Monday, April 14, 2014

Sweet and Sticky Spring Time: Ice Cream and Maple Syrup

It's spring time! Yes, winter coat and all! The sun is out, so even though it's not quite warm enough to go sans coats, we had to stop for ice cream cones the other night on our way home from school, work, and daycare. Whenever I find myself wishing for a new car, I have to remind myself that if I had a new car, I wouldn't buy my one-year-old an ice cream cone to eat on the way home from daycare. Then I decide I'm okay with my messy, dirty old car. If it means my kids can enjoy their sticky, drippy, ice cream cones without me stressing about getting the car dirty, I'll keep the old car. For now. As soon as we got home, I scooped her out of the car and let her drip ice cream in the yard instead. She may or may not have shared a little with our big furry friend Drake.
Along with ice cream, spring brings maple syrup. Cliff has been busy collecting sap for a few weeks and finally has it all cooked!


The kids camped out in their little seats (Gavin in his lawn chair and Addi in her sled) and watched the sap cook. It was a chilly day, but they were fairly content just to be outside.

Cliff's Dad helped cut up the pallets that we were using for firewood and kept Cliff company while the sap cooked down.



Mmmm... can't wait for pancakes, waffles, sausages... and ice cream!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Fox Says...

I realize it isn't officially spring quite yet, but it's close!
Our fox friends say so! 

We have a fox family who made their home smack dab in the middle of our corn field last year! We're assuming it's the same fox family that has made dens around our place for the past few years. One year they burrowed into the side of the road bank where the culvert goes under the road and we could see their den entrance from our yard and from my bedroom window. Another year they settled under the neighbors old granary, and we loved watching the little pups playing in the yard every time we walked by.   
This current den has been through quite a bit already as Cliff remembered seeing it, but not being sure what it was, when he was planting last spring. That means that it survived spring planting, herbicide spray, fall harvest and plowing already!
We can see the fox den from our living room / dining room windows and from our patio on the side of the house where we spend the most time. We keep a set of binoculars right next to the patio door so we can get a closer look at what they're up to. We enjoyed watching them this fall and winter, until early January when they suddenly disappeared. Every morning and every evening we could see one or both of them lying on top of the snow outside the den, soaking in some sun. They were even out there when the sun was not out and it seemed too cold to be lying out in the wind and cold.
One of our neighbors asked if we would mind if he brought some table scraps out to the fox den, since it has been such a harsh winter and we all knew there wasn't much easy access to food in the wild this winter (although we're fairly confident that they were probably well fed this summer, given that Stripes and two of her kittens mysteriously disappeared mid-July). We told the neighbor that would be just fine with us if he wanted to put some food out for the foxes.
That was mid-January and that was the last time we had seen the foxes. A day or two later, we thought at first glance that there were fox pups crawling around on the snow outside the den, but when we looked closer, we saw that it was crows. Yes, crows. I was sure that meant the foxes were gone. They had either left (maybe because their den had been tampered with) or they had died (possibly of starvation?). I knew there was no way that crows would risk feeding at the entrance to a fox den, free lunch or not! Crows may not be very smart, but they can't be that dumb. They would be lunch before they knew what hit them!
For weeks, we held out hope that maybe one day we would see a fox emerge from that den. It snowed and snowed and snowed and there was no sign of life at all from that little mound out in the field. No freshly dug dirt dusted over the top of the clean snow, no paw prints or trails or any other evidence of life. We researched the red fox on the internet in the hope of learning that they do, in fact, hibernate and of course we were reassured that they do not, in fact, hibernate.   
We did read that fox mate in January and occasionally "den up" immediately following mating season and that pups can be born March, but the fox do still need to eat, so one of them would have to be leaving the den to hunt. When the temperature reached 51 on Monday quite a bit of our snow melted and I was so excited when I saw dirt on the snow outside the fox den, until I realized that it was just the old dirt that was not exposed because all of the fresh white snow that was on top had melted away, exposing the dirty ice and snow underneath.

...and then it happened...
This morning I got up early with Addison and happened to glance out the patio door and out of the corner of my eye I saw a lovely dark shape on top of the fox den. I quickly set Addison down and grabbed the binoculars from the hutch beside the patio door! My heart was actually racing and I was holding my breath in anticipation. It's been at least six weeks since we last saw any sign of the fox and I was anxious to figure out what I was seeing...
and there it was... one of the foxes was lying on top of the snow outside the den. It picked it's head up and looked around a few times. It stood up and turned in a circle before lying back down again. I had to go wake Cliff. I went in to the bedroom with the binoculars in my hands and sung in my sweet sing-songy voice so as not to alarm him so early in the morning, "Guess who I just saaaaw out and about in the snooooow..." and he said "no way!"

Yay! They live!
I love foxes and I loved them long before this crazy fox-frenzy that has popped up in the last year. I like to say I liked foxes before foxes were cool. Same with owls. I have had a thing for owls for years and suddenly owls are everywhere!

Some of my favorite Fox images:

Love this little guy...
Source: joojoo Etsy shop

Lonely Winter Fox by Teagan White

Fritz the Fruit-Foraging Fox by Teagan White

...and the hedgehog because I think the hedgehog or porcupine will be the next rage and I just want you to know how much I loved him before he was all the rage.

Source: joojoo on Etsy


...and my alltime favorite Teagan White illustration...

I hope to order a large print of this one and hang it up in my kids' playhouse. I just love this one and how all of the little animals are "helping". That little fox came all ready to work with his screwdrivers strapped over his shoulder! So cute!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Weekend Recap - The Perfect Balance

Another fun weekend is behind us. It seems that we usually go into the weekend with just one or two little things planned - no big deal - and by Sunday night we realize just how blessed we are with family and friends and so many fun opportunities.
 I always struggle a bit with the weekends because although Cliff and I are both "off work" on Fridays, he spends Friday and Saturday doing farm work and I end up spending those days at home with the kids. I LOVE spending time with my kids, but I have to admit that I get really lonely for adult company and I become easily overwhelmed with what I think I should be getting done housework-wise while the kids are needing my love and attention as well.
I try to spend Friday getting the housework done with the idea that once that is done I will then have the rest of the weekend to play and relax and just enjoy the time with my family. Somehow that plan just never works out. The reality is that I end up spending the day trying to get laundry and dishes and cleaning done, but making no progress and then getting frustrated with the kids for keeping me from getting anything done, when all they really want is for me to spend some time playing with them. Playing. Not folding laundry in their room while they play or picking up the toys they're trying to play with or plopping them down with paints and paper while I do the dishes. I'm SO guilty of turning playtime into cleanup time. So, by Friday night I am frustrated that I got nothing done, the kids are frustrated that I've told them "just a minute" fifty times and "I have to get this done first" twenty times, and I am feeling bad about being such a rotten parent and for getting so frustrated when I know all they want is me. If I don't make plans to get out of the house some time on Friday or Saturday, then Saturday can sometime goes the same way as Friday and that's never good for any of us. It seems the only way we can maintain the right balance is when we make plans to get out and do something together as a family, but that does mean sacrificing some housework and maintenance/upkeep and it definitely means Cliff doesn't get to check as many things off the farm's to-do list. If I spend Friday and Saturday at home with the kids, then by Sunday, I will do almost anything to get out of the house and have some "me" time. Sometimes that "me" time is actually family fun time and that is just fine. That can be just what I need as long as it's all four of us and not just me and the kids. Cliff has been really good about helping to make sure that I get some time to myself, but I also have to remind him that sometimes I need time with him too - him and the kids or just him. Some weeks we are like ships passing in the night. Even if we're both home, we are both so busy taking care of things that its easy to become disconnected.
I'm working on trying to reorganize my weekend plans so that I do something fun with the kids on Friday when I know Cliff is going to be tied up on the farm all day anyway, so that I still have my sanity on Saturday and am not a complete grouch by Sunday. (yes, all weekend cooped up = grouchy mom)  
We knew going into this past weekend that there were several fun opportunities and invitations to keep us busy, and that I just needed to make some decisions about what it was I was going to do. We talked about all of the following possibilities for the weekend:
Gavin and I had a haircut / play date scheduled for Friday
The new planter that Cliff bought for the farm was scheduled to be delivered Friday
Cliff was expecting a semi truck to come haul out some corn on Friday
Saturday mornings Gavin has archery
There was a school carnival Saturday at one of the elementary schools in town
There was a family fun night at a local indoor pool Saturday night
I wanted to take the kids to visit my parents
I've been wanting to take the kids to the community center pool near my parents house
My sisters hosted a Mardi Gras Crab Cook at their house Sunday
I knew we'd never make all of that stuff happen, or we would go crazy, but I definitely wanted to do some of it!

Friday morning went fine. I did get most of the vacuuming done, put a pork loin in the crockpot for dinner, and put our bedsheets in the wash, although I didn't really take much time to play with the kids. I wasn't too concerned about missing playtime with the kids because I knew Gavin was about to have a playdate and Addison was going to Grandma and Grandpa's for the afternoon so she would get her fill of one-on-one attention. We had a quick lunch at home before packing up to drop Addison off at G'ma and G'pa's. It started snowing just before lunch and when we got to the end of our driveway, we saw that the semi truck hauling away our old planter had gone off the road.

Cliff was there with the tractor trying to help him out, but ended up having to call a towing company to pull the semi back up onto the road. It was an unexpected bit of excitement in our day, but we were glad Cliff and the truck driver had already unloaded the new planter and that it was the old planted that went off the road! Gavin and I dropped Addison off with Grandma and Grandpa and headed back down the road for our friends' house where Gavin and I would both get hair cuts and Gavin would get to play with his friend!
Gavin had a great time and did not want to leave when it was time for us to go! His new haircut looks so sharp! Thanks to our friend Lindsey for her patience with this antsy 5-yr old and for her crazy-amazing hair-styling skill!

Lindsey and I had the wonderful opportunity to sit and talk to eachother without interruption. It seems most of the time we're playing interference or standing in the school parking lot, or it's a big group of us girls together (which is always fun, but can make it difficult to have very in-depth conversation). It was a lovely visit and I had no idea how much I needed that girl time. Neither me or Gavin wanted to go when it was time to leave.
When we picked up Addison at G'ma and G'pa's we stayed to visit for an hour or so and then ended up inviting them down to our house for supper. I had put a pork loin in the crockpot and was looking forward to one of my favorite Balsamic Glazed Pork Loin recipes! I had two bags of our own frozen sweet corn thawing in the sink and had planned to make potatoes or wild rice to go with it. Dinner was great and I always love having dinner guests, so it made our Friday evening at home a little more exciting.
Sunday morning I packed the kids in the car, picked up my sister Carrie and her little guy, and headed for my parents for a few hours. We had a great visit at their house, and although it was below zero for part of the day, we stayed plenty warm with both of their wood-burning stoves going and lots of good food. Carrie and I had each brought some things from home for lunch so that Mom wouldn't have to think about what to feed us, and we ended up having a great meal of yummy mashed potatoes, balsamic-glazed pork, shredded crock-pot chicken, the creamiest sweet corn, fresh veggies, and jello. The boys played so good together and had tons of fun moving all of the furniture in my parents' basement to create a barricade that they then hid behind to throw balls at any "enemies" who dared come down to the basement. It was great to see the two boys play so well for so long. (they used to fight like brothers... all. the. time!)

We left my parents' house around 3:15 and got home a lot earlier than Cliff expected us. He thought we were going up to the Mardi Gras crab cook up at my sisters' place for the evening, but I hadn't planned on it as I knew that would get too late for the kids and I didn't want to push the limits.

I started feeling overwhelmed the moment I got home and just felt like I needed something. I needed some company and I knew that Cliff and I wouldn't be able to connect while trying to get the kids fed and to bed, so I asked my friend Missy if she happened to be free and by a miracle of all miracles, she was! Our husbands both stayed home with the kids and we headed into town for dinner.  

When we realized that our first choice of restaurants wasn't open on Sundays, we drove down Main Street and ended up at Brick's Neapolitan Pizza. I had never eaten there, but had walked by several times while heading into other restaurants and shops and have always wanted to try their pizza. Missy and I shared a Gorgonzola Salad and a Gusto Pizza and the food was delicious! They had a nice selection of a few favorite local brews, so I enjoyed a New Glarus Spotted Cow, one of my favorite Wisconsin beers! 
The only thing better than the food was the company. I crave times like this, particularly one-on-one time with a good friend. When I got home from dinner with Missy, Cliff already had Addison asleep in her bed and was all snuggled up in Gavin's bed with him reading bedtime books.
A let out a huge sigh. My heart was full of emotion. I was overwhelmed with blessings, relieved to have had a little break from mothering, thankful for my amazing friends, sisters, and parents all with whom I got to spend time over the weekend. I was quickly reminded of the chores and projects I didn't quite get to over the weekend, but reminded myself that the cleaning and upkeep can wait, but these times with our babies are fleeting. I was both looking forward to the opportunity to go to work on Monday and for the relief that brings from having to keep the kids busy and entertained all day, but also a little disappointed that I had four days "away" from them ahead of me before our next three-day weekend. I am so blessed to have this great balance of work and home life, but I am really looking forward to spring and summer when we can be more active, enjoy being outside, and get over this "what on earth am I going to do with these two all day?" feeling that I always get on our stay-home days.  Thank goodness for good friends!
Already looking forward to next weekend when I hope to plan smart again so that I can enjoy the best of both downtime at home with my kids and a little refueling time for me!
I have exciting plans for myself for a Friday night out with the ladies and I'm making plans with friends/kids for some possible sledding and/or dinner together later in the weekend! Hopefully I'll have an update for you on Monday!
What are you planning for this weekend?