Oh Look, 2017!

It is 2017. I’m going to have to get used to that. 2016 is gone.

For part of my job, I work with text that will be sent out a month or two in the future. (Sometimes more than that.) As a result I’ve been using the numbers “2017” for a few months now. But having the actual year here is something else. It’s supposed to be 2017 in the future, not now. But it is now.

Since it’s the future, are we supposed to have flying cars and hover boards? We have “hover boards,” but they don’t actually hover. And cars may fly down the highway, but we sure don’t have flying cars. In fact, car technology hasn’t changed much in decades. Look at computers and phones. Big changes. Cars not so much. There are better computers in cars now, though, so I guess that’s something.

The holidays were busy here, and then just in time for Christmas I got sick. I’m not sure if it was a cold or the flu, but I had a fever one of the days so, maybe flu? I felt completely yucky.

I planned to blog and do many other things, but then all of a sudden I felt like doing absolutely nothing but sleeping and occasionally groaning about how terrible I felt. I felt bad for my family as plans got changed, and I became less fun and more blobby and possibly smelly too.

I’m feeling better now which is a good thing for all of us, I’m just a little bummed because it’s already 2017 and there were things I wanted to get done in 2016 that are still undone. 2016 is gone. I kind of want a do-over, but no not really. New year. New goals.

But a recap of the last bits of 2016:

We got a cute, fresh-cut tree. No artificial tree for us this year. But I nearly threw our beautiful little tree off the balcony as I tried to saw a bit off the trunk to keep it fresher. It was a challenge. I don’t think I used the right tool for the job. I tried to use a tiny saw that’s supposed to be used for PVC plumbing pipes. I should have asked for help, but at that point I was determined. I would not let that tree defeat me. I would do it myself. I finally got the job done, then asked Dave and Sara to help me get the tree into the tree stand. (I was short on patience at that point, and our metal tree stand is kind of a pain.) We got it all done, and we love our tree.

Tree trunk

Tree

I caught our squash-eating, balcony-visiting squirrel actually on our balcony. He’s a chubby little (not so little) critter. His girth is no surprise after all the pumpkin he ate.

After spotting me, Mr. Squirrel fled to the nearby tree which allowed me to see how exactly he’d been getting on the balcony in the first place. He was using one of the thin branches as a sort of bridge from the larger tree branches to our balcony railing.

So I trimmed that skinny little branch off the tree. (The saw was handy from the Christmas tree.)

Chubby Mr. Squirrel post-escape.

Now, I feel a little bad about sawing off Mr. Squirrel’s bridge. I hope he doesn’t run across it like it’s still in tact and then meet with an unfortunate accident when the former bridge ends before it gets to our balcony. I didn’t want to hurt him, just discourage his marauding… I’m going to assume he’s okay. Squirrels are smart, right?

For the first year since she was two years old, my daughter did not sit with Santa at the mall and get her photo taken. I’m a little sad about this. That little girl is gone. She’s a teenager now, so I can understand it’s probably not cool to do the Santa thing these days (especially since it ended up on TV last year).

Plus, I swear they gouge us more for photos every year. This year there’s a single package deal, and it costs $40 dollars. This seems excessive especially when I’d practically have to force my daughter to sit on a strange man’s lap to get the photos taken.  (Oh. That sounds bad. And, yes, she could have sat on the chair next to him. We did that one or two of the years.)

Anyway, it is still tradition and Santa. So in order to make myself feel better about the end of this chapter of our life for now, I took us to the mall to look at Santa. (That way my daughter could still change her mind too.)

When we got there Santa was on dinner break. So we shopped a little (or tried to) and then stood around waiting for Santa to get back. We were like Santa groupies waiting by the entrance. (Maybe not so much “we” as me.)

I wanted to see Santa and say “hi.” After 12 years of pictures with him he should know us, right? He should know us from all the other zillions of people who visit him, right? (Okay, no.) But he’s Santa. He knows when we are sleeping. He knows when we’re awake. He knows when we are at the mall, for goodness sake?

My daughter was much more logical about it. We saw Santa. She was done.

Deep down inside I really wanted one last photo of my daughter with Santa at the mall, but I didn’t want to wait in a line or take up any of Santa’s time or pay the $40 for a small pack of photos.

So while Santa was on the first floor, I guided us to the second floor where there was a nice view of Santa. (The second floor was also handy because then Santa’s security team was much less likely to see us.) I wasn’t really sure if we were allowed to take our own photos of Santa, but that’s just what I wanted. It seemed to solve a couple of problems, so I went for it.

I was able to take a photo of each of us with Santa in the background. Santa didn’t know I was taking a photo of him with us. (Or did he?). Does this seal my fate as a Santa groupie or worse yet, a Santa stalker?

To be fair, Santa is so far away in the photos that we can barely get away with saying it’s a photo of us with Santa. He’s tiny. He’s like the size of an earring. Here I am with my earring-sized Santa in the background. I will not further embarrass my daughter by posting the photo of her. She’s sweet for putting up with me.

Me and tiny Santa.

So next year, maybe we’ll just cut to the chase and take photos of ourselves wearing actual Santa earrings. That’s probably a better idea. I’m sure security won’t mind. I’m pretty sure my daughter will like this plan a lot better too.

Also at the mall, we spotted this lovely ensemble. I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to be. Are real women supposed to wear this? Women who have cold hands? Women who want to hatch ostrich eggs in their pockets? The greens behind her head just add to the strangeness. Hopefully, this is one of the things that will be left behind as we move forward into 2017.

Mystery outfit with small child hovering in the background (top right). Huh, maybe we do have hover boards now.

Just before the new year, we went to see Rogue One, the new Star Wars movie. In the past, I’ve often been one of those midnight/opening night moviegoers for Star Wars movies, so waiting was foreign to me.

Since we already waited to see the movie, we aimed for the early showing, so we could get a discount rate. We showed up on time and everything.

Then we waited and waited for the movie to start. Finally, about a half hour after the movie should have started, a theater employee told us that they wouldn’t be able to show our movie that morning. So then we had to wait at the service desk to get refunds or tickets to another showing that same day. It could have been sucky, but …

We really wanted to see the movie that morning if at all possible. We’d already purchased popcorn and the overpriced-oversized beverage to match.

It ended up working out well because we got tickets to the very next showing which happened to be 3D. And on top of it, we got free passes to an additional movie for our trouble. I can’t complain about how that worked out.

We even liked the movie! There are some fun nods to other Star Wars movies (blue milk, Obi-Wan, and more). It shed a new light on Star Wars: A New Hope. It was a tiny bit long, but overall moved along well, and all three of us enjoyed it.

I’m hoping for more experiences like this in 2017 — movies, time with family, blogging, writing, and so much more. (Maybe less Santa.)

Have a happy 2017!

 

I’ll also add that this can be for WordPress, Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Gone.

 

And copyright 2017 Deb L Kapke.

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(Balcony) Garden Variety Magic

The WordPress Daily Post’s photo challenge for this week is Magic.

When sunlight kisses green leaves… There is no other logical explanation for the resulting glow. Magic.

Water, air, sunlight, and living soil. Seeds. Combined, green stems push through and leaves burst forth. Flowers follow. Then a bulge of fruit swells and ripens.

The magic of mother nature, God, and living things and sunlight.

I had a balcony garden again this summer.

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The glowing leaves. The tasty peppers.

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Sun Gold, Orange cherry tomatoes and powerful strawberries.

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It’s not dead yet even with last night’s frost. The balcony stays a bit warmer. Though most plants are limping. They’ve reached the end of the marathon still bearing a few small fruits across the finish line. Some plants tripped and fell on mites. They didn’t fair so well.

Dragonflies visited again this year. They are always welcome to perch and rest. I get to see their wings sparkle. An insect that looked like a leaf was here too. He was new this year.

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It’s a leaf. It’s a bug. It’s leaf bug. Greetings friend. (At least he seemed friendly.)



A squirrel with more gusto than his pals made the giant leap from a nearby tree to our balcony. We scared each other. He leapt back to the tree nearly missing his branch. And the sway nearly launched him back. It’s not an easy leap. I’m glad he didn’t eat many of the tomatoes. One year they ate them all. Every single one.

Somebody visited again recently. A squirrel? A bird? I only saw evidence. Not the critter. A pumpkin had been nibbled.

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Nibbled pie pumpkin and winter squash. (I didn’t grow these, but I like them.)

This post was also for NaBloPoMo Day 21.

 
NaBloPoMo November 2016

The Snowy Village Saga

I once saw a snowy village of epic proportions.

By snowy village I mean a set of decorative miniature Christmas houses made of porcelain and resin arranged into little (or large) towns. You can see these houses in stores this time of year. The brand I see most often is Lemax.

The quaint little houses are embellished with wreaths and holiday lights — all set aglow by a small light bulb nestled inside. There are wee trees and playful accessories like animals, sledders, snowmen, ice skaters, and boutiques to help bring the village to life.

One day (many years ago) a woman, who was a client of the company I worked for, invited our company to her home to see her snowy village in its full glory.

Prior to our visit, we’d heard of the snowy village through the grapevine.

The woman often named a house in the little town for somebody she knew. She tried to tie the little structures to friends or family members. A red house was named for someone who had a red house in real life. Flowers and extra plants for somebody who gardened.

The houses were set up on little streets in little rows. There was a forest section and a graveyard section.

It had been an honor, a statement of fondness and loyalty, to have your “own” house in her snowy village.

One day, as legend goes, an employee left her company on not-so-great terms. So his “house” was yanked from the happy little rows of homes in her snowy village. His privileges had been revoked.

Rumors of the snowy village, and its rules, had spread and there was talk and pretty soon everybody had heard of the snowy village (and what could happen to your house).

One day we were treated to a field trip to see the village up-close and personal.

The ostentatious snowy village covered three banquet tables in her expansive kitchen. The village alone had more square footage than my entire real-life kitchen has today.

There were raised, snowy hills with skiers. There were landscapes and moving parts that came alive with the push of a button.

While I had no interest in having my own Christmas village at the time, it was fun and entertaining (in multiple ways) to see the make-believe town with all its joy (and missing houses). It was a bit of an oddity, but the idea grew on me (of villages, not yanking houses).

With the passing of years, I could see appeal in setting up our own, much smaller, Christmas village.

We can make a scene in a happy little town where I never need to vacuum the floor, empty the trash, or do the laundry to have it look pristine and well-kept. I can decorate an entire house with holiday trimmings by simply removing it from its box and plugging it in.

We do not name any parts or buildings after anybody in particular. But we like things that we can related to —a reminder of something we’ve done in the past.

Our newest addition is a mini Christmas tree sales lot. It reminds us of purchasing fresh-cut trees, and the time my daughter volunteered at a tree lot. We get a splash of instant holiday joy.

This week, I discovered that I can buy Lemax brand village items for a lot less.

Lemax products are often clever, but the paint is not the highest quality. It varies a lot (sometimes the little people have lopsided eyes). Most of the figures are resin, not porcelain. And I think all the pieces are made in China. So they shouldn’t be expensive, but prices have climbed over the years.

Our local Michaels craft store had been our go-to shop to see Lemax Christmas (or even Halloween) Villages. There are several Michaels stores nearby. But we’d limit buying to times there was a good sale or we had a good coupon (or those rare times when it’s possible to use a coupon on a sale-price item).

This week I saw that both Sears and Kmart carry Lemax. These stores aren’t as close to home, but their everyday prices are often less than Michaels sale prices.

Take the new Snow Angels figures for example. At Michaels they are $13.99. With the usual 40%-off, sale price that becomes $8.40. With a coupon and a sale price, on a very few days I might be able to squeeze that down to $5.60. At Sears the same item is a regular price of $6.99, and the Sears website currently lists them on sale for $3.49. Michaels, I’m disappointed in you!

Somehow, I feel much more holiday joy gazing at Snow Angels that cost $3.49. I think I’ll use our own full-size Sears and Kmart shops for future little Christmas village purchases. Maybe, I’ll yank the Michaels village store out of our options for now.

The WordPress Daily Post’s Daily Prompt was Ostentatious.

This blog post is also for NaBloPoMo, Day 19.

It Would Be Mythical

The WordPress Daily Post’s Daily Prompt is Mythical.

A few months ago I could have gazed to the future and fancied that one day, one glorious day, the Daily Prompt would be mythical. 

I knew today was different when I awoke. My head felt …. 

And so this sunny November day — it is the day of the mythical prompt. 

And it is a Friday which makes it even better. 

I have a sniffle and I ate too much yesterday, but I won’t let that stop me from making use of this mythical opportunity. This won’t be the last. 

Let That Percolate 

The WordPress Daily Post’s Daily Prompt is Percolate.

Percolate seems like such a lively word to me. Something will always happen if you let it percolate for a while.

My grandparents used to percolate coffee. They had a metal pitcher (the coffee pot or coffee percolator) with a metal basket and filter inside. At the top sat a lid with a clear knob which gave a view of the coffee once the water started to boil. Liquid popped up and down. 

The water was only lightly colored at first, but by the end they had rich dark coffee bubbling up inside, dancing away. It looked like it was trying to escape so many times over. One time it did. The lid popped off. 

Let that percolate in your thoughts for a while.

Sweet and Tart and Vegetal; I’m Your Garden Huckleberry 

For Novemeber 15, the Wordpress Daily Posts’s Daily Prompt is Tart.

This post also uses the Daily Post’s prompt from November 10, so I’m adding that. That Daily Prompt was Vegetal.

Both of these prompts work well to describe the second food experiment we did over the weekend. The first was the squash.

The next food experiment involved berries called Garden Huckleberries.

Raw, ripe Garden Huckleberries.

 

If you’re familiar with regular huckleberries, then you might think, “oh, yum.” I’ve had true huckleberries in Montana, and they are similar to wild blueberries. Sweet and very yummy.

The Garden Huckleberry is different. It’s a nightshade plant similar to tomatoes.

I think I may have had some of these self-plant in flower pots a few years ago. Once I identified them as from the nightshade family and realized they weren’t tomatoes or peppers, I wasn’t really sure if they were edible, and I pulled them. They were probably safe if birds left the seeds behind (which is probably how the seeds got there), but I didn’t want to take any chances.

These Garden Huckleberries were grown by a farmer, and I purchased them at a farmers’ market. So I felt pretty confident that we could eat them.

But they did come with special instructions, and I looked them up on the Internet at home.

Garden Huckleberries must be cooked before they are eaten. They also need to be fully ripe (the green, unripe berries are toxic). Raw they taste a little like a green tomato, except I’d prefer green tomato to the taste of a raw Garden Huckleberry. They weren’t just tart or sour, but also bitter with a strong, unpleasant vegetal flavor.

After removing the tenacious little stems from the Garden Huckleberries, we boiled them in enough water to cover and added a pinch of baking soda (per many instructions).

Blueberries and red cabbage both contain pigments called anthocyanins that change color depending on the pH. It’s redder in acid and turns bluish-green or green in alkaline (basic) solutions. It can be fun for at-home science experiments and can even be used to dye Easter eggs.

Garden Huckleberries have an abundance of anthocyanins.

So we got a little surprise as the water with baking soda boiled away. Green foam began to form on top of the water. And as the berries continued to burst, dipping a spoon into the water showed us a vibrant blue-green water.

As Halloween is not long gone, it felt like we were cooking up a strange and exotic witches brew that might be used for unsavory purposes. You might think I wouldn’t let that stuff anywhere near my mouth.


 

But we kept on.

Recipes for Garden Huckleberry all suggest adding lemon and sugar, so that’s what we did after straining out the creepy green water from boiling the berries. (And after doing a mini-science experiment before throwing all the fascinating water away.) Red cabbage can be these same colors. 

I tasted the cooked berries before adding the lemon and sugar and was not impressed. They were still somewhat tart, bitter, and vegetal tasting but much less so than when uncooked. Now they had a hint of berry taste & aroma to them. So we were getting closer.

Garden Huckleberries parboiled with a little baking soda.

Then we added the sugar and lemon juice and let them simmer away again. Adding the lemon juice turned all the greenish shades back to a reddish purple. The berries became a beautiful, deep, dark purple.

Now when I tasted them, some of them were delicious and others were still a little off. I’m pretty sure the best tasting ones were the most ripe berries that had also burst very early in cooking. While the ones that weren’t as good were either less ripe or didn’t burst (or both). Regardless, I decided to add more lemon juice and sugar and simmer longer.

The end result was fairly close to a fruit preserve or pie filling. It tasted a little like blueberries, but also had its own sweet & slightly tart berry flavor.


The longer we cooked with lemon and sugar the better they got. It wasn’t just covering up the weird taste. The end result didn’t taste like lemon really. But I think the combination of lemon juice and sugar transforms some component in these berries, so that the flavor actually changes. 

So Garden Huckleberries were good. We put the goop in jars. I may add some to a pie or fruit tart. I’m not 100% sure if I’ll get them again. I like berries that I can eat raw. But these were fun to try and the colors (all of them) were pretty amazing.

 

This post is also for NaBloPoMo.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

The Sleeping Fishes

The WordPress, Daily Post’s Daily Prompt is Fish.

This works out almost perfectly since I was just thinking about our pet fish. 

We have quite a few guppies. All of them are descendants of fish we got many years ago at my daughter’s after-school-care program.

They had both male and female guppies. Only they called them Glowfish. Again with mislabeled items. I think they purchased them someplace that had the wrong fish in the tank or vice versa. But actual Glowfish reproduce by laying eggs. These fish produce live young. Glowfish also glow. These do not glow, not even under special lighting, but they can be colorful.

Along with producing live young and the lack of glow, many parents commented, “oh, they look just like guppies.” 

And, indeed, they are guppies.

With all the live young, the after-school program had a fairly steady supply of fish for the kids to see and also for feeding to a small pet crab (of some sort) that lived in their aquarium too.

They also had extra fish that the kids could take home with them from time to time. So we did. And we got both male and female fishes because somehow I thought that would be such a cool thing.

It was. For a while.

Many, many fish later, I’ve tried to separate the females from the males and put a halt to the fish population (that also bread at least once with a pet-store guppy that gave all the subsequent offspring more color variations). 

So we still have lots and lots of fish. And, what a lot of people may not know is that fish sleep. 

I walked in on them again earlier this evening and got a little weirded out. 

At night when it’s dark, they stop moving and just hover in the water. It can be a little disconcerting to flip on a light and see a whole tank full of fish not move. They seem so lifeless. It can easily feel like we’ve had a mass die-off. But they gradually wake up if I leave the light on for long enough.

During the day when I walk in the fish are ready for food, so they swim all around and back and forth, much like our cats do when it’s dinner time.  It’s like a feeding frenzy. 

Life is a lot like that. We have times we’re so lively and thrashing about and other times when we just need to be still. And sleep. 

Be Daring

 

The WordPress Daily Post’s Daily Prompt is Daring. Ha, that makes sense as a sentence.

WordPress bloggers dare to put it out there. They don’t just say they’re going to blog. They blog. Be like WordPress Daily Prompt bloggers. Be daring! Blog.

And dare to do other stuff too. At our recent back-to-school night, one of the teachers had this single slide up on the screen through the entire presentation for the class.

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Other teachers had PowerPoint presentations that covered lots of stuff. Each was many pages long. Class schedule. Topics covered. Projects. Grades. Contact information.

I took a few photos of information that I thought may be of value. But I liked what this single slide said the most. And it was for a math class no less! The teacher also said that when kids told her that they didn’t know how to do something, she corrected them by saying, “you don’t know how to do it YET.”

I hope the class goes well for my daughter. I’d hate to like the presentation so much only for her to have a bummer of a class experience. But I’m not going to worry for now.

So far, so good. The year is early. I’m sure not everything will be perfect. I’m going to enjoy these ideas while fresh on my mind. And perhaps my daughter may even learn more than just math in this class.

Students learn so many new things every day. I need to bust out of my own comfort zone more often!

I need to try some new ways.

I need to be daring!

 

Of Value

The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt is: Value.

I always like adding that a post came from a Daily Prompt and what the prompt was. Sometimes, I read other posts linked from the Daily Prompt pages, and I’m thinking, “wait, where did this come from? Why did they write it.” Some posts tie-in so beautifully. Some, you can find the inspiration easily, but the blogger really took it and ran with his or her own idea. They made something unexpected but really good. Other times I have no idea what a post had to do with the prompt, but the link in there. So, okay.

Value

The idea of value has a lot of variety too. We could be talking money … time … emotion. You could have a valuable car or antique vase. Well made clothes may be a better value than cheaper, poorly made clothing. They last longer.

There’s the value of words. Of lessons. Maybe that’s one of my favorites — learning a valuable lesson. Do we ever learn lessons that aren’t valuable? Maybe, I’ll look at that farther on down this page.

Valuable lessons are often those that are hard earned. “Wow, you really earned a valuable lesson there,” implies that something bad happened first. Then a lesson was learned. The valuable lesson is usually the knowledge needed to prevent oneself from having the bad thing happen again.

Touch a hot stove. Get burned. Know not to do it again. That is something of value.

It starts when we’re old enough to remember stuff, and hopefully it keeps happening until we reach a ripe old age. We learn enough to help us to get to that advanced age. Get the tough lessons out of the way when we’re young. That way once we’re old, we can avoid lots of crap and hot stoves. But we may still learn new things too.

Some days, I’m still working on the hot-stove lesson. (Pot holder, Deb, pot holder.)

I took a class in basket weaving one time. When I was a teen that was a running joke among parents, “she’s studying underwater basket weaving in college.” (I wasn’t. It was a community class.) But the sentiment implied that it was a completely useless course of study. No value. The expression could be used to refer to any course of study that was considered to be useless. Film making and art weren’t far behind.

Underwater basket weaving does not require that the weaver should spend time submerged in water (maybe a little part of me was hoping for scuba tanks). The materials are soaked in water. Not sure that this knowledge has much value except that I giggle when I picture people wearing scuba tanks and weaving baskets at the bottom of the sea. I like to laugh.

I’m sure basket weaving is valuable for folks who make a living as artisans who sell fine, handmade baskets at arts & craft shows. 

Lots of people will only give value to something they can measure with money. But the basket weaver (who may also scuba dive, it could happen) probably, hopefully, really enjoys making baskets. So it’s a valuable way for them to spend their time, it makes them happy, and folks might pay a lot for a beautifully handmade basket.

But basket weaving is probably not so valuable for accountates or math majors. Unless, say, the math major loves basket weaving as a form of fun and relaxation. Then it, once again, has value. (And you do have to count in basket weaving, so there’s that. Crochet is the same.)

So value can take a monetary form, be a good use of time, emotionally pleasant, or be the lessons that get us through life. It is what we make of it. I can value that.

 

jump, Jump, JUMP!

Today’s prompt from WordPress Daily Prompts is, Jump!

Just jump right in.

I think I will.

Jump for joy.

Dance a jig.

Avoid the bridge.

Take a leap of faith.

And jump. Jump. Jump!

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