Sunday, January 25, 2015

Oh, Deer! A Weekend Surprise

So, we've been hanging out at home, today and totally enjoying some unexpected sunshine through our southward-facing living room window.

Jock had been lounging quietly, too, but had suddenly started whining and acting restless. Not unusual - maybe the Dachshunds next door were outside. Or maybe the wind was blowing just so. Who knows. 

All of a sudden, Livie shouts, "Hey, look! Deer! Deer! Look! Daddy! Mommy! Look out the window!"

When I looked out the window, I saw what she was so excited about. Three deer were just on the other side of our backyard fence, right here in suburbia!

The view of two of them, through our very dirty window!

At this point, Jock was barking and whining and getting at the sliding door that leads to our deck. He really wanted to get out there and chase them. It was at this point that they had gotten startled and started heading toward the elementary school's field right across the street. And it was at this point that I realized there were four deer (not three) out there. 

That was unexpected!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Royalty and Popular Songs

Liv and I have been keeping busy this month with all sorts of activities, from school/homework to Girl Scouts, swimming (at our local Y's indoor pool), riding, and Pony Club.

Liv and I are quite proud of her improvement this past weekend at her riding lesson. She's been working on learning how to post the trot, and yesterday while riding Prince, she was really getting the hang of it! (Posting is, in the simplest of terms, rising and lowering yourself to the beat of the trot - a horse's two-beat gait - up on one beat, down on the next beat, up on the next. . . .) Once you get the hang of it, it oftentimes seems easier than sitting the trot. This is very exciting, as it shows great improvement. Plus, she'll be able to get tested for her first U.S. Pony Club rating (D-1) within the next couple months!

Pony Club is a great organization that teaches kids proper horsemanship/maintaining horses' well-being/learning to ride in a safe, smart manner. D-1 is the beginning level. Each level is standardized and has certain expectations that they must meet or exceed in order to be rated at a certain level, and they build on the knowledge these young horsemen/women learned in the previous levels.

Here she is, mid-lesson giving Prince and herself a breather after having maintained a posting trot for a few minutes. This is the first time she has been able to use a couple gifts from "Santa" -  her new "children's length" (shorter) stirrup leathers (that are still a little long so we had to roll 'em, anyway) and safety stirrup irons, which have a thick "rubber band" type thing on the outside that will release if she were to fall off, preventing her foot from being stuck in the stirrup; if her foot were to get stuck in the stirrup during a fall, it's dangerous, as she could get dragged around.

Prince, by the way, has been enjoying the weather. It's been in the mid-40s F here in eastern Iowa during the day these past few days.

Needless to say, the paddock where Prince is kept has a muddy spot or two. And he thoroughly enjoyed rolling in a "nice" gloppy spot not too long before we arrived for Liv's lesson. When we got there, his neck and head were COVERED in mud. Her instructor had said he had been perfectly clean not two hours earlier!

So Liv and another young girl at the stables worked on getting the mud curried off of him (at least his midsection and rear end were covered by his blanket, and were relatively clean). If you click on the pic, you can see that he still has some remaining dried mud on his mane (neither girl was quite tall enough to get that part thoroughly cleaned).


Another fun thing she's done this month is art. She had received a gift card from "Santa" from the local art studio, The Dreaming Bear, where she loves doing artwork. A couple weekends ago, she made a fantastic piece of art (a winking fox). She based her paint scheme on a song that's been popular somewhat recently:
To tell you the truth, I'm still not sure what he says.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Just Remembering

Today is my grandmother's birthday. She would've been 90 years old today.

So, in her honor, I'm posting a few of my favorite pics of her and the Southwest.

In no particular order:
The street where she and my grandfather used to live. I took this pic when we were there for her funeral.
 
Near her house - these are the Franklin Mountains, which she saw daily.

Liv, near a yucca plant at White Sands National Monument.

A dune at White Sands National Monument. My first visit to White Sands was with my grandparents, when I was very little.

Oma's birthday, 2011.

Me, my mom, and Oma, right around my college graduation, May 1993.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Jock's Snowy Morning

Alright, so many of you are probably aware that the Midwest got hit by a snowstorm yesterday and  it lasted through the overnight hours. We ended up getting approximately 6.2" in my neighborhood.

Plus, we're going back into the deep freeze this week. When I headed out with Liv to take her to school this morning (after a 2 hour delayed start), the temp was -5°F with a wind chill of around -19°F. Let me tell you, she was bundled up. Long underwear, clothes, snow pants, snow boots, neck gaiter, winter coat, mittens, hat. She said her snow gear is SO WARM (thankfully!!) and the walk to school - 0.26 one way/door-to-door (we're literally right across the street) - is short.

We're supposed to be above 0°F for a high temp (though in the single digits, around 8°F). Tonight, though, it's supposed to be -11°F; who knows how cold the wind chill will get. Tomorrow? A high of -5°F and tomorrow's low expected to drop to -18°F. No wonder we've got a wind chill warning, huh?!

It really could be worse, though! Liv and I are reading The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In this book, Laura describes blizzard after blizzard the Ingalls family endures in their house in the Dakota Territory during the winter of 1880-1881. She often mentions the bitter cold they were enduring this particular winter, and how, when she was in bed, she would look up at the ceiling and see how frost coated the ceiling board nails thickly in white. (They could also see their breath upstairs in their bedroom!!) 

And at one point, she mentions that, when Pa went down the street one day (they lived in town at this point) to find out the news from other townsfolk, he'd mentioned, upon his return home, that it was around 40° below!! 

A high of 8°F doesn't seem so bad, especially when the sun is making a weak (but hopefully not brief) appearance.

Anyway, I did entitle this post "Jock's Snowy Day." Yes, my original intent was to share a few pictures of Jock's enjoyment of the snowy back yard. He was born in August 2014, so last year was obviously his first winter. He LOVED it. He loved rolling in the snow, running around in the snow, eating, it, sticking his snout into snow drifts and rooting around . . . I was hoping that this winter, he'd be just as enamored of the white stuff as he was last year. 

Yep. He sure is. 

 

These were taken this morning, during Liv's two hour delay. She watched a bit from the window while I went out to take a few pics of Jock. I didn't get any of him while he was rooting around (SO FUNNY!) because he'd hear my camera's buzz while I focused on him, and he'd immediately whip his head around and look at me. But you can see the snowy effect of his rooting!

We didn't stay out long because of the wind chills, and the fact that his veterinary hospital posted about only taking dogs out for elimination purposes only while we're in this deep freeze. But I figured a few minutes here and there would be okay.

And then Liv had to go to school. I usually take her to the corner, and then the crossing guard takes over, but since we were a few minutes early, the crossing guard wasn't there, yet. So I walked her across the street onto school property, and she trotted off from there. 

When I got back into the house, I found Jock. Since both Liv and Andrew had two weeks off (one from school and the other from work, obviously), he grew accustomed to having all three of us around. But Andrew left for work after snow blowing the driveway and sidewalks, and then Liv was off. So he found his spot at the window by the front door (with his chew toy and the towel I use to dry him off after coming in from the snow) and began pining away for his two missing humans. 

Poor Jock. Hopefully he'll get used to the regular routine soon. (He's no longer at the window, but under my desk right now as I type.)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Year in Books 2014

Knock, knock, knock . . . Hello? Any readers around?

Yes, I know it's been a long, LOOONG time since I've posted. I think my inspiration to write disappeared when a creative nonfiction piece I wrote for a writing competition in mid May didn't get past the contest's initial round.

Well, I think that was the last straw, actually. Inspiration had been slowly seeping out of me, as I haven't needed a creative writing outlet (namely, this blog) to balance out the (currently on hold) academic writing for grad school. I also think that I was meeting my creativity needs through a visual outlet by posting on Instagram, instead of being verbally creative here at Under the Desert Sky.

But I've realized something,  I miss my blog! So I'm making a New Year's resolution to get back into posting something on a "regular" basis - if not daily or weekly, at least monthly. How does that sound?

Plus, I didn't want 2014 to fizzle away without any posts since May 2014!

And in previous years, I really enjoyed the "Year in Books" meme that Lisa over at Two Bears Farm got me hooked on, starting with the book list for 2010.

Basically, you want to answer the prompts with book titles you've read in 2014. 

So here's my year in books, 2014 style (some are repeats I'd originally read in previous years, but had wanted to revisit. Most are first-time reads.)  . . .


1.  Describe yourself: Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
 
2.  How do you feel?  Damned if You Do (Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone) by Michael Brandman
 
3.  Describe where you currently live.  The Round House by Louise Erdrich
 
4.  If you could go anywhere, where would you go?  A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller by Frances Mayes
 
5.  Your favorite form of transportation?  Ghost Ship by Clive Cussler
 
6.  Your best friend is: The Replacement Child: A Mystery by Christine Barber
 
7.  You and your friends are: High Profile by Robert B. Parker
 
8.  What's the weather like?  Stone Cold by C.J. Box
 
9.  What is life to you?  Mirage by Clive Cussler
 
10.  Favorite time of day?  Night and Day by Robert B. Parker
 
11.  Your Fear?  Death Without Company  by Craig Johnson
 
12.  What is the best advice you have to give? For Immediate Assistance, Pray the Memorare by JCD Rev. Francis J. Hoffman
 
13.  Thought for the day?  Hold the Dark, by William Giraldi
 
14.  How I would like to die: By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
 
15.  My soul's present condition:  Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson
 
16. My family is: On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I hope you enjoy the list. Please visit "The Happily Ever After" blog (written by Christine) for this meme's prompt, My Life According to the Books I Read in 2014


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Living with Laura

Hi everyone! I've been a completely uninspired writer lately. And uninspired writers rarely get words on paper.

But I have a fun activity I wanted to share. Last weekend, Liv and I attended a Girl Scout "Living with Laura Ingalls Wilder" day at a local outdoor "museum" called Ushers Ferry Historic Village, which is a replica of a small town at the turn of the 20th Century. They do various activities depicting life in a small Iowa town during the 1890-1910 years.

Anyway, as a Girl Scout Brownie, Livie had the opportunity to earn a "Laura Ingalls Wilder" patch. In addition to reading at least two of the books in the Little House series, written, obviously, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, she had some other activities she had to do to earn the patch. This "Living with Laura Ingalls Wilder" day fulfilled all the patch requirements (aside from the reading). Since we are already on book 5 of the series (By the Shores of Silver Lake), she was able to earn the patch by the end of the day.

We started the morning by checking in at the village church at 9:15.This pic is just inside the entrance. I liked the lovely stained glass (which isn't showing up very well due to the sunlight coming in from outside). I was going to get a pic of her outside the church, too, but at the time, other people were arriving and mingling outside; I was going to get a pic later, but I ended up forgetting.


Once the program started, we got to hear a Laura expert in period costume (a fan and re-creator who has done a lot of studying up on Laura's life) tell us about Laura and her family's life. She highlighted different stand-out stories from each book.

One story that Liv and I loved was from Little House in the Big Woods, when Pa was gone for a few days (hunting or trapping, I think?). One evening, Ma had Mary stay in the house with little Carrie. Ma and Laura went out to the barn to check on the cow before going to bed (maybe they were going to get some milk, too, but I don't remember that detail).

Well, it was dark out, and upon arriving at the barn, Ma had Laura help by holding the lantern. They had noticed that the cow was out in the pen, instead of in the barn. Well, they couldn't figure out why the cow was out, because Ma was sure they'd closed the barn door when putting the cow in from the field earlier. (Now remember, it's dark out.) So in order to get the cow to walk forward so they could get her into the barn, Ma smacked the cow on the rear end.

But at that moment, Ma realized that the dark shadow she saw standing in front of the barn wasn't the cow. It was a bear! Very firmly and very calmly, Ma told Laura to back away quietly and calmly. She said that when she gave the word, Laura was to run as fast as she could to the house.

They both hurried back to the house and got there safely! (The cow, by the way, remained safe inside the barn because it had been so sturdily built.)

One of the things I learned was that Charles "Pa" Ingalls' fiddle still exists! We even got to hear a CD of a musician playing period music with Pa's ACTUAL fiddle!

Now, Pa's fiddle is very important. One of Laura's reasons for writing the books was to remember and share the joy Pa's music brought to the family and community. She wanted to remember those days and pass along what her favorite songs were. Liv and I enjoy getting to the parts in the book where Pa plays his fiddle. Laura's stories were a big reason why Liv chose to learn how to play the violin! So to find out that Pa's fiddle still exists in a museum . . . well, we were excited about that.

Apparently it is brought out once a year during a festival celebrating Laura's family. It is played by a musician in a folk-music band, playing music from Laura's time period. I believe the museum is in the Missouri Ozarks. Click here for more info.

Oh, another thing that I learned was about Almanzo Wilder. Apparently, someone in his family took part in the Crusades. This family member was in a predicament and was saved by someone known as "El Mansoor." The family was so grateful, that they wanted to pay their respects to this person, so Almanzo's parents chose the name "Almanzo." But in real life, it wasn't pronounced like it was in the TV series. The "man" in Almanzo rhymes with "hand" (or "ran" or "pan"). I never knew that. (Apparently, Dean Butler, who played Almanzo in the TV series knows this and pronounces it the way the real family pronounced it.)

Oh, and in real life, Laura actually called Almanzo "Manly" as a nickname! But his nickname for Laura wasn't "Beth" like it was in the show, it was "Bessie," (still based on her middle name, Elizabeth).

After learning a bit about Laura's family, we went to different parts of the town to learn about life in Laura's day.

Walking through town.


Learning games Laura and her sisters used to play:




Making a serious face at the doctor's place


Making biscuits using a recipe from the day. The helper actually baked them in a wood-burning oven!


Learning how to sew! (Mary Ingalls made her first basic quilt when she was about 5 years old!)


In front of the school, next to the bell (it was actually pretty loud! We could hear it across the "town"!)


In school, writing on slate tablets with chalk!

They also got to make little dolls out of remnants or scrap pieces of fabric. (I hadn't gotten a good pic of them while they made those.)

There was SO much information that we learned about the real Laura. It would take a lot of reading if I were to have shared all the info with you. But I hope the info that I shared was interesting, anyway. I hope all you Little House fans out there enjoyed "tagging along" with Liv and me on our "Living with Laura" day!

P.S. Here's a pic of a quilt a fan made, showcasing the Ingalls girls (and their first and middle names). Cool, huh?!
 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

For HAT on 8 Mar 2014

For the man of many words, I'll leave it brief and let the photos speak for themselves; so here you go, Uncle. 

We miss you, too.









And because you and I both thoroughly enjoyed this movie, here's the trailer for Sherlock Holmes:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Three of My Winter Essentials

The past few days, Liv and I have had an icy walk to and from school. Even though I've salted my driveway and the sidewalk in front of our house, the city has sanded the streets, and the school has salted their walkways, there are still icy spots that are unavoidable.

Especially at the corner where Liv and I (as well as lots of other students) cross. This particular corner's at a somewhat low area where water naturally pools. So when we have weather just warm enough to start melting ice and snow, water pools at this corner. Then it gets below freezing, and that (seemingly giant) pool of water freezes up like an ice skating rink. It makes crossing the street a bit hazardous. We don't want to slip and fall, especially since it's at the corner - I'm always worried that either Liv or I (or another kid) will slip into oncoming traffic.

That got me to thinking about the winter weather gear that I'm glad I have.

Quite a few years ago - it must've been when I was in college and was home visiting at Christmastime - my brother Joe and I were at our local mall. He didn't have a car/ride and wanted to head to the mall to pick up some gifts; I was more than willing to go with him. I liked spending time with my brothers, and if that meant taking one of them to the mall, I was all for it.

Well, we'd walked past one of those kiosks that sells all those toasty warm shearling products. I tried on a pair of mittens and said I loved them and would have to come back another time to get them. (I don't remember why I wasn't going to get them right then.) As we walked along and Joe made a purchase for our youngest brother, Alex, and maybe another purchase for somebody else, he decided he had to go the the men's room.

Right.

He came back grinning, and I somehow noticed that he was hiding attempting to hide an extra bag among the other bags he already had. He ended up saying something like, "If you were to get those mittens you liked, you would pick the small ones and not the mediums, right?"

"Yep."

"Good."

Fast forward to Christmas day.

He'd gotten me those mittens. And I still have them, as evidenced by the photo above. They are SO WARM.

I'd used them a LOT (except for skiing/sledding, because I'd go with mittens that are a bit more water repellant), and they went with me wherever I moved - although when I was stationed in Tucson, AZ, they remained in a box of winter weather gear (like my snow parka and winter boots).

When Andrew and I ended up being stationed in Boston, and I knew I'd need these mittens at some point, I actually couldn't find them! They were lost! So Andrew, upon finding a similar pair at a similar kiosk at our "new" local mall, bought me a new pair.

The original mittens that Joe had gotten me were in that winter weather gear box and it had been temporarily lost on our household goods' journey between Tucson and the Boston area. I was glad the box finally showed up, though unfortunately, another couple boxes were lost for good.

Anyway, these mittens are perfect for those low wind-chill days when I'm walking Livie to and from school!

My other favorite winter gear invention: YakTrax.

These are things you put on your shoes that help you maintain traction as you walk on icy or otherwise slick paths, kinda like tire chains for tires. A few years ago, I'd bought a pair of the "walking" variety. They're thick rubber "webs" with metal coils that go on the bottoms of your shoes. They really help reduce all the sliding around you do on icy surfaces.

That's my very poor, poor quality photo of what they look like. (Yes, it's gunky out there with the sand and the salt and the gunk.) You can see a better pic of one here.

I actually meant to wear these one morning when I ran outside while visiting my parents over the holdiays (treadmills get boring FAST in the wintertime). But I hadn't realized that Andrew had brought them inside; I thought they were in my car. So when I got to the trail head, they weren't there. But I went running anyway, and slipped on a nasty patch of ice, wrenching my right foot and aggravating the just-about-completely healed tendonitis. I took a couple weeks off, and that morphed into a couple more weeks off and. . . well, I need to get back to running. I'm just about out of the habit.

Anyway, my third favorite winter thing?

My peppermint mug. Usually used for coffee, and occasionally for hot chocolate. I use it mostly in the winter, because it seems like it's a wintery themed mug, right?

Anybody else have winter gear you just can't live without?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Liv's First French Baking Lesson

While we were at my parents' for Christmas, Livie got to do a special activity. My mom had had a very special guest staying at her house while we were there. Pedro. Pedro used to work at one of the US Embassies in South America, as well as honing his culinary skills in Paris, of all places. He knows his way around a kitchen like any celebrity chef you'd see on TV these days.

Well, one day, my mom said that Pedro had mentioned to her that he had the perfect activity for Livie. He wanted to teach her how to make an apple tart. He had this French recipe he wanted to teach her; it was one he'd seen young French children her age making all the time, during his stay in Paris. He said it would be a perfect first "from scratch" recipe. And it would be delicious.

So one afternoon, after tending to their "mise en place" (getting all their ingredients ready and kitchen tools set out in their proper places), they got right to work on the recipe.

 Pedro's ensuring she's getting all the pastry ingredients in the bowl.

He's giving instruction on how to mix the pastry ingredients."Use two hands on the mixer."

She is doing it herself!

Adding some final wet ingredients.

Time to add the apples on the pastry dough. Abuelita is "supervising."

Almost done! She's adding golden raisins that had been soaked in . . . something with cloves (I've forgotten exactly what it was).

 It's ready for the oven!
 

After smelling its heavenly aroma wafting from the oven, it was FINALLY ready.

Liv gets the first piece.

It was DELICIOUS!! Now I just have to email Pedro and ask him to send me the recipe so that Liv can make it again.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I DO Love Those Southwestern Mountains

Okay, I've been meaning to share a couple more photos of the Southwest, namely a few more mountain shots. These pics were taken while we were in El Paso and Alamogordo in November 2013.

Now, keep in mind, I took the pics while we were driving, so they aren't high quality shots. But they are still visual memories for me . . . until the next time I make it back "home," whenever that may be.

 My grandparents used to live not too far from the base of this mountain (the one with the noticeable "ridges" at the top). Needless to say, I saw these mountains (the Franklin Mountains) every day when I visited my grandparents in El Paso. Not knowing when I may be back in El Paso, and knowing that I probably wouldn't have a better chance at snapping a pic, I went ahead and took a shot while we were driving on US 54 in El Paso. Probably on our way back to Ft. Bliss.
I don't remember which day I took this pic (using my camera, not the iPhone), but it seems like it was midday. Probably, it was either the day of the visitation (Veterans' Day) or the next day (my birthday/Oma's funeral).
 

Now this next pic (also from the camera) was from Sunday, November 10, 2013, the day Andrew, Liv, and I had gone to White Sands National Monument. We'd spent pretty much the whole day in Alamogordo, NM, either visiting White Sands, or hitting some other "major attractions" while we were there, so Livie could see where we used to live. (The last time she was there, she was about 1.5 years old, and thus, doesn't really remember it.) 
 These are the Franklin Mountains, again, as we're heading southward on US 54 from Alamogordo, back to El Paso. As you can see, the mountain peak with the "ridges" on the top is the one near where my grandparents used to live. This was taken late in the afternoon, probably around 4:00-5:00 PM Mountain Standard Time. There was something about that time of day that made it feel like I was "going home" to my grandparents' house, even though we weren't. It was as though I was where I was supposed to be.



 Okay, so I've shared this pic of the Organ Mountains in a previous post about White Sands, but I really do love these mountains, so I'm sharing it again. 

We're obviously at White Sands National Monument. I had to stop and just stare at the Organ Mountains, trying to somehow lock in the moment: the sounds of the wind, the voices of Liv and Andrew as they explored, occasionally hearing other visitors' voices (or the faraway sound of traffic from miles and miles away) carried on the wind, the sound of local fauna (mostly birds), the scents - there's nothing quite as beautiful as the scent of the desert Southwest, the feel of the breeze on my skin, and the sun shining on me. I was trying my hardest to make this a visceral memory, not just the one I saved on my camera.
If you click on the pic, you'll be able to see a somewhat larger version of it. In the middle of the photo, you can see some jagged peaks. Those are the Organ Mountains, just bordering Las Cruces, NM. Once, long ago, a friend of my grandmother's told me that they were called the "Organ" Mountains because the jagged peaks looked like the pipes of an (instrumental) organ. Interesting, isn't it? I always love hearing "the rest of the story," to quote Paul Harvey.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Here's to Oma! (It would've been her 89th birthday today.)

Here's to Oma on what would've been her 89th birthday (today, January 8th).





Dance away, Oma!! Dance away. 

Oma's favorite music (Glenn Miller and his genre):



And good, ol' Frank Sinatra. (This song was the last dance at my wedding reception.) We'll see you again, Oma, but not yet. Not yet.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What's on Tap for 2014?

Well . . . let's take a look. Get ready for a ton of pics! ;)

More running . . . injury free!


More riding (for Liv, and maybe me, too - I miss it). 


My "Alumni Weekend"/25th reunion at Culver Academies in May!

 The Iowa State Fair!


An air show, hopefully!

An air show with the USAF Thunderbirds, I should clarify!

Continuing grad school (for me, and elementary for Liv)!

 And more obedience training for Jock!



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