28 September 2016

You're FOUR!

Smile Kate--You're FOUR!
Our darling little Kate recently turned four! Though her arrival was probably on the most inconvenient time and day ever, it worked out perfectly, like it always does when we move forward with a bit of faith. She showed up exactly when she intended to and has been doing so ever since.
It really wasn't any surprise either that Katherine fit right in with her two older sisters. Though they're as different as the flowers in the garden, they all add beauty, laughter, fierce independence, intelligence and innumerable other intrinsic qualities to our family.
Kate has a steady hand at Jenga.
Our now not-so-little gal now loves playing games (and she's quite good at most of them), spends most days dressed up, can get her knees dirty but always wants her nails painted, gives the meanest scowl when she doesn't get her way, loves hair bows and is quite the artist with a fantastic imagination.
 Oh, and she can talk like a scalawag pirate with the best of them.
She's a natural animal tamer--as I fully expect all of my children to be with me as their mother, heehee.
And whoever says people don't change obviously have no idea what they're talking about. One of the things I admire about Kate and her sisters who so often teach her, is that she's willing to try things that scare her, at least once. As a toddler, she wasn't very fond of creepy, crawly bugs but after Claire showed her how fun they can be, she's taken right to them and hasn't looked back.
She loves feeling the wind in her hair...
...and won't be surprised in the slightest when she falls in love with galloping a horse, combing her love of horses and wind-whipped hair.
She's a fantastic big sister...
...and she loves to exercise, even if it makes her sweaty, sometimes chips a nail or is hard to do in a  skirt.
She had an extra special birthday this year with visiting grandparents and cousins. We played, went to the apple orchard, ate with Evelyn and Claire at school, colored, played games...
That mean wasp didn't know it was her birthday!
 ...except for the part where a wasp got her while she was climbing the playground. Obviously, it didn't get the memo that it was her special day.
 And, of course, she had plenty of presents. She could hardly contain herself while they sat on the table.
One of her favorites--a walking, talking kitten. I asked if I should have just gotten a toy instead of Nova and she gravely told me no...she loves them both. That is definitely true of Kate--always room for everyone.
As the budding chef she is, she helped make and design her cake. Only in a little girl's fantasy world do birds sit on pink nests surrounded with blue flowers and lay dozens and dozens of M&Ms as eggs. Hey. What the birthday girl wants, the birthday girl gets!
Make a wish!
We are beyond blessed that Kate is part of our family and are still firmly convinced that she and her siblings will change the world. For now, she had a wonderful birthday and we're looking forward to watching her grow between many more celebrations.

Happy Birthday, Kate!!!

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27 September 2016

Review and Guest Post

My most recent book, The Midnight Slaves, was reviewed over at Mama Reads, Hazel Sleeps and offered me the opportunity to share a guest post for her on creating believable characters. Click here to head over to her site and see what she has to say and read my very first guest post!

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25 September 2016

Zucchini Corn Chowder

One of the few things that did decently in our garden, despite my neglect during and following a massive roofing project, was our zucchini. There are so many yummy recipes for zucchini bread or beans, rice, and zucchini or even zucchini brownies, but there are also only so many times any of us can handle eating the same zucchini dishes. So, after a little Pinterest search, I discovered this gem and gave it a go. It's a delicious way to enjoy a summer staple vegetable!


1Tablespoon butter
2 strips bacon, chopped
1 cup chopped onion
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 cup carrot, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups water
2 3/4 cup sweet corn
1 1/2 cup zucchini, diced
1 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, melt butter and add bacon until it begins to brown. Add onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and thyme. Cook until veggies begin to soften. Add potatoes, water, thyme, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Raise heat if needed to bring to a simmer and cook until potatoes are halfway soft. Add zucchini and corn and continue to simmer about 8-12 more minutes until veggies are tender. Discard 
bay leaf. Transfer 2 cups of chowder to a food processor and puree until smooth. Stir the mixture back into the pot. Add half and half and heat until warm. Taste test and add additional salt and/or pepper as needed. Garnish with fresh parsley, cayenne, or shredded cheese.
Thanks Little Broken for the recipe inspiration!

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19 September 2016

18 September 2016

Nova and the Great Outdoors

I see you, kitty!
Though Nova was born an outside cat at my inlaws, it didn't take long for her to realize that life inside was luxurious and way more comfortable than being in the great outdoors.
There's air conditioning, a constant supply of food, children to pet you, places to hide when you want to be left alone, and toys to play with. Oh. And the naps. As long as it was fluffy and soft, she could fall asleep for hours.
Sleepy baby Nova.
But, as it always happens, she started growing up. She discovered her claws, so the couch wasn't safe. She wanted to play rougher than I'd allow with the kids. She yowled in the early morning when she wanted to be fed and would often wake the girls up at night when she snuck into their room to snuggle when they should have been sleeping instead.
Nova's first outdoor experience.
We at least were nice about reintroducing her to the outside world. She wasn't exactly thrilled to be put out on the deck for a few hours at a time, but thankfully, I'd replaced the sliding screen door with pet proof screen, so when she'd panic and scale the door, begging to come back in, it didn't do any damage.
Trying to have fun with grumpy Hercules.
After the initial shock wore off, she began to discover that being outside was fun. She perfected the deck-to-car leap, figured out where the older cats hide in the garage, and cautiously began to explore.
Jumping down seven feet face first? No biggie.
Raven accepted that there was another cat to boss her around now and Hercules, at the very least, tolerates Nova. Snickers? She still hisses and runs like her tail's on fire. I'm not sure if she'll ever get used to having another girl around. Doesn't seem to bother Nova one bit.
Springing for a grasshopper.
For the most part, Nova spends her time outside, roaming where the other cats roam (and hopefully that means staying away from the road...), snoozing beneath the bushy landscaping, climbing trees and perfecting the art of catching grasshoppers. Seriously. Our garage is full of dismembered insects. Hopefully, that will translate to other vermin we'd like to keep away.

All in all, she's quite satisfied being an outside cat now that she's realized all the adventures waiting for her.

(We'll see what she thinks come winter...)

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17 September 2016

Hooray for Hail!

I've been postponing writing about redoing our roof like it would harrow up all the feelings of having worked on it: vertigo, sheer exhaustion, frustration...at times it seemed like it would never end but eventually, it did. I've recovered, Jack recovered, the kids recovered, the garden recovered (mostly...). So, here's how we got a new roof on our monstrous house in about a week.
Date night tearing up shingles.
Sometimes horrible weather lends to some good luck. We had a few pretty impressive hail storms early in the spring and though we were on the very edge of the clouds, the barrage of ice was just enough to damage our roof (and cause some leaky spots), as well as dozens of other people in the area.
Getting the shingles moved up to the roof. Thank goodness for shingle lifts!
To an insurance adjustor, that's a give-in that there actually was the bad weather people claimed there was. So, after a shady storm-chasing roofing company stopped by and assured us insurance would put on a new roof, we sent them on their way and contacted our insurance. We had our adjuster come out and within ten minutes, he shimmied up on the roof, looked around at a few things and said that indeed, there was damage that needed to be replaced. Hooray for hail!
Some boys from church helping with the roof.
I am a cheap wad. I will rarely pay someone to do a job I can do myself because I'm not afraid of a little sweat, a few slivers, maybe some blood and a couple of tears. After convincing Jack that we could do it, we did agree to hire a little extra help, since I still had to make sure the kids weren't getting in trouble when we were working. Thankfully, the week we decided to tackle the project, the home improvement store was having a rebate on everything, so purchasing the shingles more than covered the cost of siding the back--awesome! (and more on that soon). I hounded the insurance lady until our check arrived quite late (turns out the poor adjustor had fallen off someone else's roof, broke and arm and required surgery...bummer). We hired a few kids from church and they readily agreed to $10/hour. Obviously, they've never done roofing before or they might have asked for more.
Getting the tar paper and shingles started! It's so beautiful!
Impatient as I am, I didn't wait for anyone to tell me what to do. I gave myself a pep talk and managed to climb off the ladder. With a roofing shovel and determination. I started tearing away at those nasty old suckers. If I haven't learned anything yet, it's that things always take longer than I expect them to. But, I stuck with it and by the end of the first evening, I'd ripped up a nice little patch of roof before heading to bed.
If your hands didn't look like this--even with gloves--you weren't working hard enough.
After Jack got home on Friday, a few of the hired help showed up and got to work. We rented a shingle elevator, which used a motorized pulley system to dump the packages of shingles on the roof. Such a time/lower back saver! The only downside was that poor Raven was sure the hour long pounding on the roof was the end of the world and did her best to claw her way out of her room and into her favorite hiding spot. Sorry, girl. It wasn't.
Taking a dinner break...only the girls were in the mood for pizza. Everyone else just ate watermelon and popcorn.
We worked until dark, scraping off shingles and got mostly done with the biggest section on the back. I did take a quick break to go get some pizzas for everyone since they'd worked so hard. They all ate and headed back up, where they immediately regretted eating at all...a full stomach and being hot and sweaty and working a lot doesn't equal feeling good. The rest of the days they came, I offered all kinds of delicious food but they'd apparently learned their lesson and basically lived off watermelon, popsicles, and copious amounts of Gatorade and water. And, if you're wondering, yes, it is possible to work for hours and hours, sweating away on the top of the roof and barely eating anything solid and still not lose any weight. Trust me. I know.
Those are rinds from just one meal...the chickens were sure happy!
Mostly, while everyone was busy working, my job consisted of the ever important "gofer"--I fetched water, found hammers, ran to the store to get more gloves, scaled up and down the ladder when something was dropped. Between that, I did my best to keep up with running a household. Since it was over summer, all four kids were home and the week we did the roof, they probably spent a little too much time watching TV, eating popsicles and being told to play so I could work. Bless their little hearts, they did pretty well. It gave me a chance to climb up onto the roof for a few hours while Jack was at work, where I could get some things finished so we'd be further ahead when Jack got home and the boys showed up. It wasn't exactly a joy to face one of my biggest fears (I hate heights) so I could climb up on molten-hot shingles, where I'd sit on nails, "enjoy" fiberglass exfoliation when I tore up the shingles and work on my shin and ear sunburn. Like I said, I could have paid someone else to do it all, but I'm really am a bonafide cheapskate.
Ah, shin burn.
One day, while up on the roof, doing my best to get a section cleared so we could beat a rainstorm and get the shingles up that evening, we all had a meltdown. Henry couldn't stand not being held, the girls were tired of being outside, I was tired of working...so, we decided to take a break.
This is what constituted our "break."
When I say "break," I really mean that instead of me working up on the roof, we worked from the ground, picking up literally tons of loose shingles. The girls really enjoyed helping, especially when they got to run the magnetic nail sweeper, and were very helpful getting things to the dumpster, since it was rented by the week and we had a definite timeline. Roofing clean up is one of my least favorite parts because it's never really done. Three months later, I'm still picking up bits of shingles and rogue nails. But, for the most part, we got it pretty well taken care of.
It looks so much better!
After a day or two of working hard, the days started to bleed together. Wake up, do morning chores, work on the roof, get a few more fiberglass slivers, sweat until you're only made up of 27% water, never eat dinner before seven or get the kids to bed on time, take a five-minute shower, go to bed, repeat.
Sorry, Henry! I'll get you cleaned up and right to bed.
One memorable little creature while fixing up the roof was a rather pretty but intimidating spider that kept crossing my path. The first time we met, I was hurriedly dumping clothes into the wash so Jack would have something clean to wear to work when he scrambled out on the top of the clothes. It took me a minute to decide what to do with him--I could shut the lid and let the washer do the dirty work, or show a little mercy and take him outside. I found a stick and managed to toss him out on the pile of shingles still waiting to make their trip to the dumpster and he scrambled away. Immediately, I thought dropping him on a pile of stuff I had to pick up probably wasn't the smartest idea. And I was right.
That poor guy and I had a few more run-ins during the week than either of us would have liked...

Sure enough, a few days later when I was scrambling to get the dumpster filled, I about grabbed that same spider. He looked as surprised to see me again as I was to see him. Thankfully, Jack took care of him for me...he put him over in our forested area where the creature is probably thriving on rabbits and small deer. Just as long as I don't see him again...
Protein, Jack?
By the end of the week, I had about had it with that darn roof. I was worn out and was feeling rather guilty about neglecting the kids when I generally feel like a pretty attentive mother. After putting the kids in bed, late as usual, then climbing back up on the roof to get in another couple of hours of work, I grumbled about not feeling like a good mother. One of those hard working boys matter-of-factly said, "Yes, you are. You're making sure your kids have a roof over their head." Aww. Who said young people aren't at least occasionally wise and perceptive?
Getting some rotted wood replaced. No more leaks!
Like all good things, bad things eventually come to an end, too. That week was a rough one and it could have been a lot longer, had we tried to do it all ourselves but for the most part, the weather cooperated and the few times it didn't, we had odd experiences that helped them work out--like the guy who randomly approached Jack when he was returning some rented equipment and asked if he bought tarps. Why yes, with a rainstorm threatening that evening, we needed a pretty big one. The guy happened to sell old billboard tarps. So, for $20, we got a heavy-duty tarp that was very useful in keeping the roof dry and doubles as a pretty sweet water park.
It's so beautiful!
Along with the good weather, we have great helpers. Many hands do make the work much better. We got the roof replaced, put in a few more vents, got the ridge vent on, swept off the garbage (it's not my first time sweeping my roof, haha) and the mess tidied up in time for the dumpster to be towed away. I'm so pleased how it turned out, that we didn't have to pay for it and that it's DONE!

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