Monday, December 29, 2008


One last night alone before my crew returns.
Mark's grandmother picked the girls up an hour ago and they're spending the night with her. This saves me from running them over in the morning before work and saves the girls from another long day at the office with me.
They did well on their 9 to 5 shift today. Right off the bat they met D, one of our pet customers. He went to grade school with my dad but rode a shorter bus, if you know what I mean. He is the sort who never forgets to get me and my sister a Christmas gift but must be told to wipe the donut from his face. He has an uncanny ability to predict when we have donuts in the office. Less impressive when we realized it was because he was watching us from the gas station parking lot across the street. I guess that could seem creepy, but he's harmless. He's our D. Gotta love him.
So the girls came to work with me today since we hadn't planned out any other arrangements for them while the boys were camping. They brought plenty to do and basically held it together until lunch, when we went out to get food and I told them to get all the wrestling out of their system while they were in the car because they were going to have to get ahold of themselves for the second half of the day. I'd say they did pretty great for a long damn day in an office. I know it's tough for me.
Last night they slept with me instead of in their usual pile on the floor. And this evening we had tortilla chips for supper and snuggled on the couch laughing out loud at cartoons. I've been relishing the cuddling. There are plenty of other times they are so squirmy I have to shoo them away 'Git!' before they send me into conniptions.
Aggie was torn between the opportunity to sleep over at grandma's with a bonus trip to the movies, and leaving her dear old mum all alone. It wasn't because I said anything to make her feel that way, she was just worrying about me. Little Mother Hen. I remember when I was in 2nd grade (or 3rd?) and it was my sister's first day of kindergarten, and I fretted and worried to the point of tears for her all day only to find out that she'd had a perfectly wonderful time. So I tried my best to convince Aggie that I'd be just fine for one short night.
Oh, and I locked myself out of the house as they were driving away. How many times do I have to do that before I take preventive measures? Why oh why do I turn that little lock when I'm just stepping out on the porch? What is that? And of course the one window I can usually crawl through Mark had locked before he left town. Super. And I'd been locking everything else the whole time I've been home without him. So I stood in the dark in the cold, on the porch, without a phone, and no one to call anyway. Even if Mark wasn't hours and hours away and unreachable by phone, his keys were in the house too. I'm pretty sure the Onstar (brilliant waste of money so far, by the way-thanks for proving that yet again, Onstar--unlock my damn house if you're so smart!) in the car still has phone minutes but who to call? No one has a spare key. But hallelujah when I tried the 'front door!' Our house is one of those houses where you don't really use the front door. We used to use it, but the front of the house, picket fenced yard, and front porch all belong to the dogs now. They have destroyed the grass, buried & excavated the walkway, dug giant hole/forts for themselves and turned the porch into a barn/dog sty. Whatever, at this point. Point was, Aggie didn't lock the door after she fed Copper! And I'm an idiot. Must hide a key somewhere and soon.
Mark did give a call this afternoon. They're up in the Allegheny National Forest and they have to take a 15 minute drive to get to a point where there's phone service. He said Sam asked him to climb a mountain, and Mark agreed, and then Sam 'ran up the mountain,' got to the top, and then bounced and jumped all the way down 'like Tigger.' I guess Sam's old man had trouble keeping up with him. And it sounds like they've had fun, so I'm glad. Can't wait to take that boy hiking! Appalachian Trail, here we come.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Recap

After a much enjoyed respite from work, the internet, and the world I've got to make a quick record of our Christmas before it flitters right out of my head.
Let's see. We had plans to visit with Mom's side of the family Christmas Eve, but Lily was bearer of the Holiday Vomit and we all stayed home in quarantine. She was basically fine other than that, but I wasn't about to risk spreading it to all the little ones in the family. And frankly, while I know we missed some really good times and laughs, it was kind of a treat to be home without obligation.
So kids were tucked in bed, gifts were tucked under tree, and I had trouble falling asleep like I always do Christmas Eve. I stress so much during all that wretched holiday shopping that I can't wait to see whether I was a success or dismal failure. Will they be pleased or disappointed? And either way, it's a release, because it's over. Thank heavens it's over. And they all seemed pleased to boot.
I'd post a picture, but Lil had nothing but her underpants on for the whole thing.
Mark was rightfully proud of his gifts to me. After near 7 years of marriage he finally bought me a diamond ring. Of course, this robs me of the opportunity to tease him about that, but at least he can cross that off his list of things to do ever. I've had and worn rings this whole time that were handed down to me by his grandmother, so my teasing was basically moot. They've been better than anything I could've picked out myself. Perfect, really. And I'm not much of a jewelry wearer unless it has some sort of sentimental value, but, but, he'd bought a girl before me a ring, so it was just something I could always rag him on. Soooo now I have a ring instead, and the best part of it for him, aside from silencing me (dang it,) is haggling the store down significantly. The man loves to haggle.
And then to top it all off he offered to go horseback riding with me on the day after Christmas! I'm not sure which was better:the ride or the ring. The day was just about perfect, as far as a winter day for riding goes. It was cold enough that the horses wouldn't be too hot in their winter coats, but warm enough to go without 20 layers of clothes for a change. The ground hadn't thawed completely so the footing was pretty good and the sky was clear. Rapture!Out for 2 1/2 hours. The horses even seemed to enjoy it after a couple months off. Nikki did take a small leap off from the side of the road onto the asphalt without warning me first. Normally she does that over creek crossings so I guess the little ditch looked like a creek to her. I don't know how she didn't slide across the pavement. Definitely woke me up. On the way home she crossed the creek like an old pro, no jumping whatsoever. Go figure. I was so surprised by her gentle crossing that I must have fussed over her for five minutes, congratulating her and petting her. Mark said she looked pretty proud of herself. So it was a perfect ride, as they all are, and as soon as we'd unsaddled and fed the animals it started to rain. It held off until the very last minute.
The men are all off on their after-Christmas camping trip. Fathers, sons, grandfathers, great-grandfathers and the dogs. Up in the mountains with the outhouse. Obscene amounts of red meat and no indoor plumbing.

My dad took the girls overnight to visit my aunt and uncle, so once the boys left I was home alone. I honestly don't know the last time it's happened that I had no husband or child at home. It rarely, rarely ever happens.

First thing I did was fix the pig pen. Seriously. Before he left, Mark found that the massive amounts of rain overnight had caused the creek to flood and knock over part of the fence. He didn't have time to fix it before he left, and he said that he didn't think those particular pigs (there are only 2 out there right now) had the ambition to escape but if I wanted to, I could run a temporary repair of the electric fence with some fiberglass fence posts. Well, ya! Why wouldn't I want to?

Honestly, the weather was so unseasonably warm that I was happy to be outside. I was already junky from doing housework, so I just headed out as I was: in my pajamas. I knew I was going to get muddy. What was the sense in dirtying more clothes ? No sense, I said. I put on my handy dandy Muck boots and got busy. Thank goodness they go up to my knees because I needed every inch of them. And they look awesome with ratty pink flannel pajama pants. I only had to re-route about 20 feet of fence. The hardest part was probably carrying the roll of fence wire. It's smaller than a bag of sugar, but weighs about a hundred pounds. The quicksand was tricky too, but a little fun. Try messing about in a creek and not having fun at the same time. I'm not sure it's possible.

I think my patch job will hold up until Mark returns. It wasn't pretty but the pigs were still there today when I checked on them. Mission accomplished! After that I shoveled two wheelbarrow loads of horse manure out of the barn and into the manure spreader, fed critters, then took a much needed shower.

It took me about 5 hours to get bored and lonely without my family. Darn it! I'd already read the book Mark got me for Christmas (about the Appalachian Trail-loved it!) and didn't have one I was ready to jump in to. I read the paper. I didn't want to clean anymore. Never fails that you only get time to yourself when you don't want it and never get it when you do want it. Finally Dad brought the girls back. We camped out in my room for the night and spent all of today in front of the television. I finally quit beating myself up about it around suppertime. How often do we sit like lumps in front of the tv all day. One day won't warp our brains too much. Will it? The girls wore their pajamas all day until they got a shower after supper and put their pajamas on again. The same pajamas. I don't care. We're going all out. We shared a T-Bone steak, also. I cooked it myself, and it was good.

And that has been the sum of my holidays. Not really, but I'm going to bed now.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pre-Christmas Goings On

I take a ridiculous number of photos of the horses. I've actually used it as a reason for being late to work. The horses were doing something adorable, I don't even remember what, probably rolling in mud or eating grass, I don't know, but I got distracted and ended up late for work. Actually, how it went down was, because I also use my camera for work, as I was uploading the work photos to my computer my brother saw the time stamp on the horse photos and totally called me on it. But come on, how cute is it when they lie down? I love this picture:That pile in the center is Admiral. The calf was really curious about him, and I kept waiting for Admiral to pop up suddenly and scare the bejeezus out of him.

So the holidays have us all pooped out already. We were grateful for a 2 hour delay of school yesterday to allow for a little extra sleep. Mark woke Sam up Sunday night to tell him to turn his alarm off so he could sleep in...No, I take that back. Mark woke Sam up by telling him to get up because he was late for school, and Sam jumped up in a stupor with a hearty shout of 'Elvis!' No idea what that was about.

Poor Lily is strung tight as a drum. I had such high expectations for her Daisy Scout Christmas Program.There were songs with little synchronized dances, songs with sign language, and they all had to memorize a line to a story. Lily's was :"Teach the children that the holly plant represents immortality. It represents the crown of thorns worn by our Savior." Ya, that's right, I remembered it by heart just now.

I was pumped about all the awesome pictures I was going to take. What actually happened was we arrived 'late,' though we were there in plenty of time. I was just at the edge of my wits because I'd been pounding this date and time into my head for about a month, along with 'don't forget the grab bag gift, wrap the grab bag gift, troop leader gift, holly Christmas tree ornament, red sweater, Santa hat, learn your lines, etc, etc ' and when it finally rolled around, things just weren't going smoothly. Hurried supper, rush to the church, forget the ornament in the car, blah blah, just petty annoyances. But on top of that, they put her in the back row, and I couldn't see her the whole damned time! Come on! Couldn't they have them all switch around for the different songs?

Ah well, I'm not a complainer mom. I'm a 'grateful-that-you're-doing-it-instead-of-me-I-know-how-bitchy-parents-can-be' mom, and other than that they did a really terrific job. Besides that, Lily was so tired and unenthusiastic, pale and hollow-eyed that she wasn't very photogenic anyway. My baby was tired!Aggie's schedule has been the easiest this holiday season. One grab bag and a tray of cheese and crackers.

At any rate, I'm looking forward to parking myself on the sofa all Christmas day, and sleeping in the day after Christmas and possibly the day after that. Or getting the crazies because there's stuff everywhere and my house is a wreck. Kind of a tradition, too.

Here's what's trappin':These came from the live traps Mark has set up at a nearby neighbor's house. She asked him to trap all the raccoons that have infested her property. I found out that the bait is tampons with vanilla on them. He took my tampons to trap raccoons. Didn't even ask first.

He uses other things too, I think, like actual food, and it's always a possiblity that you'll trap something other than what you're after such as a cat or an opposum.
Mark stopped by the office to see me last week and mentioned in passing that he had a 'possum in his van. And I was like 'really?' and 'I have to take a picture of it.' Before he opened the box I also asked him if he was going to skin it, since the fur buyers will buy 'possum and skunk and whatnot, and he said 'no' and I said 'why?' and then he opened the box and I saw that poor little ugly animal. So ugly it's cute. Then Mark was all 'Now do you see why I didn't skin it?' The one even had a stumpy tail, poor thing.
Actually, no worries; everything that he's trapped he's released. Even the raccoons are getting released at new locations so Mark and Jill can go hunt them another day.
Happy Christmas Eve Eve!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Our post office is small. More often than not I'm the only one there when I stop and I leave my car running while I pop inside to check the mail. Well, now that I said that, I probably won't anymore.
I've just started letting the kids run in by themselves while I watch from the car. They love to do it. Our box is small so anything much bigger than a catalog gets placed in a larger box and the key to that box is left in our box. Box box box. Last night neither one of them could easily reach the keyhole by themselves,but together they made one super-girl with super keyhole-reaching powers.
It was special because I know they were also in there arguing with each other about the best way to do it, and at any given moment in a day they can just as easily be furious with each other as they can be best friends.
And I am now the proud mother of 2, count'em, 2 children who can cook macaroni and cheese all by themselves. Seriously, that's pretty huge. We're all getting our independence -one side dish at a time.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's over.

Rifle deer season that is. And I do believe this is the first year I've gone without getting a deer. I've only been hunting 6 or 7 years though, so that's probably a good record. Some years I got more than one. And besides-it was so bloody cold today. I confess, I only stayed out until 9am,went home, made pancakes and took a nap. I never claimed to be hard core.
So here's my perch: And here's my view of the sun rising this morning in the sub-freezing temperatures:
I'm glad I went. I only saw one deer. There's always next year.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Mark had to put new round bales in to the horses and cows. Penny and I were in charge of opening and closing gates behind the tractor.

Here's Penny smiling for the camera:

Jill cannot control herself whenever you're near enough to pet her. She writhes around on the ground, beside herself with happiness. She literally somersaulted here:Penny's not sure what to think of her.

Is it possible to have a crush on a cow? Is he not handsome?

And how's this for pretty? I love this girl. She has just enough piss and vinegar to offset her sweetness. Perfect.

Cute, but not Buddy.These kids have 'sled ridden' ('sled rided?') in the mud. This is slightly better snowfall than mud, and they'll take what they can get; they're not picky. There was just enough snow to scrape together a puny little jump.Catching air? Barely.

Have to fill the furnace. This is the sole source of our toasy warm heat. It has to eat once or twice a day.

You can see the furnace in the upper right hand corner next to the mountain of fire wood. I've resigned myself to having a giant mountain of fire wood all winter. No use fighting it.

It was really cold today, as I said, so I took pity on poor old YoYo the cat and let him come in for a little while. YoYo was originally a house cat but earned banishment to the barn for peeing on Sam's backpack and the living room floor, among other things. Helen earned her banishment for pooping behind the hotwater tank in the cellar. Her litter box was approximately 15 feet away. Much too far to walk.

So I don't know who was happier, YoYo or the kids. It was like getting a new pet. They have been meowing Christmas songs to him all day.

They came in from sledding and made themselves some warm milk. Not hot cocoa, warm milk. My 'recipe' with cinnamon and sugar. Warm milk and the awesome chocolate chip cookies Sam made all by himself earlier today.

Sorry, Copper. Did I forget about you?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More faces. And a tail or two.

Because these are photos I enjoy.
The kids found Ms. Bullfrog in the spring house. I just assume she's a girl because she's so big. We put her back after we got a couple photos. She was very cooperative.
Penny loves corn. She uses the typewriter method for the most part.
One of the laying hens. Actually, this is one of the 2007 hens, and most likely she went to auction and was replaced by a fresher hen. Their production slows as they age.Buddy! Back when he was a baby! Now he's huge. That was Arnold the piglet, his stall mate. Arnold was an orphan and the sole survivor of his litter. Our friend volunteered to bottle raise him over at her house until he was weaned. She tried to litter train him, but it was a no go. Then she brought him home.
Baby snapping turtle, please stay out of our pond. We like to swim there.

One day old piglet. I'm the pig midwife around these parts. Because my hands and arms are smallest. Ya, gross. I'm glad we haven't had a litter in a while. Cute buggers though.

And we mustn't forget these hard-working little ladies. These are from the observation hive in the market.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Now with more commas!

I was just kidding about the commas. I know I use them without rhyme or reason. Know I use too many words when fewer would suffice. Know I should use the dadgum spellchecker (insert random comma here) for pete's sake. I'm no writer. But more importantly will you get a load of that face:Or perhaps this one:

Now what's the matter with this animal here?:

Ha! These are the type of random snapshots you get when you work with your siblings and they sneak your camera away from your desk. No idea why I look so melancholy here. The picture frame in the background holds the portrait of the TV family from 'Mr. Belvedere.' Would you believe I've only had one person ask me about it.

So. No point to this post. I'm entertaining myself since the kids went to bed and my better half is conked out in his chair because he was out hunting til 2am-ish last night. He said Jill climbed a tree last night. And that was a good thing. They got 2 raccoons. I got to hog the bed all to myself. Win, win. (comma!)

Unfortunately, I also got up this morning and found that he'd tracked dirt all over the floor I'd scrubbed on hands and knees while he was gone. And since he was already awake he'd also decided to bottle up some of his honey to fill an order he had to deliver in Pittsburgh and that was also dripped on the floor.

I didn't feel like getting mad, but I did almost cry. I cleaned it up and the moment passed. He was sleep deprived after all.

And in conclusion:

6th Grade Christmas Musical

Last night was Sam's Christmas Musical. He was an elf in the chorus (green turtleneck.) He said that he'd raised his hand for a speaking part as well, but didn't get selected. He also said that participation in the musical was getting him out of his regular music class.
Of course I didn't know that I'd have to provide some sort of costume until the very last minute, so the kids and I dragged ourselves into the dollar store in search of an elf hat. Thank heavens they had one because we were already spent from our trips to Home Depot with Ag's Girl Scout troop for the Build Your Own art display easel and then to Michael's for You Are Trapped Forever In Craft Purgatory.
So the elf hat and the turtleneck were the sum of my efforts. It was a really cute program and they did a great job.
Sam-O and his Dad were eyeballing each other through the whole thing. I kept giving Mark the look to make sure he wasn't trying too hard to make Sam laugh. Sam said later that he was almost in tears trying not to laugh, but I know part of it was just his joy at having his Dad there watching him.
It was drizzling as we left and I said to the kids 'Wait! I have to get my coat on or I'll melt!,' and the look on Lily's face was fairly priceless. Because instantly there was a big part of her that was dying to see her mother melt. Maybe not all the way into a puddle but at least a little softened and runny. Rarely do I fully have her attention like this. She asked why would I melt, and I told her it was because I was so sweet, like sugar, and sugar melts in water. She silently stared at me as she struggled between the possibility of seeing something so incredible and then the dawning reality that it wasn't going to happen. Finally I got one over on her!
And poor Aggie this morning. She caught me as I was heading out the door and said that her teacher said I 'had to sign this.' I was confused because we'd already done all the homework last night. Turns out she got a big fat stinkin' F on a math paper in class. It was apparent that she'd been rehearsing her little speech, because it spilled out in this run-on sentence of 'I'm sorry Mommy and I'll make sure it doesn't happen again and I promise I'll work really hard and..." We've had this happen with one or the other of them every blue moon or so and they normally get all A's & B's so I didn't get too excited. Everybody has a bad day once in a while. And it certainly explains her weird mood last night. That's kind of a relief-I wasn't the cause of it for once!

A customer stopped in the office yesterday and we started in on the obligatory 'Are you ready for Christmas?' conversation when he stopped mid-sentence and said 'You know what, never mind, have a Merry Christmas' and walked out the door. And I was grateful. Because he understood that I've had this conversation about 300 times already and will have it at least 300 times more. Not that I always mind, it's usually pleasant enough, but he's the first person to ever give me a pass on it. His little Christmas gift to me, I guess.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 8, 2008

Even more fun than I expected

This was the view from our perch in row Z. Believe it or not there are seats higher than Z, and our seats were pretty decent. We were on the goal line where they scored the winning touchdown.

We had such a great time. My first Steelers football game ever. The crowd was at least as entertaining as the game, and I'm pretty sure we had championship level hecklers in our section, too. With the voice of Chris Farley's Matt Foley character, one fellow was particularly articulate. Except he did start on this "They're just a bunch of cry boys" tirade that didn't quite make sense. I mean, I know what he meant: the Cowboys fell down and rolled on the ground for just about every play, but isn't the phrase "Cry baby?"

Anyhow, Pittsburgh won and there's just something incredible about sixty thousand people all yelling and cheering at one time. You can't help but get excited, too. Everyone's just in such a good mood. This in spite of the bitter, bitter coldness. And probably with a little help from the $7 cans of beer being thrown back, or the skunky herbage wafting through the air from time to time. Dude.

I also couldn't help but notice that all recent activities for Mark and I involved twenty layers of clothing & runny noses. How romantic. Next goal: First Pittsburgh Penguin game.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hunting Season!

Very exciting. Actually, this post is kind of boring to probably everyone but me. So let that be a warning. So.

It's the beginning of our two week deer season. We went out Monday for 'First Day' and again yesterday. Nothing so far, but I had a really good time. It's like a holiday in these parts. The kids don't have school, and folks take vacation days from work. I really enjoy being a part of the rusty pickup driving, fluorescent orange wearing, gun toting family. We stop along the side of the road and talk to one another through the open windows of our trucks comparing notes and rumors. I'm definitely in the minority as a girl, but I'm getting used to that part. We listen to classic rock on the AM/FM/cassette player with our rifles propped on the seat between us. We scan the countryside as we're driving, looking for deer and other hunters. We have really bad hat hair, and my nose runs most of the day. I know! Sounds fun, right?

Got up first thing Monday morning in the dark. Mark got me up way too early. Way earlier than necessary, so I went back to bed for a little while and waited for the coffee to brew. I have to admit, I've been in such a PMS low for the past week or two that I wasn't even positive I was going to get up at all. I was lying in bed Sunday night psyching myself up so I'd be re-excited to go & doing a quiet pantomime of taking aim at an invisible deer on the ceiling & squeezing the trigger with my 'air rifle.' Ya, that's not weird at all.

We sited in our rifles on Saturday and I was pulling down and left so I was trying to visualize steadiness. I was only off one ring of the bulls-eye at 100 yards, but I'm a big believer in visualizing & muscle memory & sleeping on it.

So we got up Monday morning. Mark left to go hunting at the neighbor's place over the hill, and I headed out at 6:30 to the woods behind our house. Sweated up the hill in the dark, crawled under the fence and climbed up into the tree stand. It's not really a tree stand because it's a free standing hut, but that's what I call it. Actually we call it 'John's tree stand' because our friend John built it.

My uncle and his 2 boys were in 'My tree stand' along the left edge of our property, and my other uncle was down the hill in the woods somewhere. It was bitter cold and windy, but I was prepared. My newest indispensable hunting accessory is a ThermaCare HeatWrap taped to my chest. Best two dollars I've spent in a long time. That along with a tank top undershirt, 2 long underwear shirts, a sweater, a sweat shirt, a hunting coat, 2 scarves, long underwear pants, jeans, carhart bib overalls, knit hat, muck boots, gloves, and hand warmers in each boot. Pockets full of fruit, a knife, bullets, and my cell phone. I weighed myself with all my stuff & it was an extra 30 pounds. No wonder I sweat walking up the hill.

So the biggest drawback to the wind was that it totally gave me away to the deer. As soon as they were down wind of me, they high-tailed it out of the area.

I saw a raccoon. And squirrels so fat that I spontaneously whispered to myself 'holy fat ****ing squirrel.' Seriously, they were huge, like body builders. The hooty owls were saying their farewells as the sun came up. All in all, I was OK with the morning in spite of the lack of deer action.

I went down for lunch and relocated to the neighbor's farm til sundown. Skunked again. (Not literally.) But I was bird & squirrel watching, and the intermittent snow fall made me smile. I was sitting on a milk crate in a lovely creek bottom in the woods.

After dark, Mark was skinning deer that folks brought to us to butcher. It'll be Christmas money. He said he wasn't going to do deer this year, but he just can't say 'no' sometimes. Plus 10 hours a day wrapping meat gives me something to do with all my free time on the weekends.

(Update--Mark hasn't made me help one time this year. Now that must be love.)

The kids were staying with his grandparents for the first days of deer season, by the way. We didn't have to lock them in a closet or anything. When I stopped by they were having a scavenger hunt/hide and seek game. The hider would hide several written clues in various hiding places which eventually led the seeker to where the hider was hiding. Clues were along the lines of " The first clue is where you hear 'ring, ring!''hello' " or " I'm hiding behind something covered in flowers." A hunt was about 4 clues long and they were having a blast. I loved that it was reading and writing practice.

So Tuesday morning there was no way I was getting up a 5am, and I slept in a bit. I knew I'd have mucho chores to do when I got home in the evening and I needed to conserve a little energy. Mark thought he was going to get up and out-hunter me, but I'm way too cuddly to resist (sure!) and he stayed in bed too.

After we got our butts out of bed we decided to head back over to the neighbor's farm again. This time I wanted to overlook an open field at the top of the property, so Mark found me a spot and left to find his own. The wind was brutal. My Dad said that the wind chill made it 16 degrees and I believe it. I wedged myself up against a tree to get a little relief. At one point the giant black cloud hanging overhead shifted east leaving nothing but a beautiful blue sky and the sun shining on my face. One of those things that makes you feel so lucky and happy to be alive. Another giant black cloud came to take the place of the first one about five minutes later.

I wasn't seeing deer so Mark decided to push the woods out to me to see if he could get any moving. I saw a few, but we had decided to wait to see if we could get a buck this week instead of a doe, and I didn't see any that met the 4 points on one side requirement. So we eventually took a lunch break to warm up and to check if there had been any more deer dropped off to be butchered.

At Mark's grandparents' we had ourselves a redneck energy bar: jumbo (aka bologna) and cheese on white bread. It's something that we rarely eat any other time of year, especially white bread, but it always taste so good during hunting season when you're cold and hungry.

After lunch we decided to hunt up behind the grandparents' house where Mark did most of his boyhood hunting. He calls it Rea's Rocks. It's woods with giant rocks and boulders scattered through them. There's also a huge tree Mark and his best friend carved all their girlfriends' names into. (No, I'm not on it. And that's OK, because now it's falling down. Ha!)

The other cute thing up there is the 'log cabin' they built themselves when they were kids. It's about 15 feet by 15 feet and 4 feet tall. They really cut down trees to build it. They camped, smoked cigarettes, drank beer. You know, real Tom Sawyer stuff. But really, they hunted up there and had their adventures. It's neat to see. And that's where I spent the rest of my hunting day. I saw a couple deer, but the wind was still working against me. I had a small one stroll in from upwind, but she bolted as soon as she hit downwind of me. But that's the way it goes! I still had a great time and I'm looking forward to heading out again sometime in the next two weeks.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

November in Pennsylvania

Isn't he pretty? I had to take some photos of houses for work yesterday and my route took me past the cemetery in Washington. I happen to really like cemeteries, and this particular one gave me the inspiration for my middle child Agnes' name when I was expecting. I browsed all the oldest headstones looking for names. Is that weird?
Anyway, it's very peaceful and park like, and historical in there, plus the deer live in relative luxury and safety. So fellas like this guy here are pretty unconcerned when you stop your car and start taking photos. Pretty neat.

It rained all day yesterday so we brought the horses into the barn for the night. We've been using the tie stalls, meaning they are in stalls just big enough to stand tied with a manger in front of them full of hay & fresh water. They're out of practice since last winter and a little antsy, but I was afraid to leave them out since they were wet & I expected the temperature to drop a good bit over night. They need to get back in the routine anyway, because colder, icier days are ahead.

I brushed them and tried to rub them dry with some burlap sacks as best I could. I untangled their dreadlocks and got the burdocks out of their manes. Normally these simple things are as good a tonic as any for a crabby mood, but this one's persistent and I could probably stand another dose. Maybe it was because they were too wet to hug on and I didn't get the full benefits. I did go hug and kiss on the coondog and that helped too, but the funk remains.

We had a corral built for the two biggest steers to confine them for their last month or so. It let them run into the barn for cover, gave them exclusive access to their own water trough, their own round bale of hay, and grain twice a day. Sounds great, right? No getting chased by the horses. More food. But I watched them in their new accomodations and they just weren't themselves. Mark was monitoring their water intake and he said CalfLac hadn't come in to drink, as far as he could tell. Buddy seemed depressed being away from the horses and calves-his horses and calves. So Mark decided to turn them back out with everyone else. I wish I'd been there to see it, because apparently they ran around in circles from pure joy for a good five minutes.
Indoors the farmhouse makeover is nearly through phase one. I still have some touchup painting to do and the window treatments aren't due to arrive until mid-December, but we have some real improvement. Once again, thank you, Jill. The other bonus about that: there was like a 35% markdown on coondogs this week, no coupon necessary.

Lily asks me every day if she can stay home from school. I feel her pain and tell her we only have one more day to go til Thanksgiving vacation. She's not really buying it. Mark made his delicious unfamous crab cakes for supper tonight and she pulled an 'I don't like it' so I told her to put ketchup on it (or catsup, as my dear grandma used to call it.) So she'd take a bite, run around the room, and return to her seat. Normally, I'm not cool with stuff like that, but I have a strange singular memory of doing the exact same thing with popcorn while my parents watched Dallas on the TV in the basement. Take a bite, run like mad. Take a bite, run like mad. And they didn't yell at me as I recall, so. It's only fair?

My brother stopped by after work and we polished off a bottle of wine he made me buy for Thanksgiving over at my Dad's on Thursday. What? I watched Sam as my brother poured glasses and I knew it was absolutely killing him so I gave him about 3/8 of an inch in a juice glass. He was on cloud nine to be included. He probably had 3/4 of an inch total when all was said and done and believed himself to be somewhat tipsy. Ah, to be 11 1/2. NO THANKS!

His sisters thoroughly disapproved.

So we've been working on the house, as I've said repeatedly, and a bulk of it was painting. I chose the kitchen color, under duress, and hastily chose "Honey Gold" in honor of our fledgeling apiary. I was looking for a yellow. Was in the yellow tones, with about 2 minutes until we had to leave the store to get to a birthday party. So I'm embarassed to admit, I picked the shade because of it's name. At first, I hated it, but it's grown on me. But for the next 2 colors- dining room/area and living room- I couldn't take the pressure, gave Mark some vague directions, and turned him loose. He chose 'Cassiopeia' for the dining area and 'Raspberry Jam' for the living room. This is the guy who wears the same uniform of blue jeans and one of our screen printed farmers market t-shirts with our name on it every day. He drives a truck so busted we're all afraid to take it on the road. I could go on. But the point is, he picked a really nice shade of light blue for the dining and a beautiful rich brick for the living room. He's just full of surprises I guess. He picked out the flooring too. Nothing fancy-our house doesn't warrant it-but it's nice.

We got the first draft of the kids' Christmas lists. There are lots of hamsters and wigs and Lego's on the lists. I'm sure those are pretty typical Christmas List things, just like 'Don't forget to wash the glue out of your hair' is a typical evening time phrase. These things don't phase me as much as the fact that the girls are finally sleeping in their own beds instead of in a pile on their brother's floor. Is it wrong that I let them sleep like hobos for the past 7 or 8 months?
I have done no shopping thus far apart from 2 gift certificates for my grandmother. And that was only because I went to the grocery store and they were right there. So I'm really sucking on that front and that probably accounts for at least part of my moodiness.
It's gonna be OK though, thanks to the Christmas Hot Toddy Fairy and Amazon. The fairy's come early this year and I get free shipping with my Prime membership. It has it's privileges, the membership does.
Scatterbrained and tired,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Caught In The Act

Dude is so predictable.

I was getting in my car to go to work this morning and I saw Mark down at Jill's box feeding her. He was calling the cows down for breakfast: "Here ya goooo! Come on!" And the hills were alive with the sound of music and hungry animals.
He didn't know I was watching him yet, and he bent over the dog, gathered her up at his feet, and kissed her on the face.

I love that guy.

I love catching my family in the act of being themselves. I love when the girls are upstairs in their room singing. I've called my Mom numerous times and held the phone outside their door so she could listen, too.

I love when Sam's got all his Star Wars Legos out in battle formation strategizing his next move.

I love when Mark's concentrating on something and his face pulls up into this ridiculous squinty grimace.

I love making this list! More to come.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cause and Effect

My husband's recent manic foray back into the world of racoon hunting and coon dogs has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.

First there was the nostalgic emotional high my dear husband was on. Then my descent into madness, through the bone jarring loop de loop of marital negotiations, and now finally the track seems to be smoothing out.

I've made peace with the possibility of having 'Jill' become a part of the family. She's quiet for the most part, and she does what she's supposed to do. But more importantly, she gave me a huge amount of marital currency without my husband even buying her.

You see, the price tag on Jill is $700. Add that to the huge amount of emotional grief this process has put me through, and that equals enough Husband Guilt to give me new flooring in 5 rooms, 2 new ceilings, baseboards, and 3 rooms newly painted. That's huge. That's something I couldn't accomplish in 5 plus years of 'asking.'

So, Jill, you deserve to live here. You can poop in my yard all you want.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Current Pet Roll Call

In no particular order:
1. Helen- Bunny-soft calico cat, talkative, licks a lot which is sometimes gross
2. YoYo- Black & White tuxedo cat, de-clawed by his previous owner, drools when he's happy, called Oreo by his first family
3. Baby Coco- Maine Coone-ish, black & white cat born on the farm, has many extra toes, pretty and soft
4. Peanut- Baby Coco's full sister, tortoise tabby with one orange tabby buttock, extra long tail, talkative, totally normal feet
5. Penny- 7 year old yellow Dudley Labrador Retriever, her mind is a terrible thing to waste but she does it anyway, LOVES swimming
6. Copper- not quite 1 year old son of Penny, also yellow Dudley, his most common gait is hopping around like Tigger
7. Admiral Pondwalker-Sorrel gelding Appaloosa horse with only 3 or 4 tiny spots ,if you can find them, my husband's horse, but mainly ridden by my friend Annette, likes to test new riders, fun to gallop, I love him
8.Nikki-Bay Appaloosa/Arab mare, she might have a spot if you look hard, my baby, nice trot, bucks when we canter, totally love her
9. Buddy- Best Steer Ever, Sorrel Short Horn?, bottle raised in the front yard, still plays like a calf even though he's got to weigh half a ton, will eat most anything
10. CalfLac- Buddy's Step Brother, red and white Short Horn Steer, also bottle raised here, he's never been as friendly as the other steers but he's alright
11. The Heifers- 2 black Angus feeder calves, I like to look at them, but we're not quite family yet, I'd love for them to grow up and have babies here
12. The Baldies-2 white faced, black Angus, brother and sister, they're relatively new, easy going
13. The Hogs-They're all feeder pigs right now as opposed to breeding stock, so nobody has a name. They're still fun to visit with, give 'em scratches behind the ear or kitchen scraps as a treat. I think they are all currently Spots: black and white spotted
14. The Chickens- Running about in their coop, they give us fresh eggs (well, not while they're running) & the rooster gives us ambiance, crowing pretty much whenever he wants. I believe they're Cornish-Rock crosses, but could be Rhode Island Reds, and there are a couple of Silkies-a gift from a chicken farmer friend for the kids. I haven't got anybody to raise a clutch out of this flock.
15. The Pond Fish- Husband tells me a hatchery dumped a buttload of fingerlings in there towards the end of Summer, along with snails, clams, and I don't know what else. Supposed to be Catfish & Bass & some kind of Panfish, I think
16. The Goldfish-In our 50 gallon aquarium are 3 goldfish who've lived here as long as we have. Our neighbor across the street had fish that had a bunch of babies and she gave us a few. She had them in a baby pool in her cellar.
17. The Fatheads-Sam caught a couple minnows out of the creek & keeps them in an aquarium in his room.

Seriously, I was starting to think this wouldn't end...
Oh, ya
18. maybe- Jill, the Treeing Walker Coonhound- her trial period is coming to an end, and a decision must be made. Unfortunate timing of the full moon meant that Husband hasn't been able to hunt her for a couple days. She is really a super sweet dog, smart, seems to have gobs of potential, has treed coon all by herself since she's been here. I, of course, can't vote 'yes' on her, but we'll see what happens.

So that was fun. And a nice little time capsule to have, since this list is forever changing. We'll see how it looks in six months or so.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Slow Money Bleed

We started a small home improvement project last weekend. That's a snake skin in the middle of the first picture. It was one of several found in the ceiling. One of dozens (with and without live snakes in them) we've found since moving in. The snakes moved out a couple years ago because we are way too noisy, but I am grateful for the snakes. If it hadn't been for the snakes I'm positive I would have had to clean buckets of mouse turds out of all the kitchen drawers when we moved in.
Fact of the matter is, the house was literally on the verge of being condemned right before we bought it. Dr. L, the guy in charge of condemning stuff in our township, told us so. The house and every building on the property was waist deep in junk. And the house itself was really gross.
By some miracle of hysterical blindness, I did not trouble my memory with the images of the blue toilet with no lid or the bright red extra shaggy shag carpet in the bedroom or the turquoise everything or the smell. Leave it to me and the husband to spend 95 % of our time out in the woods behind the house, oblivious to the hideousness we were trying to borrow money to buy. We fell in love with the woods and everything else was just gravy. Chunky, congealed, mystery meat gravy. But it was our gravy. OK, that's a little too close for comfort, so I'm going to move on.
The victory of winning our prize was tempered by the massive amounts of filthy hard work it was going to take to fix and clean everything. And we're still in the midst of it. Hence, our recent little project. We're replacing the disgusting busted ceiling & goonie busted flooring in the laundry mud foyer. It's the laundry room with the most used door in the house. So it's like my entry door. And mud. Because no one but me sees the logic in leaving your dirt outside.
It's a small step in my journey to an unembarrassing house, and I'm super excited that I might have new drywall up when I get home from work.
The only drawback to starting this project is that it's started that familiar trickle of money leaking from our house. First it's insulation, then it's drywall, then screws, oh, and now we need to build another corral for the steers & a creep feeder for the feeder calves, and so on. Then this pipe needs replaced and we might as well go ahead with working on the kitchen, hey, lets build a great big pond with fish and a fountain, and what about the yucky bathroom and before you know it we've got one hell of a flow of cash rushing out our doors.
We've done it every year though, and we've made definite progress. For example: No snakes in the house.
And we love our place. Be it ever so goonie, there's no place like home.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Honey, It's Cold Outside

But hunting season is only a couple weeks away. Rifle season for deer, that is. I find myself peering into every patch of woods and open field on my way to and from work looking for them.

I'm looking forward to an early morning hike up the hill behind the house to my tree stand. Hopefully there will be snow on the ground. I'll walk up through the pasture field and crawl under the fence because it's the straightest quietest way to my stand.I probably won't take coffee so I won't have to pee, but I might take an apple for lunch. Or an orange. A winter or two ago I took an orange with me and the smell as I peeled it out there in the woods in the frigid air was spectacular.

Season before last I was treated to a red fox running back and forth across the hill in front of me. It even came within 10 feet or so of my stand. I could still see it's prints in the snow when I came down later. Really cool. And of course I get to see turkeys and squirrels and rabbits and chipmunks and owls. They all keep me company and help me pass the time as I wait for deer.

And when I do see deer-I couldn't be more thrilled if I saw a unicorn walking through the woods! It's just exhilarating. They are so silent! Grey Ghosts. And beautiful and graceful. I really love to watch them. I've had them lie down right below my tree stand. Just cop a squat right beneath me.

I guess it might be hard to understand how I could then actually shoot one, but it's not that I take joy in shooting them. I do take pride in a good shot. Won't take it if I'm not very certain I can take my time and get a good shot. And it's food in our freezer. We generally butcher all our meat ourselves, deer included. So I'm feeding the family, and as far as red meat goes, it's a good red meat. Plus it's something my husband, and eventually the kids, and I can do together.

I was especially proud of myself last year for field dressing & dragging all by myself for the first time. Prior to that my husband or my dad was always there to take control and do most of the work, but last year I was flying solo.

It was a doe. She was right behind my tree stand but I was able to get a really steady shot on her. She ran, but I watched closely which direction she went, and went tracking her about half an hour later. You don't want to go chasing after them right away. You want them to lie down and peacefully go to sleep.

It was raining and miserable, and tracking was kind of hard. My husband had shown me on different occasions how to look for their foot prints, and I was doing OK, but my stroke of luck was another hunter in a nearby tree stand who'd seen where she fell. He pointed her out to me. I signalled 'Here?' and he'd point again, and I'd signal 'Here?' and he became agitated and I became more embarrassed, but eventually found her below a fallen tree.

So Yippee! I have an audience for my first solo deer gutting. It's raining, my giant Roseanne Roseannadanna hair is frizzed out beneath my blaze orange hat and lucky neon green scarf. Every time I lean my gun against the tree it falls over. I dropped the knife half dozen times. I'm trying to manhandle a deer that likely weighs more than me and has legs sticking out in every inconvenient direction. And it's sticky and stinky.

That part accomplished, I sling my gun over my back and get to dragging. Naturally the first part of the drag is uphill through thorn bushes and over fallen trees. I'm still highly aware of my audience of one and trying to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, so I just go for it. Just dig my heels in and go for it. And fall really hard on my ass when I fall backwards over a tree. But it's cool. I'm fine. Keep on truckin'. And long story short, made it back down the hill I'd humped up over that morning. And no, it wasn't really much easier dragging downhill.

But the other thing I was remembering this afternoon as I was looking forward to First Day (of Hunting Season) was how cold I get.

I am not well constructed for the cold to begin with. What body fat I have is arranged in unattractive clumps on my ass and thighs;the rest of me is a jumble of ribs and elbows. So after I've worked up a good sweat in my fifteen layers of clothes from my hike to the tree stand I begin my rounds of seismic shivering. I've tried lots of things to prevent or minimize it, but it's pretty much become part of the whole experience now. And I realized also that having two little silicon packets in my chest only makes it worse. Kind of like when the power goes out and there's no heat in your water bed. (I don't actually have a water bed, but I did when I was a teen. It was rad. Totally 90's rad) So I have two little unheated water beds just sucking the heat out of me.

When this occurred to me, and it occurred to me that I might journal this in the blog, I considered whether it was something I'd really want to broadcast, but the fact of the matter is, pretty much everyone that knows me already knows about my boobs and it's old news. My kids know about it. My family knows about it. (And teases me relentlessly) I live in a really small town, and most everyone in it knows about it. And if there was anyone left after that, my husband told them about it. His rationale was that he didn't want anyone to have to wonder. Or something like that.

Hey, three nursed babies were not kind to my body. What can I say?

So, it's not a big deal anymore and a very real matter of consideration in my hunting preparations.

I'm pretty sure I'm not going to find any articles about it in the Field & Stream magazine.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

And her name is Jill.

It really gets me how these raccoon hunting hillbillies give their dogs such lovely names, like Jill and Lily and Ruby and Lucy and Belle and Queenie. And to clarify, I use the term 'hillbilly' with affection.

When I got home from work, there in the backyard was my youngest daughter, Lily, fawning over a 6 month old Treeing Walker Coon Hound. The dog was rolling over onto its back, and Lily was petting her and talking to her. Then Lily would get on her bike and the dog would wrap her chain around the bike and knock it over, tail wagging wildly. Lily has always been frisky puppy-like, so no offense was taken. It was a cute match. In fact it took all my strength to not go down there and fuss over 'Jill' myself. I am still stubbornly trying to project my disapproval in the face of everyone else's excitement.

To be fair, she was perfectly quiet all night. And she's only at our house on trial for 2 weeks. So I'm actually having trouble remembering what it is I'm supposed to be opposed to here. This is why my husband and I usually get along pretty well: I am supremely forgetful.

So moving on past the dog drama. Do you ever get those moments of bliss where you kind of freeze and think 'Don't move, or you'll scare it away!' Like when you see a deer in the woods or a butterfly on a flower. You are so overwhelmed with a humble gratitude & joy and near disbelief at the miraculous bunch of grace that is your life, that it nearly knocks you over.

Mark had taken the dog out in the woods (naturally) and the kids and I were in the kitchen. It was chilly and dark outside, but warm & shiny inside. They received their report cards yesterday and they all had straight A's. Sam even got 102% in Social Studies. So everyone was sort of basking in that glow & I made them tacos for supper, so I was their favorite mom ever. Agnes was reading Lily's library book out loud to her with Sam pitching in on any words Aggie wasn't sure of. I started mixing up a batch of oatmeal cookies & the kitchen smelled like vanilla and cinnamon. There were books and magic markers and drawings of rainbows & cats all over the kitchen table and what could be more wonderful? My three children reading & talking & getting along. All at the same time!

And I knew it wouldn't last, so I simply savored it. Just tried to stay quiet and small, making slow movements so I wouldn't frighten it away.

But bedtime eventually rolled around and I was forced to break the spell myself. Aggie bailed on the cleanup effort and Lily nagged her about it. Sam did his usual indignant bit, and Daddy came home and just generally got in the way. There was just enough oatmeal cookie-scented magic lingering in the air to get everyone to bed before the clock struck 9. Then we all turned into pumpkins. The End.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Bubbling Cauldron

Mark came home from Coondog City around 11 last night. It's not a real place. It's Mark's name for Jerry's house up near Pymatuning where all these blessed dogs come from. Ordinarily I find his special names for things endearing. Right now I'm too busy being a bubbling cauldron of WTF to be won over because I'm fairly certain there's a coondog in my barn.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reunited & It Feels So Good or Daddy Wants A Coondog

I am newly reunited with my old friend Elliptical Machine. We were on a break since maybe March and it was awkward at first, but things seem to be on the mend. I've put myself into a self-imposed boot camp. Granted it's a really easy 'workout' , but I have been getting up at 5:30am to do it. That is significant because sleep is definitely my drug of choice. Or is it horses? That's a tough one.

So what would finally motivate me to get my butt back up on that machine at an ungodly and dark hour of the morning every day? Other than pinchy pants?

Because it's therapy. Daddy wants a Coondog.

My husband introduced me to raccoon hunting, or 'coon hunting, a few years ago. The best way to do it is with at least one good coondog. More if you've got them. The purpose of the hunt is to get raccoons, skin them of their hide, stretch & scrape the hide, & then sell it for a bazillion dollars. Or like $12 or $15 depending on the market & size of your furs. Actually, the purpose is mostly just for fun. I believe the season runs all year, but the furs are only taken in winter when they're nice and full. After dark, you take your dogs out in the middle of the freezing cold woods & you let 'em loose. They have dragged you from the truck to the woods actually because they are completely insane when it comes to raccoons. Those 5 brains cells in their head are devoted entirely to chasing & howling at raccoons.

So you've turned them loose and they're now running about looking for the scent. When they find it, they start to bark. It's a tortured kind of howling bark, but it gets worse, yes it does.

Now you're hanging out, looking at the stars, interpreting your dogs bark. And yes, you know which dog is yours barking. Very important to know whose dog found the 'coon first if you're out with others. Then a 'strike'! We've got a 'coon in a tree and that dog is barking it's ever-loving freight train of a head off. Like someone is trying to kill the bastard. Like nothing ever wanted anything so bad as that dog wants that 'coon out of that tree.

This is where you play Marco Polo in the woods with your dog. Once you hear the unmistakable sound of your dog on a tree, you go looking for him. Now he could be anywhere, and I mean anywhere. Sometimes the raccoon slips tree: jumps from tree top to tree top & boogies on out of there before the dog realizes. Sometimes your dog is digging a hole in the ground. Sometimes he's across a swamp or in an impossible tangle of bramble bushes. Sometimes he's in a culvert pipe. Doesn't matter though. Because you are never going to get that damned dog back unless you go get him. He will bark at that tree for all eternity until you either shoot the 'coon down to him, or you drag his ass back to the truck.

The most challenging dog retrieval I was ever present for involved Coon Popper who had tunneled into a hillside at an old strip mine. She was in there with the 'coon & they were fighting & making all sorts of dramatic noise. My husband had to dig her out with a shovel. That took a while.

I actually like going with him. It's beautiful out there at night & fun to run in the woods in the dark. So what's the problem?

It's our recent history with Coondogs. These are not house pets. These are working dogs that live outside in a dog box, chained up to keep them from running away from home after 'coons. And did I mention that they bark. Without ceasing, they will bark. We have tried every imaginable way to curtail barking at the box. Popper eventually figured it out & would stop her bawling if you yelled 'POPPER!' out the window. But all the other blasted dogs my husband brought home had to be straight from hell sent to drive me mad. Those SOB's couldn't be stopped, and I couldn't hack it. I don't know what was worse: having to listen to it, or worrying about our few country neighbors cussing us in their homes. I still cringe even now remembering it. I felt a prisoner in my own home. And by that point, even my husband was hating the barking. When that last dog died it was one of my happiest times on this farm. It was like a curse had been lifted. No lie.

And now my husband wants to call this evil down upon us once again. He can't be reasoned with. He is sick with Coondog Fever.

So I hang out with Elliptical Machine & we listen to music. I'm just afraid the music won't be loud enough when the time comes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

School Pictures

I got warning last week that School Pictures would be taken this week. So that's 3 little forms to fill out, 3 checks to write, and 3 envelopes to send on the appropriate day. The hardest part for me is being consumed by the brain-clenching exertion of remembering stuff from the time I learn of a scheduled activity to it's arrival date. I have a huge phobia of missing stuff.

But I remembered this. I was feelin' good. On top of things.

So after her bath Monday night, Lily asked me to braid her wet hair so that it would be 'curly' in the morning. We've done this a couple times before on Lil and her sister. I'm not a big fan of the look, but they seem to like it. So the little guilty voice inside my head, the one that says 'I'm so bad at the soccer mom thing,' 'I don't read enough to my kids,' 'I let them keep their room like a pigsty too often,' etc., says 'Aw, let her pick her own hairdo for her 1st grade picture. What's the big deal? It'll be cool to hang out and braid her hair.' And it was. Listening to her ramble on and on about her 6 year old life was very engrossing. Her dad and I exchanged many a silent, stupified look.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. Time for the big unveiling! Braid after braid was unravelled until finally I had before me such a medusa's mess of frizz I could barely think or speak. I waited to see what Lil thought before I said anything, but it was immediately apparent she didn't like it either. I tried to pull up a little here and a little there to minimize the damage, but it was really no use. I had no time to wet and start over. The more I fooled with it, the worse it got. Why oh why did I agree to this?! Now three minutes before the bus was due I had no choice: One all encompassing ponytail. But even that was marred by the kinky frizz that was her hair.

All day I kicked myself about that ponytail. Should I have kept her home long enough to fix it and taken her to school myself? Should I call her teacher and request a do-over? Should I call the photographer? Should I take her to Sears and get my own photos? And worst of all, What would the grandparents think!!

This evening I asked Lil how her pictures went. She said 'oh, we're taking them yesterday.' I asked her if she meant 'tomorrow' and she said yes. Could it be true? Not quite trusting the most deceptive child we own (that's a joke, son), I casually asked her if anybody else in her class had their picture taken (trying to catch her off guard.) It even crossed my mind that the teacher herself had excused her from taking her picture because her hair was so ugly. Of course, she didn't, even though I would have been grateful if she had.

Lily says she had her picture taken today, but I will not really know until the pictures arrive. We'll see whether I'll always cherish a 1st grade picture of her in her cute, wavy bob or her mom-inflicted ponytail. Of course it'll be a sweet memory either way.