Wednesday, December 31, 2014


I have never been a huge fan of the blow-up decorations.  I notice them every season at the store.  Some of the Halloween inflatables are extra large and extremely detailed.  Horses, henchmen, carriages, witches, skulls.  All in the same inflatable. 

I can't even imagine the price tag that goes with that size.

We stopped at the home improvement store the other day.  To be honest, it's been several weeks since we've been there.  I missed it.  They had decorations on sale.  Walt Kowalski and I were browsing through the singing snowmen and Santas.  I stopped to look at the candles and when I caught up to Walt Kowalski, he was looking at the inflatables. 

They had a few left, a R2D2 and C3PO, Santa and a penguin playing soccer, Santa, Rudolph, and a penguin dressed as Mariachi players. 

Walt Kowalski was holding an 8 foot tall inflatable Tyrannosaurus Rex.  T-Rex was standing next to a Christmas tree holding an ornament in his mouth.  We had a good laugh about it and I walked around the corner to look at the ribbons.

When Walt Kowalski caught up to me he was grinning from ear-to-ear. T-Rex was in the cart. 

"The kids will love it!" he said.
"I think it's really for the BIG kid."
"Maybe," he said. "We have the perfect location for it! As cars come down the hill, they will see it."

Darn it, he's right.


And the worst part, Rexy is cute.  How can you resist that smile?

To quote my sister "How lovely are your tiny little armies!" I shook his claw.

I guess this means I'm one of those people now.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


We live in the forest.  We love our forest.  But that also means we have a LOT of shade. I have come to the conclusion that if I wanted to grow mushrooms I would have problem with the darkness in this house. 

Flowers, however, are a struggle. Outside, in the summer I don't have problems.  Inside in the winter, my plants are withering in the dark.

Knowing plants, especially flowers, like warmth and light, I moved the sprig of forsythia from window to window to stove following the light and the warmth.

It worked!  Once again, I got leaves for Christmas day!

But then on December 26th, when adding more water to the cup, I happened to look down in the cup...


It bloomed! There are more coming, too! 
Looks like an omen for a good new year.

Monday, December 29, 2014


Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Christmas week.  It was a whirlwind.  Individually and together.  As a kid it was a whirlwind. As an adult, it was extra whirlwindy. 

Cooking, cleaning, cleaning, cooking, wrapping, organizing.  And I don't even have children!  I don't do the panic of "I don't have enough gifts!" at the last minute.  I usually have too many for one person.  That person varies year by year. This year it was my sister and older niece.  Last year it was my mom and youngest niece.  

I am the kind of person that buys Christmas presents year round.  This is how I usually end up with too many gifts for a single individual.

I am also the kind of person that puts those early purchased Christmas gifts in a safe hiding place for the other 11 months, then remembers them on December 23rd, and can't find the super safe hiding place! I have also remembered the hidden gifts (that are still in hiding) on Christmas morning as we are unwrapping presents.

I love all of the different wrapping papers at once.

When else but Christmas can you have cookies and cheese for breakfast?

The aftermath.  This is even after we've cleaned up!
Dinner is served!
Dinner was followed by games.  Board games! Non-electronic board games.  Games where we laughed so much we cried and then laughed some more. 
My sister said Walt Kowalski and I were cheating.  We weren't, I swear!  

Thursday, December 25, 2014


After an excellent Christmas eve and a wonderful Christmas day, Walt Kowalski and Chain Saw Johnny sat down for a little pickin.


The snowman didn't play much. He just listened.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


I get assistance doing everything. 

Cooking and baking:


Gift sorting:

I wouldn't know to work without them.  I wouldn't want to work without them.

Monday, December 22, 2014


Saturday was a lovely day.  The sun was shining for the first time in almost 10 days. It was cold, but the fire kept us warm.

Perfect day for our last outside burn of 2014.  We had a big pile of branches left over from the tree trimming.  The trimmers were kind enough to take most of them.  I asked to have a few, but I didn't realize how many they left for me.  I could have made a HUGE wreath.

I forgot a few things about burning pine trees. 

1. It takes a HOT fire with lots of flames to burn pine.
2. Pine makes lots of smoke. (Sorry neighbors.)
3. The needles are quick to burn and the branches are slow to burn.
4. Pine needles are little, hot projectiles. Wear clothing you don't mind getting burn marks.
5. Fleece is warm, but burns (melts) easily. 

Walt Kowalski and Chain Saw Johnny planned to split more of the big pile of wood you can see in the background.  They have several stages of drying wood around our yard and his.  Once they get this pile split, they can work on the next tree to come down and start drying.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Generosity & Kindness

Walt Kowalski went to visit a co-worker who is off work because of a disability.  He planned to drop off some Christmas cookies, chat for a bit, and then come home.

2 1/2 hours later, he was finally on his way home. 

He said it was a nice visit and his co-worker is doing well.  When he came in the house he was carrying a superhero beer stein. 

"Where did you get that?" I asked.
"He gave it to me.  He said he doesn't drink this kind of beer and gave it to me." Walt Kowalski said. 
"He's too kind."
Walt Kowalski said, "But wait, there's more gifts in the truck.  He sent gifts for you, too."

Next thing I know, Walt Kowalski is walking through the do with a bread machine!

"He gave you an appliance from his kitchen? For me?" I asked.
"Yes! He said he's a single guy and doesn't bake bread.  It was his mother's and I don't think she ever used it.  He knows you like to cook and wanted to thank you for the cookies."

I said to Walt Kowalski, "It's a good thing you didn't stay and visit any longer.  He might have given you an end table or a nightstand."

I know my cookies are good, but I didn't realize they were THAT good.  He didn't even try the new ones I made yesterday. 

I should not be allowed on the internet baking sites after December 10th.

Ohh, that looks good.  Oh I like that cookies.  Yum, I want to make some of those. Oh, look at this appetizer. 

Yesterday's cookie: Mint Thumbprints

The dough has just a hint of green color.  The recipe called for way more coloring, but a hint was enough for me.


I added the sprinkles for a little more accent.  The kitchen had a wonderful peppermint smell all day. I locked the finished cookies in the bedroom. They were safe from whiskers there. The bedroom smells wonderful, too. 

Forget the store bought air fresheners, I have cookies. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I have never owned an original piece of artwork.  I have several prints, copies of prints, and lots of photographs.  Nothing original.  I've even had several of my own photographs enlarged and framed.  But never a painting. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Walt Kowalski's family.  His brother is an artist on the side.  He does beautiful watercolor paintings.  Walt Kowalski has several of his prints of paintings and one original painting. 

The original painting is a beautiful winter scene, except over the years of moves and storages, the painting was exposed to the elements.

When Walt Kowalski got the painting back it had water damage and was molding.  I stashed it behind a piece of furniture for safe keeping and forgot about it.  After visiting recently, this specific painting came up in conversation.  Walt Kowalski said we still had the painting, but didn't know about the condition. 

This weekend he remembered the painting again and we moved the furniture and dragged out the painting.  Armed with a screwdriver and utility knife, we disassembled the frame and painting.

The water damage was only to the mat! The mold was only superficial on the glass and mat. The painting was in perfect condition. 

Away to the craft store we went. Frame and mat measurements in hand.

They had a small selection of mats in the size we needed.  Anything could be ordered, but the on-hand supply was small.  Small, but perfect.

The original mat was a cream color. The new mat is a pale blue. It pairs nicely with the blues of the painting. 

We are proud to hang an original painting on the wall of the Cat Ranch. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


I shall call this post a delicious disaster. 
Ok, it wasn't a disaster.  I have two pizzelle makers.  One is an old iron version and one is a new press.
They both make delicious pizzelles, but different types.  The old iron makes a thin, crisp waffle cookie.  The new press makes a thick crunchy waffle cookie. 
I didn't make pizzelles last year.  Walt Kowalski specifically requested them this year.  He did it subtly.
Walt Kowalski, reading the newspaper: "Eggs are on sale. Lots of them. Dozens."
Me:  "Good. We always need eggs. I'll get some."
Walt Kowalski: "Anise oil is on sale."
Me, looking over my newspaper at him: "Are you requesting pizzelles?"
Walt Kowalski:  Grinning. 
I love pizzelles, too.  He'll get no argument from me. 
I have an old tried and true recipe that I use with my old pizzelle iron.  But I recall using it in the new press with less than stellar results.   I found a new recipe for the new pizzelle press with lots of good reviews. 
The batter used shortening and was thick like a drop cookie. Easily scooped and dropped.
Squish closed.  Wait 1 minute. Beautiful pizzelles appear. 
The house smelled wonderful.  My coat smelled wonderful.  Days later, when I wore my jacket I could smell the pizzelles. 
The old recipe for the old iron used oil as the fat.  With oil in the recipe, the cookies were more like a fried pizzelle.  That's why they were so thin and crisp.
I wondered how this new batter would work on the old iron. 
Only one way to find out. 
Steam, steam, steam. 
Ta-da.  Pizzelle. 


Except, the pizzelle was stuck.  I couldn't remove the cookie from the iron in one piece.  I couldn't removed the pizzelle from the iron in 100 pieces.  (you can see the crumb mess in the background!) 1 minute was WAY too long to cook them. I also had to grease the iron before each cookie. 

The cookies were so thin and crisp they crumble if you look at them too much.  Forget about moving them!

I learned.  I learned to take them off the iron before the steam stopped, so the cookie was still pliable and not overcooked.  I also learned that the new recipe doesn't work on the old pizzelle iron. 

That's ok.  Next year I will make half a batch of each recipe so I have some of both types.

Never you fear, the pizzelle crumbs won't go to waste. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

End Cap

Once again, what I plan to accomplish and what I get accomplished are two different things.  Everything seems to take longer than I expect. The height factor is always a time consumer. 

What is the height factor? 

The height factor is that I'm short.  I need a stepping device (ladder, bucket, stool, egg crate, chair) for things that Walt Kowalski can do without a stepping device.  So the process of getting, setting, and moving a ladder adds time. Time I forget to add into the calculations. 

I guess I'll just have to stick to floor work.  Or in this case, end caps for the countertops.  Except, I don't like doing the end caps.  It's an important detail to finishing the countertop, but it's a pain in the rear.

First, it required I attach an extra piece of wood.  That's the small square strip attached to the bottom of the end of the counter top. 

This should be easy.  Just a little liquid nail, sticky sticky, squishy squishy, iron, iron. Done. No nails required.

Wrong! The countertop had a slight bow to it, so the strip of wood wouldn't stick.  Wait, it would stick to the right side, but when I pressed the left side of the strip to the countertop, the right side would pop off. 


After smearing everything with liquid nail adhesive, now I still have to get some small tacks. 

The small nails worked.  Now I can iron on the end cap of laminate. It is shaped perfectly to the countertop with an adhesive on the back. It takes a few minutes to heat the laminate and wait for it to stick and pressssssss and iron and press and iron.  And don't burn your fingers. 

It looked nice.  I could work on the other end of the countertop.

When I returned to this side of the counter to check the glue, I noticed a problem.  I didn't see it originally, but in the process of tapping in the nails, the small strip of wood moved slightly and was visible sticking out from the bottom of the end piece of laminate!!!

And now the liquid nails had hardened and the glue behind the end cap stuck, too! 

No more nice guy with the hammer.  No time for tapping, now time for whacking. One good whack with the hammer and the small strip of wood moved back into place.


I don't like end caps.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Walt Kowalski worked on trim last night.  It's not difficult. Just tedious and requires a little planning.

A little stain touch ups are required.  The doors still need trim. They are doing to require more planning.

The beam we hung a year ago was put in place to secure the floor of the room above.  It wasn't installed to be pretty. It was installed for support.  Covering it up was a requirement.


That looks better.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


As with so many days, what I plan to do during the day is not what I end up doing.

Here is a few of the cookies I've baked so far:
Apricot, poppyseed, and nut rolls are the family favorite. 

No, not little green men.  Little gingerbread men.

Chocolate covered pretzels.

There were twice as many of these pretzels before Walt Kowalski got his hands on them. He said 'These "Js" are delicious.  Just one more "J." '

I said 'That's a candy cane!  They are Christmas shapes.'

He replied, 'I should probably test a few more then.'

Next: anise cookies, sugar cookie cut outs, and pizzelles. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Do I smell Smoke?

Quick story

Yesterday I needed to cut several boards in small pieces for around a door frame of House #1.  (More about finishing details tomorrow.) The blade in the chop saw is dull.  It cuts, but it struggles to get through.  Even the smallest of boards. 

I was cutting small pieces off of a piece of a large 2" x 6" board.

Saw, saw, saw, saw, saw, saw.  Slowly, and in small bits, I was getting through the board.  Engage the blade.  Retract the blade. Engage the blade. Retract the blade.  I felt like a chainsaw on a large tree.  I didn't want to bog down the blade.

I was making my way through the cut.  I was also filling the house full of smoke.  Luckily, I was working in the front house, which has become our work zone. 


The smoke set off every smoke detector in the house. Good to know they work.  Really annoying when you know there isn't a fire. 

I aired out the smoke detectors ad made them stop beeping. Then I finished my cuts. 

About five minutes later, I heard the rumbling of a large truck engine outside.  It was too early for the school bus.  It must be a delivery truck.

No delivery truck.  It was the local fire department. 

How powerful are these smoke detectors? Did they know I just filled the house full of smoke? That's the kind of service you want in a fire situation. 

I waited a moment, hiding behind the side of the window, totally expecting them to knock on the door because a neighbor called.  They didn't.  They were just at the neighbor's house.

Total coincidence. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

St. Barbara

History lesson:

Barbara lived in the 4th century and was brought up as a heathen.  A tyrannical father, Dioscorus, had kept her jealously secluded in a lonely tower which he had built for that purpose.  Here, in her forced solitude, she gave herself to prayer and study, and contrived to receive instruction and Baptism in secret by a Christian priest.

Barbara resisted her father's wish that she marry.  Then on one occasion, during her father's absence, Barbara had three windows inserted into a bathhouse her father was constructing.  Her purpose was thereby to honor the Trinity.

Then it gets really bad and he tortures her and kills her, but we won't talk about all of those details.  BUT, as he does he himself is struck by lightening. St. Barbara is now the patron saint of lightening.

While she was locked in her tower, she put small dried branch of a cherry tree in water.  It bloomed the day of her death, December 4th.

Traditionally in the German-speaking countries, particularly in Austria and the Catholic regions of Germany, a small cherry branch is cut off and placed in water on December 4th, Barbaratag (St. Barbara’s Day). Sometimes a shoot from some other flowering plant or tree may be used: apple, forsythia, plum, lilac, or similar blossoms. But it is the cherry tree that is most customary and authentic. This custom is known as Barbarazweig.

The cherry branch (Kirschzweig) or other cutting is then placed in water and kept in a warm room. If all goes well, on Christmas day the twig will display blossoms. If it blooms precisely on December 25th, this is regarded as a particularly good sign for the future.

Fast forward to today:

I try every year.  Last year I got leaves and roots. Last year, I remembered what day it was after it was dark and cold.  I grabbed my pruners and ran outside and cut a piece of forsythia. In the dark I didn't realize I got an old branch instead of new growth.  No flowers.

This year, I cut my branch a day late, but I picked a better branch this year in the daylight.  I got new growth.  There are buds.

Now I just need a little faith.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Walt Kowalski and I each things we needed at the everything store. 

What is the everything store?  You know that big store that has everything.  You need a pair of shoes, they have it.  You need coffee and bread? They have it. Need tires?  Got that, too. They have everything.  You don't want to go to the everything store, but you have to go to the everything store.  They have everything. 

We each had a short list and compared those lists.  Walt Kowalski needed rubber gloves and wanted to look at the ammunition.  I needed plastic wrap and baggies that zip. 

He looked at me and then looked at our list and said "You know, we're just one roll of duct tape away from the checker thinking we have plans to commit a terrible crime." 

I looked at our list in a different light and agreed.  "Maybe we should check out separately." 

Luckily, like always, we bought other things at the everything store that that there was no suspiciousness.  

We haven't *exactly* started demo on the front house yet.  We're still finishing up outside seasonal things here at the Cat Ranch. Putting away furniture, empting flower pots, removing tiki torches, wrapping the swing, and picking up sticks in the yard always takes more time than I expect. 

One thing we have done is salvage everything possible from the front house.  Using parts for blinds, wood from the trim, doors from the bedrooms, pipes from the sink.  When we need parts, that's the first place to look. 

The kitchen cabinets weren't in good enough kitchen to reuse in a kitchen (and they smelled like stinky food, smoke, and pet odor) but they were good enough for a garage.  Or a shed.  Walt Kowalski wanted to use the kitchen cabinets in Shedzilla. 

We removed a large base cabinet with counter top, a small 12 inch cabinet, and four wall cabinets.

We removed these wall cabinets, but kept the sink base and sink for now.  When we are ready to remove the sink base, we'll cut the countertop straight around the sink and Walt Kowalski will have additional countertop to use as a work bench in the shed.

This kitchen is small and will eventually become the laundry room.  The room to the left will become the kitchen and dining room.  But that's just a preview of what is to come. 

Friday, December 5, 2014


After last year's door disaster, (if you don't remember, click here -> Door Disaster to review) I wasn't making that mistake again.  This year, flat door decorations!
You can still see it from the road, and I saved the greenery for the light next to the door instead.  

I just happen to have an abundance of fresh pine. This might be my favorite new decoration this year.  It needs a little fresh snow.

The kitchen window got a little holiday spirit, too. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tree Trimming

Tuesday I did a few back and forths from the Cat Ranch to the store and back to the Cat Ranch.  From the Cat Ranch to storage and back to the Cat Ranch. Each time I passed the tree trimming crew that was working along the road to the Cat Ranch.  Each time I waved to the flag man at the front of the crew and the flag man at the back of the crew. 

The man at the front was a younger man.  Very serious.  Only waved back very small with his fingers. Just a nod of acknowledgement. 

The man at the end of the crew was an older man.  White beard, jolly fellow. He waved whole-heartedly every time I drove by.  The last time I drove by he wasn't the flag man at the rear, but saw my car and stepped out between the trucks to wave.

Yesterday was my turn for the tree trimming crew.  I heard them coming around the corner, so I took the opportunity to hang my garland and wreath on the front stoop.

We have known the tree trimming was coming for at least 3 years now.  The pines along the driveway are tall and in the wires. I worry about them every time there is a heavy wet snow or a big wind storm.  One wind shear could cause our entire street electric, phone, and cable problems.


In the warm months, Walt Kowalski and I regularly sit on the front steps and talk about what we would like to do with the front hill.  Small flowering shrubs, small trees, and a nice ground cover.

We dream.

Taking down the pines is a major task.

So when the tree trimming crew appeared, I gave them permission to top the trees.  Yes, it was sad to see such large beautiful trees be trimmed, but I worry and I want new trees. 

I waved and smiled to all three of the tree trimmers.  The third trimmer was actually the white bearded, jolly fellow I waved to the day before!

I hate, Hate, HATE when tree trimmers trim only one side of a tree around the power lines.  Or even worse is when they cut a large C shaped out of the tree to allow space for the wires.  In my opinion, topping the trees looked like a short hair cut instead of like trimming your bangs after several margaritas.

They trimmed the branches and then dropped a Christmas tree from the top of each large pine. (It is really hard to tell how big these trees really are!) They probably took a 10 foot tree off the top of each tree. 
Many of the branches fell into the driveway and on the hill.  When they started falling I grabbed my work gloves and pulled a few branches over to the side to save.  The team leader walked over to talk to me.  He warned me to be careful of falling branches. I thanked him and asked him if he'd like a cup of coffee on this cold and damp day.  He declined, but thanked me for the offer.   


When the trimming stopped, I grabbed a few more branches and he helped me pull them aside.  I asked him how long he had been trimming trees and how he got involved in tree trimming.  40 years and he needed a job.  Another gentleman joined in the conversation.  He had been trimming for 44 years!  He said he went to the coal mines when he was young, but couldn't handle it.  The third trimmer came to join in the conversation, too.  He had only been in this field for 35 years (only) and his wife's father got him started in tree trimming.  He said 'I divorced her but kept the career.'

I asked about working in the weather and the most difficult trees to trim.  They agreed that every year the cold gets a little colder and the Pin Oak and Locust trees are the hardest to cut.  We've got both of them at the Cat Ranch.  (In case you don't know, they are two of the hardest woods out there. Pine is in the soft category.)

I joked and told them it sounds like they needed to start trimming palm trees.  All three of them said "Nooooo!" They did several "tours" in Florida and Louisiana after hurricanes and said the trees down there are just as difficult to cut.  AND the pests are much larger.

They wished me a Merry Christmas and were on their way to the next tree.

Side Note: They worked on Mrs. Mayor's trees yesterday.  Funny, she only posted negative comments that it took an act of congress to get her trees trimmed properly. 

Then again, it's Mrs. Mayor.  We should call her Mrs. Miserable Mayor. 

Pity for her.