First Snow of 2016 Winter

First Snow of 2016 Winter
A View From Our Deck

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Struggle with our Pre-lit Christmas Tree

Being a person who is up in years with less years ahead of me than behind me, there are some things I should have learned by now.  My husband and I pride ourselves in having more education than we need at this point and most often we use pretty good sense.  This week I feel we made a giant step backward.  It all started with putting up the dreaded Christmas Tree.  Several years ago we bought an 8 foot pre-lit tree.  It came in three sections, and the lights were already on the tree.  It came in a large box which was a bit of a struggle but we managed.  The first year it was awesome.  We opened the box, put the sections together and plugged it in.  Walla, all it needed was ornaments.  After Christmas the struggle began.  We couldn't for the life of us get all the sections back into the box.  We ended up putting one of the sections in another box.  Next was where to store the darn thing.  We do have a storage area in our lower level so we made room, wrestled it down there and forgot about it until the next year.  Then every Christmas season for a few years we maneuvered it from the storage room, past the junk in the way, past the freezer, through the laundry room, down the hall and up the stairs.  It was worth it because it went together so easy.  Then last year all the lights didn't want to light up.  We bought a tester which didn't work.  We changed out light bulbs and fuses and managed to get them to light.  This year when it was time for the tree again, I was nervous.  I had reason to be nervous.  The tree didn't light in a lot of places.  I did replace a few fuses, but that didn't work.  Next was the decision to throw out the tree and buy another pre-lit tree but smaller, to mess around with the light bulbs and fuses again or cut the lights out and buy strings of LED lights.  Being somewhat cheap and not knowing how to get rid of the old tree, we opted for cutting out the 1000 mini lights.  How hard could that be?  This is where our logic and good sense is questioned.  It was a miserable job which took five or more hours.  I have little scratches all over my hands and a big mess on the floor.

It's hard to believe the old lights all fit in this box.


When all the lights were removed, we put the tree together.  I imagine we are throwing away 999 good light bulbs, but finding the one or two bad ones was more than we could muster.  We were able to find a very good price on LED lights so we bought four strings of 105 lights.  Instead of the mini lights, we bought the C6 size.  Now we know why we bought a pre-lit tree in the first place.  Putting lights on a Christmas Tree is a pain, but when the ornaments are on it doesn't really matter if they are evenly spaced.  After taking a few breaks because my patience was running thin, the job is done.  I am not sure I would make that same decision again but at least part of our tree will not be going into the landfill. 

I kind of like the bigger lights.  All that is left is the star and a few more ornaments.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Now that Thanksgiving 2016 is in the books, it's time to move on to Christmas shopping and decorating.  It is pretty mild here in Wisconsin again this year, and it doesn't really feel like the Christmas season.  For all of us born and bred Wisconsinites, we really need a nice snowfall to get into the spirit.  Until that happens, we are buttoning up the fall season.  The wildlife love squash and pumpkin as much as us humans.  We have been putting out pumpkin snacks for a couple weeks, but yesterday all those used for decoration were dumped in the woods.  In a week or so nothing will be left except a few pumpkin shells.




Speaking of pumpkin, a Thanksgiving meal would not be complete without something made with pumpkin.  It is usually pumpkin pie in our house.  This year I did something different.  My youngest daughter has taken over hosting our Thanksgiving Day meal.  I usually make the pies, but they aren't that easy to transport.  I decided to make my pies in 9 x 13 pans.  Then I could put a cover on them and not worry.  I also made the Cranberry Cake in a 9 x 13 instead of a bundt pan.  http://www.thecabincountess.com/2014/11/cranberry-cake-with-butter-sauce.html

Apple pie

Pumpkin pie with pecans on top.

Cranberry cake and dinner rolls http://www.thecabincountess.com/2015/12/dairy-free-hamburger-buns.html

My oldest daughter and her family were traveling this year.  She needs gluten free options but I was able to make a regular crust this year.   I tried a new method.  I have posted different crust recipes on this blog before but this new recipe is great.  It is a recipe I saw Christopher Kimball make on the Rachel Ray show.  It doesn't use ice water.  Instead you cook some water and corn starch in the microwave for 30 seconds.  It makes a gel which is put in the freezer for 10 minutes.  When the butter and flour are blended, just toss in the gel.  A few more pulses in the food processor and like magic a beautiful pie dough forms.  I made two batches which was ample for a 9 x 13 pan.  http://www.rachaelrayshow.com/recipes/23894_chris_kimball_s_american_apple_pie/ 


I hope everyone took the day to be grateful for all of the blessings we have.  No matter how bad some days seem, there is always someone who has it worse.  My oldest daughter was only three years old, and I was bustling around trying to get things done.  She told me to Stop and Smell the Roses.  I think she heard that from an old Mac Davis song, but I will never forget.  It is something we all should remember to do.  

*I was reminded that I write about feeding the squirrels and deer almost every year.  I guess I do.
http://www.thecabincountess.com/2014/11/feeding-pumpkins-to-animals.html 
http://www.thecabincountess.com/2013/11/recycling-pumpkins.html 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Third Graders Learning About City Government

Just when we are convinced the public school system is flawed and kids aren't learning what they should, we get a chance to observe an activity which is very educational.  We got a call from our daughter.  She had to work today and couldn't attend a mock city council meeting being held at City Hall.


Our second youngest grandchild Jack is in third grade.  The class got to take part in a mock city council meeting lead by the Mayor of their town.  We said we could come since Jack had a speaking part, and we don't get to many of Jack's activities.  He was the Street Superintendent.


The council chambers was full of third graders, a few teachers and some parents and grandparents.  The street superintendent, the city attorney, the city clerk/treasurer and six aldermen took their seats.  Then the "real" City Administrator explained what the mayor and city council do.  She explained they use parliamentary procedure and introduced the mayor.



The mayor hit the gavel and called the meeting to order.  They took roll call.  There was only one item on the agenda.  It was to determine if a stop sign should be placed at an intersection near the elementary school.  The meeting began with three petitioners stating why they thought a stop sign was needed.  The council members asked questions of the street superintendent and asked him what the findings of a study were and how much is would cost.  Jack answered the questions and stated that a stop sign would cost $150. 

 

Then they asked the treasurer if they had budgeted enough.  She stated they could afford this project.  The council voted, and they passed it.

The mayor closed the meeting and then opened the floor up to questions for him.  They asked everything from how old he was to if he ever wanted to be President.  After that, the city's Chief of Police spoke to the kids.  He was great and explained about how the police are always there to help them.  He also addressed bullying.  He also took questions which were what every third grader wanted to know about being a policeman like did he have kids and pets.


When it was over, the kids had to get back to school.  The local newspaper was there for pictures, and we went home.  We were very pleased with this activity.  We learned a few things too.


Bye, bye.  You did a great job.  I'm glad we came.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Make Your Own Butter

Well, I started my Christmas shopping.  I know some people are finished, but I like to start around Thanksgiving Day.  I don't do Black Friday in brick and mortar stores, but I love to shop online.  The deals are much better if you wait it out.  It's like a game with coupon codes and rebates.  So far, I have purchased six gifts, and I am keeping three of them.  I must be buying things we would like.


This is what I bought.  I can't imagine who I would give this to except myself and so I did.  It is a quart sized glass butter churn.  Yes, that's right a butter churn.  Lord knows how difficult it is to buy butter in the grocery store (not).  As soon as it came, I needed to try it but I had to buy some heavy cream.  I went to our local Piggly Wiggly.  I wish I could shop there all the time, but it is very expensive.  Shopping locally helps the local economy, but my grocery bill would be double.  I bought 1/2 pint of heavy cream.  The cost was $1.79 and it only made the equivalent of one stick of butter.  I know I can buy a full pint for $1.69 at Aldi's which still makes one stick of butter little pricey.  The good thing is that I know what is in the butter.  There isn't any wax, coloring or preservatives.  There is just heavy cream.


I poured the cream into the glass jar and started turning the crank.  In no time, the cranking got a little harder.  The cranking becomes easier when the butter forms a ball and the buttermilk separates out.  Just like that you have a glob of butter and buttermilk.  I use buttermilk in other recipes so I can always find a use for it.


This is plain salted butter.

At this point you pour off the buttermilk, and rinse the butter with cool water.  It's as easy as that.  It can be salted or flavored.  I made honey cinnamon butter which is fantastic.  You just mix honey and cinnamon into the fresh soft butter. 

This is the buttermilk and the cinnamon honey butter.

I probably won't be doing this for all my butter needs unless I can find a source for cream that doesn't involve buying a cow.  I certainly will make the flavored butter often.  Recipes come with the churn for parmesan, basil, tomato butter, chili & lime butter and the honey cinnamon.  I think you could flavor it with whatever you like.

I had just made fresh bread and spread on the honey cinnamon butter.  It tasted like a cinnamon roll.  I have a new potato bread recipe that I love.  It uses sour cream and instant potato flakes.  

I started making the bread dough in the bread machine but then shaped the dough into small loaves.  The size is perfect.

From now on I have to focus on gifts others would like.  I have our four grandson's to buy for.  I doubt if I will be tempted to keep anything I buy for them.  Wish me luck with the rest. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Making a Sows Ear (metal carport) into a Silk Purse (log garage)

For the past two months I have been mentioning that my husband was working on a project.  He hasn't finished yet but with Winter approaching, the finishing touches will have to wait until Spring.  A couple years ago my daughter and son-in-law gave us a carport in exchange for drywall work.  I mentioned in the blog I wrote that it wasn't very pretty to look at but it is functional.   http://www.thecabincountess.com/2014/07/a-carport-gets-new-home.html

This summer we decided it was time to enclose it to keep the rain and snow out and make it look a little more like a garage.  It already had the framework and a roof so how hard could that be?  As it turned out, it was pretty difficult.  To start with, the free standing carport wasn't very square.  Next it wasn't quite long enough to fit our pickup truck, so it had to be extended.  I am no earthly good at construction so the entire job was on my husband's shoulders.  He is a planner so that helped a lot.  He thought out every step and even with that, there were unforeseeable problems.

The first thing he did was build the walls framing in the openings for windows.

We had some lumber he was able to recycle for the walls.  We also had some windows in the house replaced and could use the old ones.  Of course we needed to buy some more lumber to complete the framing.


It was after the side walls were constructed that he decided the building had to be longer.  He looked online and found we could purchase another section of metal frame so off to the lumberyard we went.  We had to order it and another section for the door opening, but there was plenty to do before they arrived.  We actually made dozens of trips in the course of this project.

Putting a four and a half foot extension on.


When the back wall extension was completed, it was time to frame that in.  This took a little longer because there was a peak to consider.



When all the framing was finished, it was time to put on the siding.  I didn't like most of the options because even though it was just a basic shed, I wanted it to blend in with our other buildings.  I mentioned it to a neighborhood carpenter who had done some work for us.  He introduced us to the Amish sawmill.  I wrote about that in an earlier post.  http://www.thecabincountess.com/2016/09/an-amish-sawmill.html

Then the siding begins.

It is starting to take shape and is looking more like a "real" garage.

Next the side walls and window framing.

After a lot of measuring, cutting and nailing he has come to this point.  Next Spring he will put on soffit, fascia and garage doors.  When everything is finished we will stain and chink the building.  I have to say, he did a great job for someone his age who is not a carpenter by trade and working pretty much alone.  In fact, a good job for anyone.  Now we will have more room to store even more junk.  Our poor kids will have a job on their hands in a few years, but until that time we have a nice looking shed/garage.



Sunday, November 13, 2016

High School Plays are the Best

Being a grandparent is a great thing.  It is so much fun to watch the growing progress.  When you are a brand new grandparent, you look at that baby and feel so much love and hope.  You can't believe the feeling, and it continues with each grandchild.  They are all individuals with special talents.  My husband and I are introverts.  We get our energy from within.  Our daughters are mostly extroverts who can talk to anyone and are outgoing.  They like alone time, but flourish is a group.  Now we have five grandchildren who it appears are taking it one step further each in their own way.

This weekend was focused on the two oldest.  Dylan is 15 years old and is a sophomore in high school.  Melissa just turned 16 years old, and she is also a sophomore in a neighboring high school.   As it happened, they both had their high school plays the same weekend.  Both high schools have two plays a year.  One is a drama and one is a musical.

Dylan's fall play was a dark drama.  It had quite a small cast and was called Voice in the Dark - A Salem Story.  It reminded me a bit of our recent political climate.


Some of you may be familiar with this story.  It is not a happy ending which hopefully isn't the case in our world.  This took place in 1692 where there were reports of flying witches.  This event lead to people accusing other people of being witches to cleanse the community thus acquiring more property.  Females were mistreated by the male masters and mental health issues were unheard of.  These kids did a great job, but it wasn't very uplifting.  From February 9-11, 2017 they will be performing The Sound of Music.  I look forward to a happier and high spirited play.



The next night we saw our granddaughter in a production of Mary Poppins.  This was a huge undertaking by the director.  It had a lot of characters with set changes and costume changes.  They even brought in a company to set up the aerial wires so Bert and Mary could actually fly.




 My daughter did a lot of work on set painting and props.  It was fun for her to be involved especially making some of the props.  


In addition to working on this candy cart, she also made light sticks, ledgers and the measuring tape Mary used when she first arrived to take care of the children.


Melissa appeared in a bunch of different scenes.  She was part of the Cherry Tree Lane residents, she was a chimney sweep, part of the group in the park and in the candy cart scene.


 


Her main role involved being the doll named Valentine.  When the toys came alive, she came out of the dollhouse with a repaired arm.  This was her singing solo.  None of us sing, especially in public.   It is amazing to us that both Dylan and Melissa have wonderful voices, and they aren't afraid to sing in public.  If they are afraid, they don't show it.





I am not sure what they will be doing for their Spring drama or when it will be, but I am also looking forward to it.  Until then we have plenty of basketball and other kid events to look forward to.  I am so glad we chose to move closer to all of them so this can be possible.   It was a great weekend.