Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Signs of a Snow Day



Blowing snow.

Cooperation (briefly).

Browning butter.

Snow tunnel.

Puzzle (1500 pieces might have been a titch ambitious for one day).

Books and blankets.

Snowy trails (and slightly scary creaking-in-the-wind trees).

Catherine Newman's brown butter shortbread (with oats subbed for half the flour, because who doesn't love butter-drenched oats?).

More snow.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Day on the Ice

It was cold and it snowed.

And then it was very, very cold.

And then it rained.

And warmed up.

And the snow melted.

Then it got cold again, for a few days.

With more snow on the way.

We found snow pants and coats and matching mittens.

And tromped through the woods, over the old, rotten snow, through low-hanging hemlock branches.

And we sat on an old log and laced up our skates.

As big, fat, feathery flakes flew, furring the surface of the ice.

And we skated.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

January Thaw

After a frigid week--lows below zero most mornings, and negative sixteen one day--we got a couple of days of reprieve. Both Sunday and Monday temps rose to the mid-forties. Sunday it rained most of the day, making the outdoors not very inviting, but Monday the sun came out, and so did we.

As soon as we got outside, snowballs began to form. Around our house, there is an incontrovertible natural law that boys + wet snow = snowball fight.

I don't get it. I always hated snowball fights. But I don't get a lot of things my kids love (Minecraft, dodgeball, bodily function humor).

The warm weather called us down to the river (and not one single person complained about the trip!). I resisted thinking of it as "springlike" because that would only set me up for false hope. There is a lot of winter ahead of us.

Yet, out in the woods there were a lot of signs of life. Tracks (squirrel, I believe). Pileated woodpecker holes.

The swamp we stomp through was wet again--six inches of melted snow over the ice.

I saw this cocoon dangling from a tree that I'm sure I've walked by two dozen times since something spun it but never noticed it before. I wonder what will come out of it in the spring?

Scat. (Okay, so maybe I don't participate in poop jokes, but I take pictures of poop, which is probably even worse).

And more tracks (another squirrel).

The river was rushing.

A deep layer of meltwater ran over the top of what was left of the ice. I don't think this will be a walk or skate down the river kind of winter, unless we tuck into some seriously cold weather for a good long while (that's not a wish, just an observation).

Back in the field, we were back to the snowballs. It's so strange seeing so much bare ground in mid-January. I haven't skied or snowshoed once this winter--there just hasn't been enough snow for it (well, I could have skied last week, but oh, that bitter cold kept me inside).

The boys trooped up our trail toward home, but I extended my walk around the field and up the driveway, soaking in a little peace and quiet and fresh air. 

Already the cold was beginning to seep back across the land. January thaw made its appearance, then handed the reins back over to winter.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Weekend Things ~ Need to Do/Want to Do

I again went into the weekend with a list--inside my head--of things I needed to get done, and things I wanted to do. I started the weekend with an evening out Friday night with a friend, to a new Indian restaurant (yum!) and to see this movie, which was so good and so sad. The tragic irony of it destroyed the last shred of faith I had in humanity.

E and Z had a friend over Saturday morning, so I put off the housework until a time at which they could help and focused on a couple of need-to-do's that I've been putting off for too long.

Starting sprouts, finally! Winter's half over (ha!) and I just now got these going, which is ridiculous since it takes all of a minute to find a jar and the sprouting lid, put the seeds in, and add water.

I also finally got the Christmas thank-you-notes (mostly) ready to go in the mail (but didn't get them to the box in time for Saturday's mail delivery). Addressing the envelopes led to a whole 'nother project: I updated my Christmas card mailing list with all of the changed and corrected addresses, printed out a set of labels and stuck them to new, clean pages in my address book.

This is what the book looked like before. People are forever moving and getting married and getting divorced and otherwise messing up my address book. I still need to go back and hand-write in the phone numbers (but since the few people we actually call are programmed into all of our phones, I don't feel terribly compelled to do so).

After the boys and I cleaned house, we got one with some want-to-dos:

Lounging around with comics and comic books (I want to long around reading, too, but it just doesn't seem to happen).

And playing outside. The January thaw hadn't hit yet, and it was still pretty frigid out, so we didn't go too far.

In the evening, I took M to see this amazing guitarist. He's one of M's favorites and the tickets were my Christmas present to him. I love going to see local musicians at local venues--it is so congenial and cozy and intimate and the musicians seem like real people, not demigods. I think I could never attend another big-name concert in an arena full of screaming people and be perfectly happy.

Sunday the rain came, and we spent a cozy day inside. On my need-to-do list: sketch and identify winter weeds (I had collected them a few weeks earlier, so I didn't have to go out in the rain).

And on the want-to-do list: knit and read (books piled on that foot rest include: Big Nate, The Series of Unfortunate Events, The Man Who Walked Through Time, Magical Journey, Akimbo and the Lions, and How to Train Your Dragon. Guess which books are mine?).

I had planned to go to a party in the afternoon, but warm rain falling on frigid roads made for treacherous driving and, after fishtailing as far as our neighbors' driveway, I turned around and skidded back home. Instead I cooked a healthy dinner and did another need to do--fixed two pairs of mittens--while watching various Sunday night PBS programming (Father Brown, Downton Abbey, Grantchester).

And then we had a bonus weekend day! In between E's dentist appointment (about which he was outraged--outraged!--that it did not entail missing any school) and M's voice lesson, I managed another want-to-do that I've been meaning to do for a very long time: make Welsh tea cakes, something I remember my mom making when I was a kid (only I didn't know what they were called, but googled "frying pan cookies") and have been meaning to make myself for ages. The boys and I just finished reading The Dark is Rising series, which again reminded me of these (a good portion of the series takes place in Wales...and tea cakes make an appearance). I used this recipe, subbing whole wheat pastry flour for half the all-purpose flour, using yogurt instead of buttermilk, cutting the sugar by 1/4 cup, and using dried blueberries instead of currants (a little Maine twist). They came out delicious--a bit like a scone or a biscuit, with just enough but not too much sweetness. The orange zest and nutmeg were perfect. I'll definitely be making them again.

Finally, we ended the weekend with this sighting on the way to M's lesson, a barred owl who kindly flew down to a fence post and posed for a photo after the third drive-by.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Owl Pellet Dissection

As part of my Maine Master Naturalist class homework, I had to dissect an owl pellet last weekend. I thought that this would be the one thing the boys would get into, but other than a little help from E right at the beginning, they had no interest. (Due, in no small part, I'm sure, because E and Z had a friend over and were watching a movie. And because M is a teenager: "I'm not really into owl pellets. They're kind of grody").

Yes, indeed they are kind of grody. When I've dissected pellets in the past (ones we've found in our woods and, once, one that an owl ejected onto the roof of C's car where it stayed, frozen to the metal, while he drove around for one whole day before we realized it was there), I've dissected them dry, but the directions I had said to pour boiling water over the pellet and let it sit for twenty minutes.

I was hoping this would make it easier--that the fur would float to the top and the bones sink to the bottom, but it did not quite work out that way. Instead it made it quite a bit more grody than it otherwise might have been, and I spent a good three hours picking apart teensy bones from globs of wet fir (mildly scented like moldy carpet).

I came out in the end two sets of bones (plus one extra jawbone...where had that come from?) from two voles (meadow or creeping, based on the key that came with the pellet--a barn owl's from the Pacific Northwest).

The final step in the process was to assemble the skeleton of one of the unfortunate owl snacks. I don't think I'll be hired by a museum to put together their stegosaurus skeletons anytime soon--I had run out of energy on the project and placed the toe bones and vertebrae rather willy-nilly.

But it was fascinating to see the details of the shapes and how they work--the ball and socket of the hip, the thin, wing-like shoulder-blade, the needle-thin rib bones. And pretty amazing to think how these minuscule bones correspond to the bones in our own bodies and in an elephant's and a whale's. At class this week we learned to identify the skulls of many different Maine mammals, and the similarities and differences among them left me in awe of evolution and nature. As my college biology professor used to say, "Life is so cool!"
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