Thursday, December 27, 2007

Look closely; call me "couch monkey".

Internet Access In Floyd is Up, Up & AWAY WE GO!

Citizens (the Telecom Co-op here in Floyd County) came today and got us hooked up with high-speed internet access. I am amazed that we can get these kind of speeds here, but only a few minutes from Richmond we can only do dial-up or satellite (neither of which are speed or cost effective for what we do). Floyd can be quite amazing sometimes. We are going to put up web-cams so that I can see the house and stars whenever I want from wherever I might be. That will probably be a few trips from now, though, as there are so many more important things to be done!

Surefyre installed our wood stove yesterday, and we are warm and cozy (finally).
It is amazing how much better a person am when I am not cold! It looks wonderful, and Brian and his family put up one sturdy pipe chimney on the house, so we are set for anything that winter can throw at us, at least temperature-wise. Still working on getting the roof and siding done, so I hope we will not get snowy or icy conditions...

The dogs have been having a great time. While Oscar was putting gravel down around the house and I was pulling things away from the edges where Oscar was going to gravel, they disappeared down the hill and found quite a mud-hole to wallow in. None of us were happy when I had to get out the hose and wash them up-well water is VERY cold to be washing dogs with!

They forgave me and are now napping in the living room while we surf in front of the new wood stove and have a couple glasses of wine to celebrate some progress on the house. Some things done, so much more to go!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Cat vs. Oscar, 1-0

At 5:30 am this morning, howls emanated from the darkened bedroom. The Cat decided to make a preemptive strike against Oscar, and the extremity exposed from underneath the comforter was a nice, cat-mouth sized toe. Stealthily the cat made his way onto the bed and struck with fierce determination. The whole toe, in one bite, into the gaping kitty-maw...

That was how we woke from peaceful slumber this Christmas morn. Apparently, cats have no respect for Holidays, nor their humans for that matter.

Both feline and human lived to fight another day, and I am looking forward to the next campaign!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Of Christmas past... and future

It is Christmas Eve, and I am about to get ready for our tradition of dressing up and going out to eat Chinese Food. A new tradition, but a fun one that Oscar and I came up with to celebrate the holidays together.

I reflect back to the things that made my holidays the best times of the year, and each memory is of being together, and not of presents and purchases. I remember the fun of having my dad home from work more, and that in and of itself was one of the biggest treats.

We would go out together to find the perfect tree each year-almost always a Frasier Fur; tall, fat, lots of strong branches and smelling just like Christmas should. We would decorate it together, and invariably I would clump all the tinsel together into one big mass that would drive my parents to distraction. Little did they know that I enjoyed irking them on this one, predictable activity... I am not proud of it, but I am a tease.

There was always baking, and I must say I got pretty good at it after a few years of making rum cake, raspberry-almond thumb-prints, molasses cookies, the required M&M cookies for my brother (he shares my excessive sweet-tooth) and other assorted delights. Dad would get to making our favorite foods through out the holiday season, and I loved the way his traditional New England baked beans (made in a REAL baked bean pot) made the whole house smell delicious.

Mom has a flair for decorating that balances whimsy and style, without EVER traipsing into the realm of tacky. Her best season is Christmas, and the house shines with Carolers, greens, flowers, and other artistic crafts that represent all that is wonderful about the winter holidays. She used to make a pot of the best smelling stuff, put to simmer on the stove that smelled of cinnamon, oranges and other aromatics that added that final touch to the holiday spirit. It was the complete picture when she was through.

We would spend the time in the family room in front of the huge wood stove that Dad packed with logs to make the whole house warm. They put up with my desire to watch EVERY Christmas special, no matter how cloying or annoying, and before it was time to go to bed we got together for my dad to read "Twas' the Night Before Christmas" on Christmas Eve (it never gets old, really. I wish I was listening to it now...).

The season was great because we spent it together. So if you are worried about what you bought each other for Christmas, or if it is good enough, trust me, it is just fine as long as you make the most of your time off from work, and your time together.

Make your own traditions, wish for peace, bring joy to the world (or just your part of it), love each other a little more, and have a wonderful Holiday Season!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It isn't Christmas 'til the Cat gets in trouble...

Morty loves Christmas, or more precisely, he loves stealing and destroying ornaments. I am not sure what the attraction is, but he cannot resist. He grabs them and runs away, taking them somewhere so that he can examine them, chew on them, and then leave them for me to clean up when he is done. He has a partner in crime now, and she watches him with great interest as he purloins and destroys his victims/decorations...

I am so outnumbered in this house...

This is one of Morty's favorite recipes. He is not a picky eater, so I cannot promise your feline will touch these. Morty eats anything he can shove in his mouth...

Savory Cheese Treats
3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
5 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup cornmeal

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine cheeses and yogurt. Add flour and cornmeal. Knead dough into a ball and roll to 1/4 inch. Cut into one inch sized pieces and place on greased cookie sheet. Bake for 25 minutes. Makes 2 dozen.

Friday, December 21, 2007


I have just gotten my nerdy little paws on one of the OLPC computers, and have started to play around with it. It is much smaller than I had thought it would be, but that might make it all the more appealing to the age group that it is intended for!

I played around with it without asking any questions or reading any online information sites, just to get a feel for the unit much like a child might. While it was not the most intuitive interface I have ever used, I am sure that a curious and excited student would be more than capable of getting the basic functions of the system down fairly quickly.

It feels very rugged and tough, the handle is very sturdy, the plastic is thick, the keyboard appears to be spill-proof, and the hinge that opens and closes (and swivels the screen around) also has a nice tough feel to it.

The touch pad was a little confusing. It looks and feels like it goes all the way across the bottom, but in fact only the middle square is the active part of the device. I slid off of it more than a few times while trying to navigate the programs and OS and got a bit frustrated by that.

I had to fiddle a little bit to get it to connect to my wireless network, but when I did, it seemed to have good range, and I could use my connection to connect other OLPC's to the network (a nice feature- leapfrogging units to get more distance from the access point).

There are lots of handy programs already loaded, from word processing, art, music, web browser, video capture (there is a camera on the right side next to the screen) , and several measurement tools. I can see a lot of project-based lessons run from the unit if it is in the right teacher's hands! I even think that this would be good for a child to use on their own, too. The computer can definitely allow a child to experiment, write, draw, compose, and research very easily and efficiently.

The OLPC is most definitely a great learning tool, and I hope that I will be seeing it more in the hands of students and teachers everywhere. I cannot wait to see what tools are developed for it, and how students and teachers use this tool to reach their learning goals!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rolling along in Floyd

After only a small amount of progress on the house in Floyd County, things seem to be starting to roll. While we have gotten the driveway finished via Dexter and his backhoe, and Steve from Bugman treated the whole house to keep out the critters and protect our logs, it has taken some time to get roofers, chimney & stove experts, siders, etc. nailed down, as you want to get the right people and the right products all lined up for a successful job! It now seems that we have these folks starting soon now, too!
Joe Bowman, our roofer, is going to do black 50-year dimensional shingles, a new skylight, new flashing, and make sure we have no leaks, and thus no worries. There is a saying that the easiest way to bring down a barn is to cut an 18-inch hole in the roof, and just wait... So a good roof is critical to the longevity and health of any structure. We have to get some logs that were damaged by water getting into the old, poorly-done flashing repaired before the Joe can start, but hopefully we will get that done in the next two weeks when Kelly the Carpenter/Sider gets out there. Kelly, the Sider/Carpenter is going out on Saturday to check out what parts of the house needs to be sided, where the roof may need to be extended, logs that need to be repaired, and all the guttering that will need to be put on the house to keep the walls dry.

The stove installer Brian is getting together what we will need to put up a new double-walled pipe chimney and get a Jotul 500 wood stove put into the living room over the next two weeks. Soon we will be warm and toasty in the house-that model stove can heat 2400 square feet by itself, and we have years of downed wood to use to fuel it! I think Santa might be bringing a chain saw this year...
Once we get these things done, the house will be really ready to enjoy more fully. We will still need to treat and seal the logs to keep them protected for many years to come, but that seems to be done when the weather gets warmer, so it will wait until a new season turns the corner. There are lots of cosmetic projects, small changes we will make, and as usual a few things that we will find that need to be done as we go along (that is ALWAYS the way). We will do all of these things and bring out the unique nature of this property!

I will document the progress of the projects, big and small, so that I have a good record of the changes. We did all of this with the house we have in Goochland, but I do not have pictures of the before and after. I know how drastically different is has become, but it is harder to appreciate when all you have to look back on is in the mind's eye... this time, I want to do this right and carefully document the progress so I can look back anytime I want and enjoy the changes we have made!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Dad's (infamous) Holiday Rum Balls

Every Christmas my Dad whips up a batch of the most delicious rum balls you will ever taste. They are an old family tradition, and I look forward to them every year (it is just not Christmas without these, or my Mom's Cherry Icebox Cake, which I will post later...). He has kindly emailed the recipe to me today, so I thought I should share. Remember, these are NOT cooked, so the DO still contain alcohol, albeit a small amount per serving.

Dad's Rum Balls

2 cups vanilla wafers (all crushed up---Cuisinart does great for this)
1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons white corn syrup
1/2 cup Rum (or you can use Brandy, Cointreau, Bourbon)--Dad prefers dark rum

Mix all ingredients well, keeping confectioners sugar aside in bowl for rolling the rum balls in...
Shape by teaspoonfuls into firm balls
Roll in confectioners sugar
Store in a tightly covered container
Separate layers with parchment or wax paper so they do not all stick together

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Doggie Delights for Christmas!

The Holidays are here, and I am planning to make home-made Puppy Treats for my friends with canine companions. There are tons of recipes for great biscuits, bones, dog jerky and other assorted snacks out there. You can make vegan, allergen-free, or meaty recipes; it is up to you, and what your hairy buddies prefer!

Here are a few of our personal favorites:

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup canola oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 Tablespoons peanut butter
2 Tablespoons vanilla

Preparation -
Combine both kinds of flour plus the cornmeal and oats, in a large bowl; mix well. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the water, canola oil, eggs, peanut butter and vanilla. Mix well to form a dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to about 1/4" thick. Cut with a dog bone (or other shape) cookie cutter. Arrange on greased cookie sheets, about 1/4" apart. Re-roll the trimmings. Bake in a preheated oven at 350ยบ for 20 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the biscuits cool and harden for at least 2 hours before storing in a tightly covered container.

2 Cups Flour
1 1/4 Cups Shredded Cheese
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Cup Veg. Oil
4 Tablespoons Water

Bake at 400 degrees for 10 or 15 minutes
Combine flour, cheese, garlic & oil. Knead well, adding water as needed to form stiff dough. Roll out on floured surface to 1/2" thick, cut into bone shapes. Bake until bottom of cookies are lightly browned. Cool completely on wire rack.

1 Cup Flour
1 Cup Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Powdered Milk
1/2 Cup Wheat Germ
1/2 teaspoon Salt
6 Tablespoons Margarine
1 Egg
1 Teaspoon Brown Sugar
1 Cup Mashed Vegetables (NO onions, NO raisins)

Combine flours, wheat germ, powdered milk, and salt in large bowl. Cut in margarine until it resembles corn meal. Beat sugar and egg with whipping fork well. Add mashed vegetables to the egg mixture until a stiff dough is formed. Mix with hands until well mixed. Knead and roll out in a thick sheet. Cut with dog bone cookie cutter or other cookie cutter shapes.
Bake at 325 degrees until lightly browned.

3 Cups Wheat Flour
3 Cups Oatmeal (Uncooked)
1/2 Cup Wheat Germ
6 Tablespoons Margarine
1/4 Cup Molasses
1 Cup Evaporated Milk
1 Cup Water

Mix together the first 3 ingredients. Then thoroughly mix in the last 4 ingredients. Dough will be stiff. Chill for a half hour. Roll rounded teaspoonfuls into balls. Flatten, place on greased cookie sheet.
Bake at 300 for 1 hour.

3 cups flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon Garlic salt
Water (enough to make the dough very stiff)

Add all ingredients together to make stiff dough.
Roll out, cut in strips or round circles.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 350 F.
Store in airtight container.

The holidays are great for stopping to appreciate everyone in your life, and your animal companions are a large part of that. In my family, food is love, and taking the time during the holidays to bake something special for someone you love is an honored pastime. Remember that these do not have preservatives in them, so make sure that your buddies eat them within a week or so. Enjoy!

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Second Weekend in Floyd

We arrived Friday afternoon and immediately began to try and heat the house. As I was trying to get the propane fireplace to light, I could see my breath. The fireplace would not stay lit for more than ten minutes, so we decided then and there that a wood stove would be on the list of things we needed ASAP. I have never failed to get wood ignited and to get a good fire going... Oscar grouted the tile in front of the fireplace in preparation for the wood stove, and I think he did a wonderful job. It amazes me that he can just DO these things, and always seem to do them WELL, too... He even picked out a wonderful color that matches everything!

There are so many projects to be done, and we started a bunch this week. Dexter is working on our driveway, so it will be much easier to get up the hill next time we go! I spent quite some time putting outlet covers on the switches and power outlets, cleaned out some of the cabinets, cleared off shelves, and other organizing and cleaning tasks.

We walked the property line and put up Private Property signs. It seems people use our property as a short cut into a 500 acre parcel for hunting. They seem to have missed many times, and there are holes in the house. I would rather that not happen again... plus, I am sure all the creatures that live on our parcel would really appreciate being safe from the humans.

The dogs had a fun running around, and this time they got to spend time at/in the larger of the three creeks that run through the property. Claris was basically a blur in every photo. Grommit had a good time digging in the mud and finding the deeper spots to float around in.
There are lots of great places to let the dogs go nuts and run around. I am looking forward to walking the whole set of creeks to find a good spot to make a swimming hole for them to enjoy. I will also work on clearing out some of the overhanging and down branches in the larger run so that we can enjoy more of it, and so it does not get clogged with detritus!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In Memorium

Today I had to make one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Deckard had been slowly declining in health for quite some time, but lately things had accelerated. He had lost more than 10 pounds in a few weeks, was eating on and off, was starting to pace around at night, his heart was starting to race with the slightest exertion, and many more problems too numerous to mention. We took him to Floyd over the weekend, and I thought maybe that would be his last vacation, so I made the most of it with him.

He had real trouble getting around this morning, and was not acting like himself, so I felt it might be his time. I took him into the Vet, and was not surprised by what I heard. The Vet told me that he was going into kidney failure (he had spent a lifetime on assorted pain medications for hip dysplasia so this was not surprising), his heart was having trouble, and he was having mobility issues that would only make things worse. The Vet said kidney failure was not a pleasant way to go, and he was going to start on the path downhill quickly. I could not let him suffer, and decided that it was better for him to go while he was still somewhat happy, and not wait until he became miserable all the time. He was a dignified, powerful, alpha-dog and it was the least I could do for him.

So I held him in my arms as he took his last breath this morning. He was a good dog, and I loved him. I will miss him, and his absence already saddens me.

Our first weekend in Floyd County

We survived closing (barely-it was a mess), and the house is now ours. We drove down and spent last weekend there. Sadly, we had been misinformed about how much propane was in the big tank so had no gas for heat or cooking. We used kerosene to heat up the house, which was a new experience for me (It is expensive, messy and smells unpleasant, but it is warm. Enough said for you folks who have never had the pleasure.). We moved in a van load of our belongings and did an inventory of what we had and what we needed to get. We cleaned as much as we could, and enjoyed the peace and quiet, along with all of the stars (the lack of light pollution makes it so much nicer to view the milky way).

The dogs really seemed to enjoy running around in the woods, and the house is a great place for them to lounge-lots of carpets and couches! Grommit got sick a few times, but quickly recovered. He is a very sensitive fellow, and I think he was a little stressed from the trip and the new surroundings. Once he got to play outside, he perked right up and had fun exploring around the house. We will get to explore further afield when we have more time and less work!

The first morning we awoke to a house guest... a small, hairy, winged one. Since the house had been vacant for almost a year, I was not surprised, but it was still a shock when Oscar pointed it out to me, clinging to the wall. I grabbed a plate and a basket and carefully moved him out of the house and into a shrub outside. The bat was not happy and expressed his displeasure with some serious sonic chatter, but it all worked out, and we went our separate ways.

It was hard to leave, but we had to come back to the city and go back to work. I cannot wait to get back and start working on the house. There is so much more to clean, more to paint, more to finish. The driveway is getting done next week, and the roofer is coming to look at things and tell me what we need to do so that I am sure we have the best roof possible. If you have a good roof, you have a good house!