grew the most beautiful Indian corn this year.


How's that for an ear of Hokie corn?


Pink, blue, yellow, cream, lavender, purple, gold, burgundy, orange, black. It's gorgeous. I couldn't stop taking pictures of it.


Some of the ears have striped kernels.


Other ears have freckled kernels.


Some ears have both stripes and freckles.


I'm already wondering where we can plant some next spring.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ally, The Rainbow Fairy Princess

Ally decided she wanted to be a rainbow fairy princess for Halloween this year. For months she had told me that she would be a ghost, then a witch, and a superhero, and maybe Barbie. I thought maybe she was having a hard time committing to one costume, but then it dawned on me that Ally wanted to be all those things...on the same night.

I finally got her straightened out on the logistics of multiple costume changes on Halloween and she settled on a rainbow fairy. Rainbow fairy I can do. Nope, we weren't going to do a tied-dyed hippy rainbow fairy. Ally would be dressed up as traditional rainbow fairy with primary colors. I sewed some bright rainbow ribbon to the cuffs of a white shirt and found Ally's tights with the rainbow bands on the legs to wear with a denim skirt. I added some streamers to a wand, we got a sequined headband from the dollar store, and voila! A rainbow fairy princess was born.

As you can see, that's not the outfit she's wearing in this picture.


The weather changed and the temperature dropped into the freezing zone at night. The kind of weather that kills a cool costume and no one can tell what you dressed up as because you've got to wear a heavy coat over your outfit. Ally's skirt was too short for that kind of night temperatures and her rainbow ribbon cuffs would be hidden. Not enough rainbow would be seen.

Clearly I was going to have to change the costume so 1) you could tell Ally was dressed up for Halloween and 2) my daughter didn't freeze to death. I got some rainbow striped fleece material and made Ally a fringed apron-y skirt to wear over a longer, warmer pink skirt. I didn't find any bright, primary rainbow colors....the store only had some pastel, ombre shaded, rainbow material that was obviously more of a tie-dyed look than I had originally planned. On the other hand, Ally was thrilled to have more pink and purple in the ensemble.

Ally wore the fringed overskirt with a fleece jacket that fortunately had rainbow circles and flowers on it. Ally couldn't wear her fairy wings with the additional bulky layers but at least she didn't freeze. In the end many people thought she might be a Hippie Princess but that didn't faze her in the least once the candy started filling up her bucket. Plus, Ally got to wear the warm fuzzy boots that light up when she stomps on the ground, an added benefit when you're out trick or treating in the dark.


In the end Ally was perfectly happy with her homemade costume. She can wear the fleece skirt to play dress up anytime she wants. And that first outfit I put together for her? It wasn't wasted effort: Ally wore it to school last Wednesday and has asked if she can wear it again soon.


Ally did get to dress up as a witch for her class Halloween party the Friday before Halloween. 


Cute, but it didn't have the panache of the Rainbow Princess Fairy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pumpkin Update

We grew close to 100 small sugar pie pumpkins this year, most weighing 5-8 pounds. That's a lot of pumpkin! I heard that there's a pumpkin shortage due to bad weather in the northeast this year but that's not the situation in Plum Creek.


And what do you do with that many pumpkins? We donated most of them to Ally's daycare center for their fall festival earlier this month. Those that weren't used there were adopted by a first grade class in Riner for a fantastic class project. The remainder of the pumpkins will either find new homes or be eaten throughout this winter. I'm hoping they keep well, but we'll still be eating pumpkin butter, pie, bread, and soup from now until spring!

We were at the Sinkland Farms Pumpkin Festival this weekend with friends and each kid got to pick out a pumpkin for themselves. Ironically Ally insisted on picking out a pumpkin that's virtually identical to the fifteen piled up on our front porch. Oh well.

If anyone is looking for seeds, I highly recommend Pinetree Garden Seeds at 

They have a good selection at reasonable prices. I'd offer some seeds from the ones I've grown, but pumpkins are a bit promiscuous and will readily cross with other pumpkin varieties, so I couldn't vouch for what you might get from any of my seeds. In fact, my Jarrahdale pumpkins this year looked more green than blue and were much lumpier this year than in 2010. I can't wait to see what we get in 2012.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

Buckeye Love

We have a couple of buckeye trees on our property. I think they're all Aesculus flava, the yellow buckeye. Most of them are tall and skinny and not much to look at because they're growing on a steep ravine in poor soil with little light. I'd love to have a large one closer to the house because I think they're beautiful trees with attractive flowers in the spring, but mostly it's the nuts that I adore.

In mid to late September the buckeye down by our mailbox begins dropping its seeds. Sometimes I find the entire fruit, a smooth yellowish-tan oblong capsule that reminds me of a russeted pear, on the ground. Other times I only find the nuts that have been released. Either way, I can't help but pick up every single one I can find.

The fresh nuts are a wonderfully glossy mahogany and chestnut color with a broad tan "eye" indicating where the nut was attached to its capsule during its development. They do remind you of a deer's eye, thus the name "buckeyes."



Buckeyes are perfectly smooth to the touch, although not always perfectly round. Some are flat on their sides from where they shared their capsule with another nut. All of them are hefty, just begging for a slingshot. Unfortunately the nuts will eventually lose their glossy sheen and gain a more wrinkled texture after they dry for a day or two.


Even the empty husks are interesting to look at.


By the second week of October the tree down by the mailbox has finished dropping its crop of nuts. I might find a few more this week if I kick the leaves around while I check the mailbox, but I've already picked up most of them.

I've heard that squirrels are one of the few animals that will eat the buckeye nuts. They're too bitter to the taste for most animals. The fruit capsules are high in tannic acid, much like walnut husks, and the nuts themselves are toxic and can only be eaten safely after they've been leached to remove the poisons. I've no plans to try them myself and just use them for fall decoration. (But I'm still thinking about getting a sling shot.....)