Thursday, March 31, 2011

Board Games Rock My World...and Are On My Mind.

Today I was thinking about how awesome board games are.  It isn't anything deep, but something I hold dear none the less.

Board games are underrated and underutilized in my opinion.  It seems that so many (at least of my peers and younger) are just not interested in gaming, unless I am taking about video games that is.  Not me, I am a board game junkie.  I'd probably play one every single day if I had willing participants.  (Matt and I DO probably play a game, oh, every other day or so as it is.)  I used to play video games, and certainly they can be fun, but for me it is board games all the way.  I think they are the bee's knees because it is such a fun, inexpensive, and stimulating group activity.  (And hey, no electricity required!)

We are currently on a Yahtzee rampage.  We go in spurts as to what we play.  This month is is Yahtzee and before that it was Chess and before that it was Boggle and before that Scrabble.  And so on. 

I probably have too many games.  The closet keeps getting fuller and fuller.  Each time we are at the thrift store I have to peruse the games thoroughly.  However, unlike with my bookshelf, I have never embraced a one-in-one-out policy for board games.   It is such cheap and easy entertainment though so I don't feel to bad about it....until I can't get the closet to close again....then I select a few to return back to the thrift store until some new owners come along.

Yes, I have THREE shelves of games.

I have found many a treasure of secondhand games.  In fact, I believe we have only bought one new game ever, though I have received several new games as gifts from those who know me well.  So, most are the old, classically awesome versions, rather than the new and (not) improved versions being sold today.  I found copies of both Careers and Bargain Hunter, which I played countless, countless times with my sisters as a young girl, at the MRM.  These are such odd ball 70's games that I figured I'd never see them again.  Ah, bless the second hand shops.  It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to play them now as they are tied to such sweet memories of my sisters and childhood.

Matt, and our dear friend Derek are my go-to gaming pals.  For a while there (a couple years ago now) the three of us had Risk matches every single week.  I should take this moment to brag that despite my peace-lovin' appearance I am the master of global domination in Risk form and was undefeated for some time.  : )  We've been talking about getting a Risk match organized for the last couple of weekends, but it hasn't happened just yet.  The three of us still play games pretty regularly, but have learned to vary the game played a bit more than we used to.  We are now getting into card games as well.  Derek taught us Nerd (strikingly similar to a game called Demon by my extended family) and I taught him Cribbage.  We also have been playing a card game called Golf.  I don't play real golf, but card golf is pretty darn fun.  Matt and I were thinking that cards are the prefect backpacking game because they can be played in so many different ways.

A December 2007 Risk Match...the only one I could easily find photos of.
I also enjoy that board games are educational fun.  Yahtzee (and Matt) has been helping me work on my math skills which are pretty darn pathetic.  I really want to be better at math.  It would be a helpful skill.  It makes me feel dumb sometimes to trip up over what I know should be simple mental math.  I am mental math challenged.  But, I really think Yahtzee is helping and the last time we played The Farming Game I even volunteered to be banker, though Matt was certainly still the assistant banker.  : )

What is your favorite board or card game?  Maybe it isn't on my radar, but should be.

The On My Mind concept come from  Rhonda on her Down to Earth blog.  Won't you join in on the fun?!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Personal Best

I started running in October 2010.  I am a newbie.  As a result I am continually pleased with myself for accomplishing things I would have never thought possible (I would have never thought running...period...was possible just a couple years ago).  I set a new best this week.  I ran the 2.5 miles home in less than 25 minutes.  I was pushing myself a bit on the last block because I knew I was close to finished and close to besting my previous times.  If I did the math right (and numbers do give me trouble) I managed to make just a hair under 10 minutes per mile.  I'd been consistently stuck at 12 minutes for a while now.  I feel it is getting easier and easier for me to run though.  I used to be "dying" by the time I got home, or I would have to take a little walking break in the middle of the commute.  Now I feel really good.  Really good.  The vanishing snow really helps as well....let's face it, it is more fun to run on the grass, past the leafing trees, in the sun.  Running has also made it noticeably easier for me to transition back to bicycle riding as the snow clears.  After a winter of running riding bicycle seems like nothing!

Great Horned Owl

Matt and I have been birding for some time now and had never seen an owl in the wild...until this morning!

One of the volunteers at the library mentioned that she had seen an owl recently and gave me some general directions to find the spot.  I wasn't really holding by breath that this would work, because well, you know, birds move a lot.  I've tried to follow directions to other birds and never found the ones I was looking for (lot of other cool stuff though).  But, it was worth a shot and it would be a nice walk along the river in any case.

Her directions were something like "Cross the bridge, go right, go to the second bench, it was in a tree right above the bench."  So, we are walking along and I say "Oh, there is the second bench."  We take two or three more steps and Matt stops short and points.  Here was a stunning Great Horned Owl dozing on branch.  She was in a tree directly across the path from the bench.  In other words, the directions were spot on.

We were elated!  Finally a wild owl! A great big one!

And she has a serious set of claws on her!  We even thought we could see some blood on her claws still!  (Enlarge the photo and you tell me!)  We of course dug out the bird books when we got home and learned that great horned owls can basically eat anything smaller than they are: rabbits, lizards, other birds, skunks, snakes, mice, occasionally fish.  They've even been seen trying to attack a porcupine.  These birds aren't foolin' around.

We also saw a flock of hundreds of ring billed gulls which is something I've never seen around here.  A few here and there are normal, but this had to be several hundred...squawking...loudly.  They were joined in their loud squawking by the countless Canada geese who were particularly noisy and aggressive this morning.  It is about that time though.  We also saw a pair of common mergansers, a song sparrow, a raccoon, too many mallards to count, and of course the ubiquitous crows, robins, and starlings.  We also heard a woodpecker, but were too fascinated by the owl to bother chasing after its drumming.

What a great way to start my day!  Matt and I are hoping that this ushers in the year of the owls for us.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thrifty Finds

My dad came to town to visit last weekend.  It is always nice to see him because with four hours between us and both of us working full time we just don't see each other often enough.  I am sure this a common problem.  So we played quite a bit of cards (cribbage and golf), visited,  ate some apples crisp, and did a little shopping.  My favorite second hand store just expanded their operation into a new building so he took me to check it out.  The new store was so much bigger and brighter than the old one.  I found quite a few great deals.

First and foremost, picture frames! 

We are in the process of framing all of our wall art, of which we have a lot.  We used to have basically every wall plastered with posters, photos, photos clipped from National Geographic, etc.  After years of that we took it all down and enjoyed blank walls for a bit.  But, we missed our bright colors so now we only hang things that are framed.  It looks so much nicer and tidier than when they were just tacked up.

I have been gathering frames at yard sales and thrift stores or wherever I can find them for less than $2 each.  These frames ranged in price from $.59 to $1.79 I think.  (Here I must confess that I left my wallet in my other coat and my dad ended up buying them for me.)

I also managed to score several yards of a few different fabrics at an all-you-can-fit-in-a-bag fabric sale. 
For $2.99 I got:
Slinky and smooth floral on a nice steel blue.  I really enjoy this one in both look and feel.
A winning combination of bright hopeful yellow and pink swirly paisley.  I am a big paisley fan. Because of this fabric  I learned that my dad is not a paisley fan.
I hope there is enough of this navy fabric with plants and dragon flies to make a full dress, but it might be tad to short.
The smallest piece, yest still a fair piece, slinky fabric that is really much more brown than this photo lets on.
I also picked up small watering can because Matt mentioned he'd like one for watering the seedlings and I could use one for watering the house plants.  I formerly used the juice pitcher.  I must say after only one use I am a watering can convert.  It was easier and more precise.  Boy were my houseplants thirsty too...apparently I'd been ignoring them.

Now my dad is off visiting other parts of the state and I have sewing to do and a few more pictures to hang!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wood Duck - Mallard Duck

I just adore birds.  I can't get enough of them.  They fill my heart with happiness and joy just to behold them.  I started bird watching a few summers ago and the more I learn about them the more I admire and respect them.  Like all of nature, the birds are marvels often beyond my comprehension.

My friend Casey and I took a nice stroll down at Riverfront Park over the weekend.  I snapped a few photos of a wood duck and its female mallard duck companion.  It struck me that they were a mating pair.  The grass was dotted with pairs of male and female mallards.  I don't know if these two are just "color blind" to the differences of the other or if I am interpreting things wrong.  Mallards and Wood Ducks have fairly different breeding habits so I wonder how successful they would be.

 Fun fact about wood ducks #1:  They have clawed feet unlike other ducks because they perch and nest in trees.

This female mallard has something to flap about!  She has found herself the best looking male at the park! 

 Fun fact about wood ducks #2: These beauties were almost hunted to extinction in the late 19th century and early 20th century.  They are now considered stable once again following a ban on hunting them from 1918-1941.

Fun fact about wood ducks #3:  They nest in tree hollows any where from 2 - 60 feet above ground, the higher hollows being preferred.

Fun fact about wood ducks #4:  After hatching, wood ducklings leap from the safety of their high nests following the sound of their mother's call.  They have been recorded jumping up to 290 feet without injury.

I love Casey.  She is so fun to be with!  She moved several hours away for school so I don't see her as much any more, but for a good reason.  It was her spring break so it was nice that the weather cooperated just long enough for us to enjoy the sunshine.  I mean really, what is Spring Break without sunshine?!?!

Casey brought along a bag full of fruit to snack on and I think I managed to take care of it almost all by myself.  I had never had a dried pinapple before.  It was super tasty and looked like a flower to boot!

Waking Up to A New Dusting of Snow

I don't need it to be 70 degrees or anything.  I just want it to stop snowing.  Oh, well what can you do?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Recycled Garden Labels

Last year we used duct tape on pencils for garden markers.  Well, it was less than ideal to say the least.  This year we wanted something that would be more durable and readable--something that would last for the whole season.  So we made these little labels:
They were made by cutting up old sour cream/butter tubs.  We have long stopped using these containers for leftovers, but still have a bunch kicking around the house for various other container needs.  We cannot recycle this type of plastic where I live, sadly, so it was either find a use for them or throw them in the landfill.  So, we've been finding uses.  The garden labels is just one more to re-purpose them.  I really get a kick out of these tiny acts of environmentalism.  The little things add up, but are so very easy to do. 

The tub itself was easier to make tags out of than the lid, but both worked.  They all had one nice side for writing on. 

I guess now the test will be whether or not they will last through the fall.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday's Simple Daybook

Outside My Window...
there is more snow falling....again.  And just last week I was cheering the opposite.  Oh well, it won't last.

I am thinking...
that there must be a way to easily ride bicycle in a long skirt.  I just have to figure out what it is.  I am going to look into chain guards.

I am thankful for...
feeling better again.

From the learning rooms...
I hear that making your bed is surprisingly helpful and important.

From the kitchen...
I am eating couscous and garlicy beans.  I don't think I really like couscous.  I keep eating it because it is so very fast to cook, Matt likes it, and it adds grain variety to my diet, but I think it tastes like dirt.  Hmmmm...I wonder if cooking it in stock rather than just water would help.

I am wearing...
the green skirt I made not too long ago, a vintage long sleeved shirt of pretty wild 70's print, tennis shoes.

I am creating...
a skirt for my darling niece made of the same material I used in my own skirt....we can match!  Still!  It is giving me grief.  It shouldn't be, but it is.  I put it aside until I could infuse it with my loving care rather than my frustration.

I am going...
to hear a funk band tonight.  I look forward to the warmth of the horns and the walk in the snow to the theatre.

I am reading...
Yamsi, The Story of A Man's Love for A Ranch in the Oregon Wilderness.

I am hearing...

On my mind...
is that I need to make more time for music.  I don't practice my flute or guitar nearly enough.  As a result I have reached a bit of a plateau.

Around the house...
there is much to be done in preparation for my game night/dinner party on Friday.  Floors to scrub, rolls to bake, furniture to arrange.

One of my favorite things...
is baking bread, rolls, breadsticks, etc.  It fill the house with warmth and delightful smells (and tastes).  It also amazes those who don't know just how easy it is!  I swear some of my pals think it is magic.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week:
Concert tonight, baking and cleaning, laughing and playing games with friends.

A small window into my life...
Matt put his toast on the sidewalk while he ran back inside for something.  I told him I didn't really know if that was an advisable practice.  It was my fault though for rushing him out the door before he had a chance to eat breakfast.  I had to shake my head and chuckle.

I found this through my readings on The Provincial Homemaker blog.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

On my mind....

Today, especially with the weekend approaching and the beautiful morning sunshine, the thing on my mind is:

Little sprouts make me happy!

Cedar Waxwing I spotted on the bicycle ride to work.  I hadn't seen them in a while.

Winter was long in Billings this year.  Certainly not as long as my relatives on the high-line are attesting to, but long enough and longer than usual.  I am ready for spring. For green things and bird choruses and flowers and warm soil and hill climbing and hanging clothes on the line and camping and just laying in the sunshine...all the things that the ending of winter bring.

The This Is On My Mind concept come from  Rhonda on her Down to Earth blog.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Whoopie! (Pie, that is)

Have you ever had a Whoopie Pie?


I made these somewhat recently and have been meaning to post about them.  I don't often make desserts, but these were really calling for me to try them.  I had been reading a lot about the Amish (famous for Whoppie Pies) and taking pure taste enjoyment in food (i.e. not always worrying if something is "good" for me or not.).  Then I saw there was a Whoopie Pie controversy (one couldn't make this stuff up) between Pennsylvania and Maine and it sealed the deal.  The universe was telling me to make Whoppie Pies.

So, I did.  They were easy!  And super tasty!  The cookies are so soft they are almost like cake and the fact that it is a sandwich cookie tickles me for some reason.  I enjoy their Amish heritage as well.

Here is the recipe:

Whoopie Pies - Makes 2 dozen sandwiches
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
Egg replacer for 2 eggs
2 cups sour milk (milk with vinegar added)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift together flour, salt, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg replacer, sour milk, and vanilla. Beat until well combined. Slowly add dry ingredients. Mix until combined.
2. Using a tablespoon, place cookies onto lined baking pans, twelve per pan. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining batter.
3. Spread 2 tablespoons of frosting onto each of twenty-four of cookies. Sandwich together with remaining twenty-four cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

The frosting I made was not great so I am not posting the recipe.  Or rather, it tasted great but never got thick and creamy like it should.  It remained too runny.  It was the one that came with the recipe and involved corn syrup and regular sugar, but no powdered sugar!  I think this was the problem...maybe it was a typo.  In any case, Matt helped recover it with powdered sugar and peanut butter so that it was at least spreadable (as opposed to pourable).  In the end it was fat and sugar whipped up between two chocolate cookies so it was just keen by me despite any remaining dripping.  In the future I am just going to make me standard butter-cream frosting for the filling.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Simple Woman's Daybook

Outside My Window...
I see a backyard clear of snow!  Finally!  I think spring is here!

I am thinking...
I am going to quit facebook....but I am not sure.

I am thankful for...
homemade meals, bicycling weather, and Matt's ambition.

From the learning rooms...
I hear that lavender might be something to look into for a variety of purposes.

From the kitchen...
I am eating some corn and potato chowder with whole wheat biscuits and an orange for dessert!  (Who would have ever thought I'd ever consider an orange a "dessert"?!?  People change!)

I am wearing...
a plain black shirt with a vest over it, a denim skirt that I just adore (and has pockets!), tall striped socks, and berks.

I am creating...
a skirt for my darling niece made of the same material I used in my own skirt....we can match!  (She will probably only tolerate this for so long so I am seizing the moment!) and ojos de dios for my dad and a friend.

I am going...
to several concerts in town!  Finally I don't have to GO anywhere to see some really sweet tunes as they are coming to me!  Ever since the Babcock Theater reopened it has done great things for the musical scene here.

I am reading...
Yamsi, The Story of A Man's Love for A Ranch in the Oregon Wilderness.

I am hearing...
the Grateful Dead

On my mind...
is hosting a game night for some friends/colleagues.  My house is so very, very small and...not grown up....compared to theirs. 

Around the house...
Spring cleaning!!!  Gardening!!!  De-cluttering!!

One of my favorite things...
is that Matt rides his bicycle with me to work in the morning.  It is my commute, but he comes along for the heck of it.  I like that so very, very much.  It motivates me, allows us to spend time together at the start of the day, and gives us both exercise.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week:
Concert and St. Patty's Day celebration tomorrow, Didgeridoo meditation gathering on Friday, watching a documentary that is due back at the library soon, finish Keleigh's skirt, plant the first wave of (cold-resistant) crops outside, clean house in preparation for game night.  Oh, and read and eat and relax, too.

Small window into my life...
Admiring large blossoms on our recent vacation.

I found this through my readings on The Provincial Homemaker blog.  I believe it came from The Simple Woman blog.  I don't really know what it all is as it was sort of vague (at least as far as I could find).  None the less, I liked reading the answers some of the women came up with.  The idea that these questions could be a sort of interesting quick daily journal came to me.  I don't know if I will pursue it or not, but maybe.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Warning: Garden Fever Here

                                           Matt and the 2010 Garden

We have a serious case of Garden Fever at my house.  I must confess it was mostly just Matt's illness at first, but he was pretty darn contagious.  He has talked virtually nonstop about nothing but the garden for almost two weeks.  One day he woke up taking gardens and didn't stray from the topic until I went to work an hour later.  It is a very good thing.  It is also cute and amusing to me.  He is so very, very (rightfully so) excited that spring draws near.  He has it so well planned out that I am truly impressed.  He even drew little sketches to scale and he HATES drawing and claims he can't even make stick figures!

Now I have the fever, too.  I cannot wait to dig in with my hands with the sun on my back.  I could again thank Michael Pollan for his help in my rapidly expanding fever.  In Defense of Food makes me want to garden more than ever (though I have been doing a lot of reading on homesteading which is probably an equal contribution).  In Defense of Food also makes me want to savor and enjoy the deliciousness that is food even more than I already do (which I thought was a lot).  It is more than just about health.  Food is amazing (uh, duh!) in so many ways and yet I don't think people (myself included sometimes) always give it the credit and respect and time and effort that it deserves.  It is an experience to be lingered over, not rushed through.  It is an art (but that you cannot live without).  As I was nearing the end of the book I told Matt that I wanted to read it over again when I was done.  He seemed to think this might be unnecessary.  It is such a wonderful, inspiring, and empowering book.  It is just THAT incredible.

We only have six (eek!) jars of tomato sauce left from last year.  It looks like perhaps we will run out again though we made it much farther than last year.  The difference is that I am not going to buy any to fill in the gap.  I can only imagine how sweet and amazing that sauce will be if we go without for a while.  It also seems like a much more natural cycle.  Every year we grow self-sufficient in something else (last year it was apple sauce and canned apples).  Baby steps, baby steps.

We looked through the photos from our garden in years past all the way back to the first year.  Oh, what a pitiful bed of pitiful soil we had when we broke ground.

  The sad bed in 2007 before we started, note the one stray tulip.

                                           A little less sad!

 Standing in our freshly dug bed with a tiny box of seedlings. 

Every year it looks better and produces more.  Practice makes perfect.

                                          2010 Tomatoes