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Coming To An End

I think I am going to shut down my LJ after the New Year. I am going to move to my Blogspot instead. For a while, I thought to keep that one and this as separate, dealing with two different things. I'd put the day to day, more personal stuff here, and the book reviews and writing stuff there. I figured that way, the folk who don't care about one or the other wouldn't be bothered. But all I've found is that I have been neglecting this place far too much. So I think I will just post everything over there, beginning after the holidays. If something I post doesn't interest someone, well, it just takes a mouse click to leave, right? I may or may not put an update here between now and then. We'll see.

Oh, where will I be after New Year's? Here: http://eyewryte.blogspot.com

Talking Of Many Things

Wow, it's been a long time! I have thought, at least once a week, that I really need to get over here and do some updating, but it just never seemed to happen. So, at this point, I think I will just say: "Stuff happened!" and hit the things I want to talk about.

We switched Mr. Murphy to a raw diet. He was still having some allergy issues, and I had heard a lot of good things about raw diets, so I decided to really dig into it and see. I picked up a couple of books (the best one (IMO) was Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs by Lew Olsen), talked to people I know who feed raw, and researched A LOT. I don't feed a lot of bones, mainly chicken rib bones and back because they grind well. Murphy had a problem with a bone a few years ago where he got some pieces wedged under his tongue and developed a granulomma that had to be surgically removed. I've been leery of bones since. He gets a rotation of beef, pork and chicken, with some green veggies and eggs added, as well as a vitamin supplement, a green algae supplement, fish oil, and calcium (in the form of ground up eggshells) when he doesn't get the chicken. He also gets a glucosamine supplement to help his joints. I can honestly say I have seen a big difference in him since we started this new diet. He has more energy, he is more alert when we go for our walks, and he actually runs in the yard now, something I haven't seen him do in a long time. Oh, he still sleeps a lot, but he is an older dog (somewhere in the 11-13 year old span). His coat is much softer and fluffier, and his poops are a lot smaller and don't smell as much. Yes, he still has problems with his rear legs, but that's age more than anything, and he's starting to develop cataracts also. But overall, I think it was a good idea.

We had the usual Thanksgiving dinner here at the house. Ten people came, including Mike's parents, his sister and her husband, and Krysta, Kleber and Will, plus the two of us and Steph. The BaldMan did a Kentucky (read: bourbon!) theme this year. Everything was just delicious! He did the turkey on his (relatively) new Big Green Egg ceramic cooker. Wow! Really good, and stayed juicy and tender even tho it was done about an hour and a half before dinner time. I made a trio of small dessert bites: chocolate tartlets with salt caramel and ganache, meringue shells with pumpkin cream filling, and apple pie "cookies" which were little dumplings of pie crust stuffed with apple pie filling. Everyone seemed to enjoy the whole meal.

What a weird Autumn we've had! We;'ve had many days in the 50's and 60's. It's turned colder now, but still is in the 40's most days. So, no snow beyond that nasty storm in late October. I have a feeling we are going to get HIT when it does come!

Holiday decorations are mostly done. The BaldMan needs to put the new LED lights on the tree, then I can decorate it, and we need to get a small stand for the tree that will go on the front porch, but everything else is done. We will have just our family here on Christmas: us, Steph, Kryss, Kleber and Will, and Jill and John are coming in from Illinois with the baby! Yay! It will be nice to see him while he's still a baby. Of course, I was out there for a week when he was born, but no one else has seen him other than in pictures.

I think that's the most exciting stuff that has been going on. Not really exciting, huh? Well, that's how it is, and I think it's ok for it to stay that way!

Unexpected Sad News

We got word last night that one of our Northeast chili cooks, who was also a friend, died. It was a shock on several levels. For one, he was around my age. That, my friends, is scary. It reminds one that you never know and that life truly is short, sometimes shorter than you might like to think about.

And what to say about Joe? We weren't close but I certainly counted him a friend. He'd recently battled and survived throat cancer, but was dealing with the physical aftermath of the chemo and radiation he'd gone through. Less than a year ago, he moved to Florida due to some of those issues. He was back in Maine, and we were supposed to see him at the Maine State cook off on Saturday, something a lot of people were looking forward to. That won't happen now, and it is a disconcerting thing to think about.

Joe was a great guy, always ready with a good (bad?) joke or two, quick with a quip or witty remark that made everyone laugh, and one hell of a chili cook. When you saw "Big Joe's Chili" set up at a cook off, you knew you were in for some real competition. One thing I will never forget is the cook off that Joe said, "The one I'm worried about in green chili is Mary Alice." Really? That's like having Tom Brady say he's worried about your football chops! We were the ones who worried about Joe, and usually with good reason. He won. A lot.

He was also a long time chief judge at several cook offs up here. He was chief judge at the Wachussett Mountain cook off and also at the one we will be at in Maine this weekend for many years. We helped him out as scorekeepers for the last few years, and when he decided to move to Florida last year, he asked us to take over Maine State. And while we were flattered and glad to do it, we knew we would miss Joe's presence every year. Now, it will be more noticed than ever.

Requiescat in pace, Joe. We'll all feel you there with us when we raise a toast to "Big Joe" at the cook's meeting on Saturday morning. You will be missed.

Seeing the Thunderbirds

This past Saturday, we went to the Boston-Portsmouth Airshow at the Pease International Tradeport. We got there about 11 AM just as the Army Golden Knight paratrooper was dropped in with the U.S. flag while the National Anthem was played. There were a number of aerial acts, with the USAF Thunderbirds last on the program at 3 PM. It was a long day, and it was warm. But it was hazy, so the sun was not shining really strongly down on us. We were also in Portsmouth, which is one of the towns on the extensive 11 mile NH coastline, and there was a sea breeze all day long that helped. We got seats in one of the reserved areas, so we had actual chairs and were close to the airfield.

There were a couple of solo air acrobatic planes. I thought the best one was Sean D. Tucker in the ORACLE Challenger, a custom built red biplane. He did some neat stunts and they put his radio feed on the PA system. He's a crazy dude! And how he can keep up the chatter while doing those stunts, I have no idea! I also liked the Team Heavy Metal Demo show, with their L-39 Albatross' and a Mig 17. They also had a P-51 Mustang, with its distinctive engine sound, and the always impressive F-18 fighter. My favorite, though, was the F4U Corsair, developed for the Navy in WWII. I've always liked that plane for some reason. One of the neatest things about it was the way the wings folded up so they could stack more of them underdecks on the carriers. And then they did a US Navy Legacy fly-by with the F-18 and the Corsair. That was cool.

Everything before was good, but nothing came close to the Thunderbirds. Those F-16's are darned cool jets. When those afterburners kick in, you can feel it in your whole body. And the flying skill! No wobbling, no wavering, no slip in the speed. Even doing a lot of the rolls and spins we'd seen from others earlier, these guys were tighter with closer passes than any of the others. Which is not to say the others weren't good; they sure were. These guys were just better. It is breathtaking to watch. At least for this military plane lover, it was. A long, warm day, but thoroughly enjoyable. I'm glad we went.

Growing Season

The garden is growing nicely now. I've already picked beans, anaheim and jalapeno peppers, and got the first cherry tomatoes off the plants. There are tons of green tomatoes out there, so I think I should have plenty to can this year. And there are loads of poblano, anaheim and jalapeno peppers just about ready. The asparagus is ferning out well, but I just put it in this year so it will be a year or so before we get any real yield from those plants. I also dug the red potatoes today, since the plants have yellowed. A bit earlier than I expected, but when they are ready, they are ready, I guess. Not a huge yield but some nice looking potatoes. I have another bag of yellow potatoes still growing and the leftovers that I just threw out into the brush pile are growing pretty decently, too.

I have some stuff started indoors- mostly lettuces, kale and chard- that I will be setting out next week, and have started seeding the fall crops.

Some things just didn't do as well this year. Cucumbers for one. The plants are scrawny and not growing really well. There are a few fruits, but not like they should be. Squash also. The plants are growing really well, but not setting much fruit. I've seen bees in the garden so I think they are pollinating. Will have to do some research on those for next season.

It seems we finally figured out a temporary fencing configuration that actually keeps the chickens in the back part of the yard! Yay! They had been ranging down into our neighbor's yard a bit too much. Not that he minded them eating the grubs and other pests, but since you can't tell a chicken "here, not there!" he didn't appreciate them tossing his mulched beds around. And I don't want to annoy anyone with the birds, so we have been working on a movable fence that will confine the chickens, but make it easy to mow, also. They have been (mostly) staying put for a week now, so I think we may have it. It needs a bit of tweaking, but this appears to be working.

I also have a broody hen. One of the Red Stars, no less- the breed everyone says very, very rarely goes broody! The heat wave must have addled what little brain she has! She is now sitting in an empty nest box, fluffing and growling and pecking whenever anyone gets near her. I took all the plastic eggs out, and have been collecting the real eggs daily, so I guess she thinks she is going to hatch either the shredded paper nest box lining or the wooden bottom of the box. I do pull her off the nest and toss her out in the yard with the others every morning, so she will eat and drink. And she's fine out there for a couple hours. I close the coop and run so she can't just run right back in. But as soon as I open it, she's back to sitting. Silly bird!

And the heat spell also seems to have triggered another shedding cycle in the dog. His coat looks as ragged and messy as it does in spring when he sheds his winter coat. I've been brushing him daily, something I don't normally need to do, and pulling a huge pile of dead fur out of his coat. It's gotta feel better to him without all that stuff in there. Oh, and if someone tells you Labs don't shed- send 'em to me. I can give them the double handfuls of fur to prove that one wrong!
Krysta, Kleber and Will went camping on the Cape over the 4th of July weekend. They didn't take the dog and asked us to puppy sit. It was an... experience. Not a bad one, just a bit hectic at times. He's a Toy Fox Terrier/Chihuahua mix, and cute as anything. And quite well behaved for a dog who is still a puppy and has terrier in him. He listens well, knows a lot of commands, and is housebroken. We did have a couple accidents, but what with being in a strange house and our not really knowing his schedule well, it wasn't bad. I did feel sorry for poor Murphy at times. At ten, he is kind of beyond the run all day and play stage, and Nikki just wanted him to play, play, play! Murphy got fed up a couple times and barked the "back off, kid!" bark, but that's as far as he went. If he got really fed up, he went outside and enjoyed the sun on the porch.

Of course, my schedule was tilted a bit, also. One of the early risers here usually took care of taking Nikki out first thing. Then I fed the cats and both dogs, and out we went again. Once back in the house, I found I had to play with Nikki for a bit to work of some of the "I've been in a crate all night!" energy. Luckily, he loves to fetch! Then I finished a few things here, and took both dogs for a walk around the cul-de-sac. After that, I could do pretty much whatever and Nikki would shadow me wherever I went or curl up and nap. Later, we'd go out in the yard just to let him run. And run. And run. And run. He made me tired just watching him! And in the late afternoon, I took both dogs for a longer walk. It worked out well. Nikki wasn't wild and uncontrollable, like some small dogs can be. He would curl up next to me while we watched TV before bedtime, and he was quiet in his crate all night. We get him back in August when they go to Brazil, but now I know a bit more of how to deal with him, so I'm looking forward to it.

The garden is going pretty well. I should be harvesting the first squashes soon, and the tomatoes, peppers and beans are full of blossoms. There are a few tiny tomatoes out there, as well as cucumbers. The asparagus is growing pretty decently, so I'm hoping we can get a few spears next year. I know I can't cut too many, but I'd like a few. Picked the first black raspberries of the season today. Not too many but they are just starting to ripen. And got the seeds started for the fall garden of cool weather plants.

And I have a busy week next week! Needed to make a couple appointments, and they all seemed to be free immediately. Especially with the eye doctor, in the past it's been weeks out to get an appointment. Not this time. So next week, I'm in the car a lot! Got the bone density scan done also. Hoping it's not worse this year. There was some pre-osteoporosis last year.

Looks like it's going to rain out there right now. It is getting darker by the minute. Must run and get some stuff done before that hits!

On The Chili Trail Once Again

On Saturday, June 25, we cooked in the Benmarl Winery Regional Cook Off in Marlboro, NY. We've been to the winery several times (good wines. Their Traminette is excellent! http://www.benmarl.com ), and cooked in the first cook off last year. It is a nice cook off, and not only because of the winery.

They are located in the Hudson Valley region of NY state, set above the river. The views are just spectacular. We set up last year right next to one of the scenic viewing spots and enjoyed it so much, we asked to have the same space reserved for us this year. It helps to know the Chief Judge and Scorekeeper! LOL So we could look out across the Hudson River to what I understand is the site of an old quarry with "cliffs" rising above the water. It was very pretty.

The cooks are set up in the courtyard of the vineyard, so all the people who come in to taste the wine see the tents and smell the chili cooking. Nice incentive to add a chili tasting to your wine selection. The crowd was a little light again this year, but it was only the second cook off held there, so things should improve as time goes on. I also hope the winery can do a deal on the pricing next year, so people can get both wine and chili tasting at a bargain price. That would certainly encourage more people to taste. We ended up with a lot of leftover chili. We did manage to find someone to take it. (Thanks, Linda!)

This cook off benefits Fraxa (http://www.fraxa.org ) which is a parent run organization that raises money to fund research into a cure for Fragile X syndrome, which is a genetic disorder that causes a large range of mental impairments in the children it affects. One of the groups competing in the People's Choice category was a 14 year old Fragile X boy and his family. Jake's Mom spoke at the cook's meeting and said that he is very interested in food and cooking. He watches cooking shows all the time, and she uses that interest to help teach him math and other subjects. And Jake won the People's Choice category. Added to that, one of our regular cooks is (semi-)retired as an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America and he is arranging for Jake to be given a guided tour of the school in Hyde Park, NY, as well as lunch at the Apple Pie Bakery and Cafe on campus. I think that will be a very exciting day for Jake and his family.

The winery also provides bottles of wine with custom printed International Chili Society labels instead of trophies. This year's wine is a Merlot, which just happens to be my favorite red. Of course, I didn't get one, but the BaldMan got two. Looking forward to those, for sure,

How did we do? The BaldMan got second in Salsa and fourth in Chili Verde, and I got 5th place honorable mention in Red Chile. Not bad, really. Would I rather win? Well, yes, but I scored points on both Red and Verde, and judges comments were generally good, plus I liked both my pots. (I am already qualified in Salsa, so did not compete there.) It was a decent day.

Next up is Vermont State on July 23.

Gardens and Parties and Other Stuff

It has been a busy couple weeks here. Time seems to get away from me much more these days. I think someone accelerated the clocks or something.

We cooked at the NH State cook off at the beginning of this month. I mean, really, it IS NH State! And about 4 miles from home. Nice and easy, relatively speaking. No traveling, no hotel, no up at the crack of dawn to get to the site. It was more like the sliver of dawn.

And a very nice day. The storms that brought the horrible tornadoes to MA earlier in the week did come through here, although without the destructive aspects. They did clear the weather nicely for us. It was warm, but not hot, with a nice breeze and low humidity. People came out for the cook off, and that is always nice. This one benefits the music department at the high school in Hudson, NH, so it is a very good cause. We did ok. I took second in Red and the BaldMan took third. It was a decent day.

Last weekend, we hosted a baby shower for our oldest daughter. She is due in mid-September. She and John flew out (they live near Chicago). It was good to see them. We rented a party tent and had it set up in the front yard. Unfortunately, the weather did not want to cooperate. It was chilly and rainy most of the day. But I think everyone enjoyed themselves despite that. The BaldMan catered. He cured and smoked some ham, and made a broccoli salad, potato salad, a caprese style pasta salad and I baked a couple loaves of rye bread. Several people who attended brought desserts. We played a few silly games, and people won some small prizes. And, since we had asked people to ship gifts directly to Jill, rather than bring them and have the need to ship later, we had everyone come up and draw their gift on a large sketchpad and Jill had to guess what it was. Maybe we should have done it the other way around, since Jill is the artist in the bunch! LOL

We did have a lot of company that weekend for the shower. My parents and one of my sisters, the BaldMan's parents and his sister and her husband all come up for the weekend. It was nice to have everyone together. That doesn't happen often. On Sunday, my parents and sister came to the house, and we left Dad watching a game and the BaldMan doing whatever he was doing, and the "girls" all went to the Christmas Tree Shop. It was a fun afternoon. We grilled some chicken for dinner and set out the leftover salads.

We also had another not so welcome visitor to the garden. A groundhog. He ate all my broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants. And that was all. Left everything else alone. I guess we have a groundhog with particular tastes. The tomatoes and peppers are starting to look better now, and the cucumbers have tiny little cukes on them. Now I just have to get the back of the garden fenced in so the chickens stay out of the greens. I hope that will keep Mr. Groundhog out, as well.

We have another addition to the menagerie here, also. Will's guinea pig, Lily, now lives at Grandma's house. More specifically, in Steph's room. Kryss is really allergic to her and breaks out in bad hives and can't breathe when she gets near Lily. Will was pretty upset and has been telling Kryss that he can hear Lily crying! She's not at all. Like every other animal in this house, she is getting quite spoiled. And he can come see her whenever he wants.

And that seems to be all the news from here.

In The Good Old Summertime

It appears we have skipped all the nice parts of Spring and jumped right into Summer. We went from days of damp, chilly and rainy to sunny, clear and hot. Now, I would rather hot than cold any day, but a little bit of that old-fashioned nicely warm Spring would have been nice.

I got most of the garden planted. Lost a few transplants, but they will be replaced. I think next year, I will not start the seedling so early. Many got far too leggy before the weather got warm enough to transplant. But the light stand we bought was a real success! The seedlings grew like crazy, something I have not had happen before.

I did go to the garden center on Tuesday and picked up some more veggies to fill in the empty spots. Got a little carried away with broccoli, I fear. Eighteen plants! Good thing I love broccoli (unfortunately, someone else does not care for it as much). I also got some cauliflower and cabbages, as well as some lettuces to fill in, since the chickens keep eating the greens seedlings!

We mostly fenced in the garden last week and will finish this week. That should keep the chickies out. I hate to keep them penned up during the day, since the eggs we get are so much better if they can free range. I guess a few seedlings are a fair price to pay until we get things completely enclosed.

The new chicks are now spending mornings and nights loose in the coop with the older chickens. No blood so far. Just some pecking and chasing which is to be expected. I haven't let them out to free range yet. I am still training them to know that I bring food and they should come when I call them. The older chickens know this. If they see me out there, they come a-runnin' and I can lead them back to the pen when I need to. I've been spending some time each day out in the pen with the babies, feeding them raisins to get them used to me and food.

We had our son-in-law up last Sunday to help clear a lot of the overgrown junk in front of the house. He brought a chain saw and just ripped through all the crap there. The front is completely bare now, but that's what I wanted. I need to put down landscape fabric for now. Replanting will probably wait till next year, but at least it looks somewhat neater, if rather empty now. He also trimmed some dead and overhanging branches from the aspen trees and trimmed back the wildly overgrown forsythia. He did in one partial day what would have taken me all summer! And I would not have been climbing the big ladder with a chain saw to trim the trees! He also cleared out under the big aspen at the side of the driveway. Lots of saplings and some Oriental bittersweet that had to go. We left one wild cherry sapling there. Underneath, the vinca we planted years ago has spread nicely. I filled in with a few more of the vinca. That will make a nice bed once it's all grown in.

This weekend? Re-doing the pond liner this weekend. Going to be a big job but the old one leaks quite a bit and needs replacing. The BaldMan is smoking a brisket on Sunday for a little gathering we are having on Monday. Just family (hopefully, Kryss, Kleber and Will can make it) and a few of Steph's friends. Should be fun.

Rain, and Gardens, and Life in General

It's been raining for a week. At least. Not constantly, but it has been gloomy, gray and cloudy pretty much all that time. It does mean I don't have to water the garden or the seeded areas of the lawn, but really, it would be nice to see the sun once in a while! And the lawn is getting out of control. If it doesn't dry up soon, we are going to need a reaper rather than a lawn mower.

I'm kind of enjoying not having a regular piano lesson right now. My teacher had a baby early this month and has taken some understandable time off from teaching. It's kind of nice not to have something specific to work on, and be able to sit down and revisit some stuff I haven't played in a while.

I did get out to do some work in the yard despite the rain. Got the cukes and squash transplanted. Tomatoes and peppers are hardening off (or drowning, I'm not sure which). I also picked up the annuals for the containers and got one planted today. Oh and potatoes are planted, too. Hoping those do better than last year. The greens were doing pretty well until the chickens got at them. They seem to really like the mizuna. One of the projects planned is to fence in the garden so they can't get to it. I suppose I could keep them locked in the pen till we do, but the eggs have been better since they've been allowed to range, so I hate to do that. Oh, well, I suppose a few plants sacrificed are worth it.

Did another chili cook off a week ago in CT. No places for either of us. My green did ok- it got points and pretty decent comments. Red? Not so much. One problem with the verde was salt. There was not nearly enough in it. I've been having problems with that lately. Either I can't taste it at all and end up oversalting, or I'm hyper-sensitive and think there's a lot when there isn't. *sigh* So it's back to tweaking here and there to try and get those wins! Next up is June 4, right up the road here in Hudson, NH.

Other than that, things are whatever passes for normal around here.

Oh, and I think the elliptical machine upstairs is trying to kill me. I just wanted to get that out there, you know, just in case...

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