30 September 2011

Windy

Remember that party that happened at my house the other day?  Well, it came to an abrupt halt.  Mother Nature, in her over-the-top Iowan style gave another grandiose display, this time of wind.
The morning was quite calm and bleak, which was fine with me.  I was planning on enjoying the predicted unseasonably warm temperatures by getting a few tasks completed outdoors.  By the time we returned home from grocery shopping, the low-hanging gray clouds had tumbled away and we instead had to battle gusts of wind and debris as we toted our food inside.
There isn't really an effective way to take a picture of wind, so Evelyn and I stood outside for a few minutes with our hair loose.
Can you tell there was quite the breeze?


Thank goodness trees are flexible.  I'm astounded how supple they are when a hard wind blasts through their branches.  They wouldn't last long in Iowa if they weren't able to give a little.
We didn't stay out long.  Between the strength of the wind almost pushing us over, the stinging lash of hair on our faces and dodging the black walnut bombs crashing down, we quickly retreated inside.
It's easy to moan about the weather patterns out here being so extreme but there always seem to be a bright side.
The twelve-spotted lady bugs have all passed, the risk of being conked on the head by a black walnut has significantly reduced and the gale force winds are a good reminder of how sturdy our house is.
Not a single window rattles now!  Best of all, the day after is always particularly beautiful.  Wouldn't enjoy the calm autumn breeze without a reminder of the occasional whirlwind, now could we?

Not Afraid To Go Barefoot

I've been dreaming of this day since we moved in.  The carpet has finally arrived in our living room!  It went from this . . .
 
 . . . to this . . .
. . . in just a few hours.  It's funny how a couple of sheets of new subflooring made the room look even better.  I should have done it sooner!
Thank goodness Jack was there to help me cut holes for the vents.  I could have done it but would probably been frazzled and angry afterward.  Saws really aren't my favorite tool to use.
We're all enjoying the plush flooring now.  Our feet and socks aren't dirty from our own house and I am confident my toes won't be freezing when I sit down to watch television this winter.  Perhaps the best feeling of all is that of vacuuming.  I am loving that cleaning makes me feel like I've accomplished something (rather than just cleaning up a construction mess, only to make another the next day).  In fact, I haven't put away my vacuum yet!

29 September 2011

An Unexpected Party

When Mother Nature does something in Iowa, she usually doesn't do small.  So when Evelyn first pointed out a twelve-spotted lady beetle, it wasn't long before it was two.
Then ten.
Then a couple hundred.
Then thousands.
The weather just happened to be perfect for them, compounded by the commencement of harvesting--their corn and soybean forests had dried up and were being razed down, leaving nothing for their voracious appetites.
It's funny what they're attracted to--mostly the white siding on the house and the vibrantly colored plastic toys.  We didn't spend a lot of time outdoors while they were around.  If they weren't scaling the walls of the plastic jungle gym, they were swarming the air.  When they landed on any exposed skin, they were more often than not inclined to nip.
I won't complain too much.  At least they, like their cousins, the charming American ladybug, munch on harmful aphids.  I'd take an unexpected party of lady beetles over bloodsucking mosquitoes, stable flies or something worse, like cockroaches or bed bugs (shudder) any day.

28 September 2011

The Harry Potter Suite

In order to build the stairs, we had to remove one of the low hanging closets from the bedrooms above.  It was agonizing tearing out a closet--we needed all of the storage space we could get!  However, all was not lost.

When we augmented the stairs, the size of the cubbyhole underneath doubled.  Rather than wall it in, we decided to keep the broom closet at the one end and make a door access for the other.
The white door and barn wood door lead to the same space under the steps.  I can fit in tons of unsightly storage!
Had Harry Potter grown up beneath our staircase, he would have had no reason to complain--it'd be a veritable suite compared to the Dursley's steps.

In typical fashion, we shun buying things that we can build ourselves.  Jack was so sweet to use his precious after school time to construct a lovely entrance to the closet.
















I thought it was so clever how he made the clamps work even though they were too short.  I would have given up rather than use my brain to come up with a solution.  Thank goodness I married an engineer.



And of course, the girls are always more than willing to help, though "help" is a very subjective term.  We love that they try!
Originally Jack put the hinges on the inside but it seemed a shame to hide them since they added a neat antiquated feet to the door and matched our black balusters.  So, he switched them for me.



















Now all that's left is to clean out the closet and put up some shelves to organize whatever stuff I decide to hide in there.
That or build a bunk for overnighting guests . . .

27 September 2011

Peach Cobbler

How do you enjoy ice cream while it's cold outside?  Easy--with peach cobbler!
Ingredients and Directions:

2 cans sliced peaches in 100% juice
1 box yellow cake mix
4 Tablespoons sliced butter
Cinnamon to taste
Nutmeg to taste (if desired)

Drain the juice from both cans of peaches and set aside.  Place fruit in the bottom of a 9x9 baking pan.  Cover the fruit with the yellow cake mix and sprinkle with cinnamon and/or nutmeg.  Slice the butter on the top and use approximately half of the juice over the cobbler.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350F.  Pull out to check and remove the foil.  If there are any dry spots, drizzle a little more juice over the top as needed (you're not trying to drown your dessert).  Return the uncovered cobbler to the oven for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve hot and don't forget the vanilla ice cream!
 ***This recipe can really be used with any canned fruit as long as you have a sweet juice to pour over the top to keep everything nice and moist.  I love using blueberry pie filling so I'll just crack open a can of peaches and drain the juice to be used for the cobbler.***

Summer of Cicadas

Lately, when Claire wakes me up for breakfast, it's begun to be noticeably chilly when I throw off the sheets.  I usually love autumn but lately I find myself thinking too often, "Summer!  Come back!"
The last few months have been so strange.  I felt more like a vagabond than anything, splitting time between a cheap apartment in Cedar Rapids and a halfway fixed-up farm in Jewell.  Still, there were a few constants that made our break from school seem slightly more normal.
The cicadas seemed unusually abundant this summer.  The species most often seen around here are part of the annual cicadas that show up yearly, (not the periodic cicadas, who show up in either 13 or 17-year cycles).  They're also known as locusts, "dog day" cicadas and July flies.  Every night was filled with their droning song and whenever we went outside, there were even more of their wingless, nymph shells on the trees and walls, freshly emerged from the nearby soil.
Having worked in the entomology field for several  years, I hope to pass along my fascination of insects to my children.
Evelyn's already doing well.  She was understandably hesitant at first but with a little encouragement, she was willing to not only touch but also pick up the intriguing creatures.
If you've never heard the hypnotic strain from a cicada, here's a little clip of one we were watching on our apple tree (that is, before one of the cats tried to take a swipe at him):
video
All too soon, the nights are uncomfortably silent.  Most insects won't be missed but I'm already sorry the cicadas and their buzzing tune is mute for the year.  At least they're a perpetual phenomenon that we can look forward to next summer.

26 September 2011

But They're So Darn Cute!

The big red barn on our property hasn't been used for housing livestock for I'd imagine years but that doesn't mean it's unoccupied.  To date, we've seen racoons, feral cats, foxes, mice, rats and skunks use the once majestic building for refuge.  Mostly, they either just pass through as a quick spot to hide or hunt vermin but some come to stay all winter.

There is one particular guest that is well known for hibernation.  Well, really, everybody's more concern with what happens when they wake up.  Know who I'm talking about?
Source
Groundhogs!  A.k.a. Gophers!

The previous falls, we've only seen one hefty fella who spend a cozy winter in the depths beneath the barn.  Come spring, he was on his way.  This year, the big guy was replaced by a daintier version with three adorable offspring.

They were fun to watch every morning as they'd take a family outing to graze on the tender green grass.  That is, until they were no longer satisfied with their modest tunnel system.  New holes began popping up daily.  In the barn, under our propane tank, under the garbage container, in the chicken coop, beneath the burn pile . . . yikes!  Their tunnels have become a veritable mansion.  Now when they dine, each little critter pops out of their own hole and munches undisturbed while mother watches from the chicken coop.

I wouldn't mind so much except the other day, they began digging holes in the middle of my yard.  I have a newfound understanding for farmer's rationale in ridding their property of these vermin.  Many more holes and I'm bound to step in one and snap my ankle.  I, for one, do not want to be hobbling on crutches while trying to care for animals and small children.  Even worse, a hole in a pasture could be fatal for a horse galloping to the paddock for an evening meal.







What do I do?  My grandmother--a farm-raised girl herself--said she and her friends and siblings used to lay a slipknot at the end of a rope around the hole and sit and wait for hours until one popped his head out.  With a quick jerk, they'd have a new "pet" already on a leash.
While it certainly sounds like loads of fun, I don't have hours to burn waiting for the beast to appear.  I've already attempted a live trap but am a bit wary of it since all I ever seem to catch in it are skunks.  That leaves very few other options.


This reminds me of the pictures of Loch Ness--you can kind of  see what it is but there's room for debate.  It's a groundhog, I promise!



I've had a few offers to come and shoot the family but that leaves me wringing my hands.  I hate to kill a perfectly good animal, even if they do dig annoying holes wherever they please.  I'd be justified but they're just so darn cute!  With winter fast approaching, they'll soon be slumbering anyway.  Maybe I'll postpone my decision until next spring to see if I can scare them off before any more show up.  I know a few people with dachshunds that I'm sure would be thrilled to have something to chase . . .

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