Sunday, April 27, 2008

Our Free Cat

We have been a refuge for free pets.  Many of our pets have been free.  There were those 'pure bred' bunnies we bought for the kids (OK, I got one too--they were very cute).  Those we paid for.  El Profesor, who grew up on a ranch, found the offer of our bunnies' papers being copied for us (no, not the kind of papers you line the cage with)  to be amusing.  Other than those bunnies, our pets have been free. (We never did pursue getting those papers.)

'Posie' the cat (she was preowned and prenamed) came from one of El Profesor's co-workers who was moving to Iowa.  She (the cat, that is) moved in with our elderly neighbor when our kids joined the family. (It was much quieter over there and the neighbor actually did regular vet check ups, shots, etc.  I think Posie was planning for her own feline elder care--good choice!)  When we purchased our current house there was the stray tomcat, 'Tiger', living under the house,  who became ours for awhile. He was extremely tame and our daughter, Ten, would pack him around the neighborhood.  Then came 'Thumper' (you guessed it--a rabbit).  Our sweet Japanese neighbor came jogging over one morning to let me know that our bunny (the only one left of the original three) was loose.  When he described the color/size, I let him know that 'Hoppy' was safe and well in her hutch. Still,  I caught the loose bunny with the fishing net (the only things I have ever caught with that net have been bunnies on the lamb) and Thumper moved into separate quarters in our bunny condo.  Surely, we had enough free pets.  Then, on one especially stormy, blustery November day (2006), we acquired what I like to refer to as 'Our Free Cat'. 

The week Our Free Cat turned up the local news had been reporting that the local cat shelters were at capacity and that people needed to keep any kittens/cats they had if at all possible.   The day Our Free Cat turned up was very stormy and Ten had ventured out to the rabbit hutch to check on Thumper (all of the other bunnies had now aged out and had taken up residence in shoe boxes six inches under the rhodies) when she heard a kitten crying.  Ten hurried to tell me about the distressed kitten and so I got the ladder (and not the fishing net).  The forlorn little thing was up in our cherry tree and, despite a momentary thought of teeth and claws, I climbed up and got him.  He was socialized, tame, and clung to me. He was a 'catten', not quite a cat, no longer a kitten.  Ten bundled him into her sweatshirt and we canvassed the neighborhood in the pouring rain, to no avail.  One lady informed us she already had four cats.  No one had seen 'the catten' before.  

Having already  acquired one stray tomcat and one stray bunny, El Profesor (remember, he grew up on a ranch), responded to 'the catten' dilemma with, "Take him out and throw rocks at him to scare him off".  (Remember, the cat shelters were full).  He then modified the rock plan to scaring 'the catten' off himself after Ten and Thirteen went to choir practice.  He did agree, reluctantly, that if 'the catten' was still around after choir, we could feed him.   Remarkably, 'the catten' seemed to sense a foothold.  He stuck to the premises dispite the showers of gravel delivered in his direction.  He was still around after choir practice (much to the delight of Ten and Thirteen, who were then Eight and Eleven) and he became 'Skipper' the cat (we had been watching old Gilligan's Island movies from Netflix that week).  
Skipper the cat on the day he was found. 

Skipper the cat spent much of the rest of his 'cattenhood' swaddled in dolly blankets, dressed in dolly clothes and adorned in dolly bonnets.  He seemed to eat up the attention.  He slept in a white, lacey dolly bassinet in the garage and went for rides in the dolly baby buggy.  He was the favorite play thing of  Eight.  One of Eight's writing assignments in a homeschool writing class was to write the directions for how to do something, step by step.  Eight wrote a paper called 'How To Dress A Kitten'.  As Skipper settled in, Tiger the tomcat moved on, and Skipper became our cat.  Our Free Cat.  He was a keeper.  He was completely tame, playful and was growing into a pretty, buff tabby with a white bib. 

Now, about the free part? Remember Posie the cat?  I always balked at the idea of seeking extensive (or regular)  medical care for a pet.  Oh brother, I thought.  Then, Skipper got sick.  Very sick.  We were going to have him 'fixed' and the vet noticed at his pre-op appointment that he had a fever.  I had noticed a bit of lethargy once I thought about it.  He was given some antibiotics (ka-ching$$$) and 'the fixing' appointment was delayed for a few weeks.  Skipper tanked a few days later.  He became so lethargic I had to give him water with a syringe.  (Maybe a coincidence, maybe not, but we had just opened a new bag of Iams cat food and this was at the precise time some pets were sickened by tainted food.) El Profesor (who grew up on a ranch) lovingly took Skipper to the emergency vet where Our Free Cat was given steroids to stimulate his appetite (he was wasting away) and blood tests (ka-ching$$$$).  Our Free Cat survived, and once he was recovered we had him 'fixed'  (ka-ching$$$).  

We have really loved Our Free Cat.  El Profesor (the one who caused the gravel rain on that blustery November day) gently cradles Skipper when he retrieves him off Ten's bed late at night.  He holds and pets Skipper and asks me to get him flea stuff (ka-ching$$$).  Then, there was last night.  (Remember the part about balking at extensive vet care?)  We were out for a walk when Thirteen found Skipper limping and bleeding.  His back leg had what looked like a bite wound.   (I was kicking myself for not getting around to vaccinating the cat--I keep meaning to get him a rabies shot, and that cat-leukemia-whatchma-call-it shot.)  We loaded up a quilt, a box and Our Free Cat and headed for the emergency animal hospital.  The wound turned out to be an impalement injury (thank goodness--no rabies threat) from jumping or falling onto something sharp and Our Free Cat had two staples, two bottles of antibiotics and a bottle of kitty pain killer (ka-ching$$$).   In a few weeks, I have to take Our Free Cat to our regular vet to get the staples removed (ka-ching$$$).  Then, we plan to get those vaccines done (ka-ching$$$) and some flea treatments (ka-ching$$$).  

The only really frugal thing about Our Free Cat is that he LOVES the cheap Friskies in the gigant-o bags from Costco (remember that expensive Iams I was feeding him??) and Friskies was on the list of pet foods that didn't have to be recalled in the tainting scare when Our Free Cat first became a little spendy.  As for his name, Skipper, with all of his crazy antics and silly behavior, maybe we should have called him 'Gilligan'. 

Friday, April 25, 2008

Defrosting...spaving....and, Aaah

The trickle of the freezer snowpack
This morning the sun came out and I was ready to take on some much needed homemaking tasks.  After a week of cold, gray and my general sense of 'blah', I shortened our school day, rolled up the garage door and set about defrosting the deep freezer and cleaning out the car.  The real estate in the deep freezer has been shrinking from the ice encroachment while the space in the car has undergone major junk encroachment.  With the car cleaned out and the freezer snowpack melting in the ever-warming garage, I was ready to move on to some serious 'spaving'.  

Spaving.  My hilarious twin imparted that term to me recently.  Spend to save--'spaving'.  I am definately a spaver.  My mom was a frugal grocery shopper.  She would take us shopping in a  grocery warehouse (I think a Waremart-Winco ancestor) where you pulled a pallet shopping cart around and wrote the prices on the can lids with a black grease pencil.  Then, there's the autumn attic  in Little House In The Big Woods 'fairly bursting' with drying herbs, pumpkins and other stores of food that always incites my romantic inner pioneer.  Some spavings of the day included #10 cans of refried beans (a serious quantity--I make ahead piles of burritos and freeze them for quick grab lunches or just freeze the beans in smaller quanitities) and a big bag of Bob's Red Mill whole wheat flour (I freeze that, too--Pantry moths!!  Have yet to solve that problem.  What are they in???)

A fascinating observance in my spaving today is the recent run on rice.  The rice shelves at Cash and Carry (United Grocers bulk place) were empty.  The rice shelves and bulk bins at Winco, empty.  Grains of rice remained on the shelves like the spillings of a feeding frenzy.  I like to keep some bags rice on hand in the freezer (pesky moths have driven them from the pantry).  Just out of curiousity, we checked Albertson's--they had a lot of rice--no one spaves at Albertson's.  :-)

Back to the I cleaned and tasked about the driveway I noticed the buzzing.  The cherry tree, still awash in snow white blossoms despite a week of pelting hail, was audible with the chorus of hundreds of bees busying themselves in the long-needed sunshine.  
Ah-h. Come June there'll be cherries.  

Can you see the pollen baskets on the bees?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Snow White...and Grumpy

After seeing snow falling through the spaces in the curtains and an unusually light, glowy 6:50 a.m. maybe a better name for this fairy tale would be Snow White and Intrigued.  This is what we awoke to today....surely, it must be a fairy tale.  After all, today is April 20.  April 20 in Western Oregon.   Like, 500 feet above sea level, marine climate, long growing season, rarely snows part of Western Oregon.

All week, as I've dreamed of the gardening I want to do, the local weatherman has been discussing this late winter storm.  The temperatures were supposed to plummet into the upper 20s (not sure if they actually have) and I have been fretting over potential frost damage.  The apples, cherries, raspberries and strawberries have bloomed and last weekend's sun and warm temperatures sent the bees a-buzzin'--maybe it would be a good fruit year.  Then came the winterish forecast--that made me grumpy.  

This weekend has actually turned out the be a busy one and, I must admit, the weather has been intriguing.  Yesterday it didn't freeze and we had several hailstorms.  Maybe this snow blanket has protected the garden from Jack Frost and I can keep dreaming of the possibilities of this year's garden. 

Here are some of the edibles that having been awakening this spring....  

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fun, old books....see 'My little bookstore' post....

I love old books....

The following page is one of the stories that does not appear in the updated version of A Treasury of Little Golden Books.  This is the 1960 edition....

I love the sweet 1950s illustrations in this book.....

Last summer I happened on a whole shelf of old Landmark Books hardcover books.  Here are a few....

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Me and my little bookstore....

I used to teach public school.  Not counting practicums and student teaching, I taught for a decade plus one.  A few years into my career a new teacher with a shiny new master's degree moved into the classroom next door.  Her masters was in something reading related and she measured her juvenile book collection in feet.  Like, in the amount of feet the books measured on the bookshelf.  I was impressed.  Hers were mostly paperback and, I suspect, were book club editions--it takes a lot of those skinny little books to make a foot!  During my classroom years I stuck mostly to library books for a regular book rotation in the classroom.  In retrospect, I don't think I had an impressive collection as far as feet goes. I've been home now with my kids almost as long as I was in the classroom as a teacher.  And now, I think, I could quantify my books in feet.  

Much of my time in the public schools was spent in a school with some special grant funding.  We were able to develop a literature-based reading program and an impressive library of book sets for reading groups. I loved to go to our collection stacks in a windowless room behind the school library--vault-like--and consider the possibilities. 

In my years on the homefront and homeschoolfront I've found a similar love of possibilites in the book stacks at the local thrift stores.  The shelves are brimming with books but I am always drawn to the juvenile books.  Newberry books, Caldecott books, science, history--titles that can be built into interest studies, unit studies. So many books!  And many of them 50 cents or a dollar!  Most of the books in our home collection are from local thrift stores.  Hunting for good and/or useful titles (I call it 'booking') became such a hobby for me that a few years ago I decided to launch an eBay bookstore.  

The bookstore--Two Teachers Used/Gently Used Books--has turned our homeschool collection into an exciting rotation of books.  We  have books coming and going, with the kids all too familiar with my  exclamation regarding their questions, "I have a book about that!"  We aren't getting rich around here selling used books, but the benefits have made the venture worth my while.  The rotation of books keeps things interesting, the tax write-off of our home office area has been nice, but one of the best things of all has been Sharon. 

My first winter on eBay I sold a set of books from a Sonlight Core reading list to Sharon in Australia and a correspondence began.  It began with a sentence in a transaction-based email about the weather and grew into many conversations/photos about schooling, children, life, loss and faith.  She was expecting her now three-year-old and our winter was Australia's summer--a hot one. I have treasured her correspondence and phone calls. 

I've been lucky enough in my 'booking' ventures to find 'real' curriculum such as some of our Saxon Math books, Easy Grammar,  The Green Leaf Guide to the Old Testament, A Beka grammar books, Explode the Code, etc., but the gems have been the books for unit studies and fiction recommended by Sonlight and The Well Trained Mind.  I tend to be drawn to the old books as well.  Here are some of my favorite finds....  

This was an exciting book to it is next to the newer, updated edition....

The vintage copy boasts "48 Best-Loved Stories", while the newer edition claims "36 All-Time Favorites".  Of course, I had to sit up one night comparing the two books to see which stories fell from grace over the years...

These stories are among those that didn't make the cut!

I'm planning to post more old book finds later....I'm struggling with my 'rookie bloggerness' in getting photos posted today.  More later..... :-)  

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


One of the challenges for me, homeschool mom/homemaker/cook/maid/etc., is keeping the food budget (we really SHOULD have one) reasonable.  This 'challenge' stems partially from the fact that neither my husband or myself are super dedicated organizer/bookkeeper types and groceries/supplies are consumables that somehow seem to eat money differently than, say, a new lamp would.   What I mean by the lamp plays out something like this....when Miss Almost 10 was potty training years ago I took her to the store to buy some 'big girl underwear'.  As I stood in the undies aisle agonizing over prices, an awareness of my ridiculous thinking came to light.   I knew where to find the best value on my preferred brand of diapers, and two packages would equal the cost of a 12 pack of undies I was considering.  The ridiculous part was that I wouldn't bat an eye over spending that much on the diapers I was going to throw away--the diapers weren't a thing.  Yet here, on the cusp of buying a thing (mind you, this thing would replace the money draining diapers) I was agonizing over cost.  Somehow, in my thinking, the cost of food/household consumables gets some kind of pardon as these don't register on my thing radar.  I am not buying something I am going to own.  With an awareness of this thinking, I am trying to manage our spending on consumables.

A few weeks ago on The Today Show two household spending specialists were featured in a contest.  They were given a specific amount of money to spend on groceries and their hauls were compared side by side on tables.   The second contestant did a fabulous, although labor intensive, job as she is a coupon clipper/printer/user.  What I appreciated about her purchases were she purchased healthy items, including much fresh produce.  The first contestant on the other hand, purchased several items at the Dollar Store, hotdogs, etc. Several of his purchases registered on the front of what we, in our household, consider to be 'things that aren't really food'.  Things like instant Mac 'n Cheese (not sure if he had any of those) may fill your belly for awhile without really feeding you.  

We have a large, deep freezer in our garage which is a helpful tool in my quest to manage our consumable spending.  One of the consumables I store up is bread from our local bakery outlet.  I lose my enthusiasm for baking our bread in the mix of a busy homeschool life and I have found a few good varieties of bread at the outlet.  I spent some time there one day reading labels and I have my favorites--there is one brand that forgoes the popular use of high fructose corn syrup.  On a recent trip this was my $21 haul....(and for every $5  you get to choose a free item!)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nitty Gritty....

I have two homeschool students--Mr. Almost 13 and Miss Almost 10.  This year we have been working our way through Easy Grammar Daily Grams as the foundation of our 'grammar' allotment on the daily schedule. I sold our Easy Grammar lesson books as I found them not to be very intuitive or appealing, but Daily Grams are wonderful.  We used to have a similar program when I taught in the public schools called Daily Language Review.  I love Daily Grams because they offer just that--a daily gram of grammar.  Each exercise includes snippets of skill work beginning with editing and ending with a sentence combining activity.  

 In order to truly assess our children's spelling and grammar we need to observe their writing. Spelling lists can be memorized, test formats can be rehearsed, but authentic writing reveals which tools the writer has in 'hisorher' hip pocket.   The writing samples and assignments I have given the kids over the past year have shown marked improvement and growth.  Some of this I attribute to the Daily Gram exercises.  I have observed growth in sentence structure, and improvement in spelling and punctuation. 

Along the way in our Daily Gram routine we have clearly needed a grammar reference book.  As a collector/seller of used books I have tried several grammar books from my gatherings and have ended up loving Nitty-Gritty Grammar A Not-So-Serious Guide to Clear Communication.  Mr. Almost 13 and I have discovered that this book is able to help and amuse at the same time.  One morning we encountered a preposition exercise and I had him refer to the Nitty Gritty book.  You have to love the description we found--

Use the 'squirrel and tree' trick to help you remember most prepositions.  the squirrel can go near the tree, by the tree, up the tree, across the branches, through the leaves, over the roots, around the trunk, above the limbs....  

The page thoroughly explains and lists prepositions, but the catchy intro cements the idea that many prepositions show position.  As one of the reviews on the back of the book attests, "If learning grammar is about as much fun as a trip to the dentist, this book is the laughing gas. ...The drills on correct speech are so wacky that you can't help but remember them."  


Friday, April 11, 2008

Beaver ponds...mud...and FINALLY some spring!

It's amazing what a few little furry creatures can do with a lot of trees and a long, wet spring.  Today we took off for an afternoon adventure at a homeschool friend's rural cabin and forest wonderland.  She had noted that some beavers have taken up residence in the low meadow between the forested hills.  A few years ago my father in law had a beaver move in along his seasonal stream on his high desert ranch--I guess I can see why he opted to have the critter trapped.  I imagined the beavers taking on his little desert willows that crowd along the stream banks.....but look what they can do......                                                                                                             
Spring has been a long time coming this year.  After a taste of February sunshine--just enough to get some early lettuce planted--we have had freezing nights, rain, cool temperatures and epic hailstorms.  Today, the sun was warm and lovely and danced and sparkled on these new bodies of water--the beaver ponds.  

Monday, April 7, 2008

Rambling about the garden...

I grew up under fir trees.  Well, actually I grew up in a house flanked and shaded by tall Douglas Fir trees on the edge of an urban forest.  Today that urban forest exists as reservations of trees amongst large houses.  Oh the trees....I always wanted a garden. 

When I 'grew up' I landed in a duplex with my sister and a sunny yard.  The 'other halfers' consisted of a single mom and her kids.  There wasn't much yard privacy between ourselves and the 'other halfers' and they had lettuce...just like that...right out of the ground.  I was well versed in ivy, dog-toothed lily, trilliums, blackberries, ferns, poison oak and other woodsy wonders, but lettuce?!  I marveled at that leafy wonder right there--by the patio!

After I married we rented a totally funky, slopey 1920s cottage with a big, big yard.  At last!  A garden! We played with bouquets of roses, marveled at mint (OK, I recognize the scourge now), and planted cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes.  Oh joy!  I loved it--even with the slugs.  

Over the years we lived in two more not quite so funky cottages with leafy shade trees and ample sun in the yards.  Between teaching school and raising babies I played in the gardens.  I evolved from tentatively putting lawn clippings around the azalea
 bush (will it kill it????) to embracing books like Lasagna Gardening, Eat More Dirt and Four Season Harvest.  I experimented with a walk-in greenhouse I built from PVC pipes, plastic and snap clamps, and bean teepees for the kids.  I loved it, only now the slugs and snails left me indignantly boiling with 'gastropod rage.'

We own a house now, with the required sunny yard.  The house was a broken, repossessed wonder complete with one dead and one sick tree (now gone), neglected lawns (mostly gone), and horrible, orange bark-o-mulch (totally gone).  My latest favorite book is Worms Eat My Garbage.  Yesterday, I reveled in the fun of a sunny, (finally!!) spring day in which to tackle my jungle.  After some helpful team weeding/clean up I worked on the food areas.  I have a lettuce house for fall/winter/spring lettuce in the front and a large vegetable/berry area in the back.  I'm trying to clear and clean these up as the weeds are bolting (why don't THEY freeze????) and I may actually use some Round Up in the nonfood areas (GASP!  Did I write that aloud?  I've always been so opposed.  Now, I'm overwhelmed and want a quick victory over the weed intrusion).  

As I worked yesterday at strawberry relocation, I decided to inspect last season's compost mountain.  I love composting.  I've learned so much from aforementioned books, but must add that I garden on the cheap.  'Lasagna gardening' has been our inexpensive answer to a yard wrapped in lawn and dead grass, neglected flower beds, clay and weedy spaces.   My 'lasagna garden' methods do not employ expensive components like peat moss, however.   The weed barrier recommended in Lasagna Gardening once consisted of the boxes our new roof came in.  (When you pull long pieces of packaging tape out of the soil you get a picture of what happens to plastic in the landfill.)  The layers have been a somewhat non-scientific layer of any leaves we can beg/borrow/steal, lawn trimmings, vegetable trimmings, pet rabbit bedding straw, and rabbit poo.  The resulting soil has been wonderful (the weeds love it too).  We've learned to spread the lawn trimmings soon rather than pile them (PEE YOO!  Even the neighbors will attest to the stink) and to try and mix the greens and the browns (we always seem to have an abundance of greens).   On the cheap side, after reading Worms Eat My Garbage I decided to forgo my hopes of a fussy, expensive  'Can-O-Worms' from the seed catalog and opted, instead, for the available black nursery tree pots knocking around in 'the junky yard area'.  The worms haven't minded and are amazing decomposers.

My strawberry relocation project required more soil, so the compost mountains were inspected and found to be ready for some serious mining.  Hopefully, the strawberry plants are as impressed as I was!  Those little decomposers spent the winter turning compost mountain into crumbly, sweet scented soil.  

I love the garden, the mess that it is.  One rainy morning a few days ago I looked longingly out at the work that needed doing and saw the robins searching for their daily worms.  One discovery from my random garden has been the birds.  We have no feeders but the garden itself.  The finches, hummingbirds, starlings, scrub jays, robins, and sparrows all hunt and peck and return regularly.  One winter morning
 a flock of 17 robins barraged the leafy mulch looking for worms.  I think if I wrote a book, maybe it would be titled Worms Eat My Garbage And Robins Eat My Worms.