Fall’s Fuzzy Caterpillars

As this is my last post in my September streak of consecutive entries, I was thinking about writing a summation explaining what I’ve discovered about what brings traffic to my site. I might still write that post but not today. Today I want to write about a different kind of traffic, caterpillar traffic.

Fall is a time of cooler temperatures, colorful leaves and shortening days. Around where I live, it’s also the time when the fuzzy brown and orange caterpillars start crossing the road. They’re woolly bear caterpillars and they’re the larval form of the Isabella Tiger Moth. After looking at pictures of the caterpillars and the moths they turn into, I think the caterpillars are cuter.

When I was little, I loved looking for the caterpillars in the corn stalks my mom would tie around our front light post. The caterpillars loved munching on the dried husks and leaves of the corn stalks and without fail I’d find two or three there every day. One year I took a few inside and placed them in my dollhouse to watch them crawl around. I made them little beds in cardboard jewelry boxes and tucked them in at night. This lasted a few days until one day I went down into the basement where my dollhouse was and found that they’d all made fuzzy cocoons. I was rather sad my caterpillars were gone. I put their cocoons outside because I didn’t think my mom would be happy if big moths started flying around her house.

On my recent walks with Jazzmin, we’ve seen many woolly bear caterpillars crawling swiftly across the road. When I see them, I quickly scoop them up and carry them the rest of the way across the road. Not many cars are going to swerve to avoid running over a caterpillar and I love doing my part to help nature survive the perils brought by humans.

Just this morning I saved 12 caterpillars on our six-mile walk. Some of them curl up in little balls when I pick them up but others keep on crawling as if my hand is just an object in their path. I imagine if anyone looks out their house windows when I’m rescuing a caterpillar they wonder why I just randomly walked into the middle of the road and crouched down. I always make sure there aren’t any cars coming which isn’t difficult on the bumper-to-bumper-free country roads I live and walk on.

The wide open spaces that surround us on our walks.

The wide-open spaces that surround us on our walks.

Following our six-mile walk Jazz was suitably exhausted and proceeded to nap for the rest of the morning. I would’ve liked to join her but there’s always freelance writing to do. I was content to settle in to work knowing that I’d made a small difference in the world, even if the only ones who appreciate it are the woolly bear caterpillars.

Jazz resisting the urge to nap...

Jazz resisting the urge to nap…

Jazz lost the battle against the nap.

Jazz lost the battle against the nap.

Man Not Included (Revisited)

I’ve learned a lot about the challenges involved with home ownership since I bought my own house two years ago. This was a post I wrote last October when I had the idea to hang some shelves. Perhaps I can impart some of my “wisdom” on fellow single chicks who find themselves faced with unexpected repairs or home improvements. You’ve heard of “batteries not included.” Well this is “Man Not Included.”

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Me and my drill. Back when I had long hair.

Me and my drill. Back when I had long hair.

Man Not Included – 10/9/2012

My youngest daughter loves her stuffed animals and toys. She loves them so much that she insists on taking several to bed with her. After several weeks of this, her bed always becomes rather cluttered but as she has the smallest bedroom and storage space is limited in my 900 square foot house, I had to figure out a workable solution. I am rather fond of home design and remodel shows and on such shows they often tout the importance of using vertical space, i.e. installing shelves on walls. This sounded like a good idea indeed and so I set about implementing it.

I grew up with two older brothers and was married forever so if a house project needed doing, there was always a man to do it. Now that I have my own house and am happily divorced (yes, I said happily, not a typo), it’s all up to me to do house projects. While it’s true I could have asked my oldest brother to help me with the task, he had already said he’d help me move my friend’s slightly used but working washer and dryer into my basement. I figured him doing me that favor was enough to satisfy brotherly love and loyalty for a while. I didn’t want to push my luck.

Shelving project in mind, I headed to a big box home improvement store Friday evening after work. The shelves to support a collection of stuffed animals and toys didn’t need to be anything heavy duty so I started perusing the selection of those white painted wire shelves used for closet organization. There was a package of two four-foot shelves and the price was right so I placed them in my cart. I then picked out the brackets I needed and started looking for the shelf supports. None of the supports in the aisle looked right and my confused expression eventually drew the attention of an employee. He helped me find what he thought would work and I added the supports to my cart.

I know from watching and helping with several home improvement projects that shelves need to be securely mounted to the wall to ensure safety and longevity. The brackets for the shelves included anchors and screws and as I know you can never find a wall stud when you need one, I was certain I’d have to use anchors. Installing anchors requires drilling holes. I didn’t own a drill so off to the power tool section I went. Now I am certainly not trying to sound sexist here, but it is very rare thing indeed to see a woman among the power tools unless it’s the holidays and she’s shopping for her man. There were a handful of men in the power tools section thoughtfully pouring over the selection of drills and bits and sanders, etc. and then there was me.

I glanced at the cordless drills and saw a small Black & Decker one that appealed to me but as the boxes for them were in a different aisle, I decided I’d move down and pick out some drill and screwdriver bits first. Thankfully the shelf brackets said exactly what size drill bit was required for the included anchors and I found that in a set of 29 drill bits that was on sale. I could have just purchased the 3/8 inch drill bit that was needed for the job but I’d learned from observation that there always seems to be a need for a decent sized collection of bits. As I’m certain I’ll have more home improvement projects down the road, I made the most economical and sensible choice. I also grabbed a small package of double ended screwdriver bits and then went to the aisle with the cordless drills in boxes. The one I’d see on display wasn’t in stock so I grabbed the next size up for only slightly more money.

I now felt that I was properly “armed” for my shelving project and made my purchases. This may sound funny, but buying tools always gives me this cool sense of power and empowerment. I am a single woman and I own my home so it just makes sense that I should be able to take care of whatever needs to be done. I admit that I have no desire to ever attempt to repair my vehicles and prefer to pay qualified mechanics to do so, but my house is different. It’s a lot of work to maintain a home in the country, especially one on 1.4 acres but I always manage and I’m constantly learning. With each new task I accomplish, I gain more pride in my home and in myself and such qualities are not a bad thing to possess. How did installing the shelving go? Well, that’s a story for another day…

The Desire to Share

As I’ve said many times, I love to cook and bake. I used to be a great hostess when I was married and my then husband’s friends and coworkers would come over. I put together food for our annual Halloween party that included delectable treats for kids and adults. I love cooking a lot of food for a house full of people and enjoying it with them. That element of my life evaporated when I got divorced and all of those “friends” chose my ex over me. I haven’t hosted a party in four years, I don’t have enough friends to fill a house anymore.

I still love making lots of food and trying new recipes though. I have great hope that eventually I’ll have a social circle again. I’m pretty sure it will happen when I live in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. I get glimpses of what can be when I visit North Shore Massachusetts. Complete strangers are kind to me, people I’ve never met before treat me like a friend and want to see me again. For a semi-introvert, still inwardly shy girl like me, that means a lot. Someday I won’t be a tourist anymore, someday I’ll be a resident.

cider bread ingredients

The hard cider bread ready to come out of the oven.

The hard cider bread ready to come out of the oven.

I’m looking forward to being that house on the street that emits such amazing sweet and savory smells everyone wonders “What’s Julie mixing up now?” and then comes over to find out. The way I bake and cook, there will be plenty to go around! I’ll enjoy soaking up the feedback on new recipes and revel in any compliments I receive. I’ll have infamous cookouts where people come watch me battle grill flames and come out victorious. I’ll deliver trays of cookies, muffins and breads to nearby businesses just to make them smile. Yes, it will be lovely!

My girls favorite little crescent dogs

My girls favorite little crescent dogs

I miss sharing that part of myself, the part of me that I express by making irresistible food. I put a lot of thought and care into what I bake. I’m always tweaking recipes to make it just a smidge better and trying new flavor combinations. I spend my days of solitude now preparing for that life when I have a social circle again. Four years is a long time for a hostess not to have the opportunity to do what she does best.

Queen of the Bats

That blur is a little brown bat.

That blur is a little brown bat.

No, I’m not talking about some fantasy novel or cheesy movie on Sci-Fi, I’m talking about me. I’m not into vampires and the idea that being an ageless, bloodsucking undead creature is somehow a romantic thing. No, I just like bats. Pretty much any kind of bats, though some of them do look a bit funky. I love flying foxes and think they’re the most adorable combination of two of my favorite creatures: bats and foxes. I do know they’re not actually foxes but they’re still cute, even with fruit guts smeared all over their noses.

I first remember seeing bats flying around when my family would take summer trips up to the Adirondack Mountains. The bats were always flying over the lake when we’d sit on the beach around a little campfire. I didn’t see bats flying around my yard until I moved out into the hills of the area where I live now. What we have around here are little brown bats. I’ve seen many of them flying around the yard of my current home ever since I moved in two summers ago. I love to watch them fly around snatching up insects, flapping their wings so fast they’re almost impossible to see.

I’ve seen a few little brown bats up close in my lifetime. There was one inside the sanctuary of the church where I worked as a secretary many years ago. The church custodian was terrified of the thing but I managed to nab it in the net and release it happily back outside. My cat Owl is a bit too good at being a hunter and managed to snatch a couple bats at my old house. I rescued the bats from her and put them somewhere safe until they could de-stun enough to fly away. There were a couple bats living in the barn of my old house but they eventually moved out when my ex-husband started actually using the door they called home.

I have a small bat house but when I hung it in a tree, it became filled with nasty web caterpillars, not bats. I was going to hang it somewhere on my property this summer but never got to it. Turns out, I didn’t need to worry. As I was working in Jordan’s room last week, I heard the sound of bat squeaks outside her window. Curious, I looked out the window and saw three bats fly by in quick succession. I thought that was really neat! Then the light bulb turned on. Needing to know if my sudden conclusion was correct, I went outside and walked around the end of the house where Jordan’s window is. As I reached the chimney, a bat swooped out from somewhere toward the peak of my roof. I moved around so I had a clear view of the top of my chimney and the side of my house and within moments, I saw a little brown bat climb out of a hole in my siding behind the chimney and then fly off. As I watched, another half dozen bats flew out. So I do indeed have a bat house…or a bat attic at least.

I read up on humane ways to remove bats from the attic but I don’t see any huge harm in them living there. I don’t use my attic crawlspace nor do I ever intend to so the bats might as well enjoy it. I imagine they’ve been living up there for years and they were nice enough to eliminate the nest of bees in my siding so I think they’ve earned their keep. It’s actually kind of nice knowing I have a family of little brown bats in my home; it makes me feel less alone when I don’t have the girls. I am the queen of many things and now I’m also the Queen of the Bats. Better than the crazy cat lady if you ask me…

Making More With Less

If I could, I’d spend all day baking and cooking in the kitchen. Well, all day in the cold, snowy weather at least. In the nicer weather I prefer working after it gets dark so I don’t feel like I’m missing a beautiful day outside. I do that often enough when I’m writing freelance.

The kitchen of my dreams that I discussed in my previous post might seem a bit extravagant I suppose but believe me, I’d make great use of everything in it! The kitchen in my current house isn’t overly big but it’s set up pretty well for baking. I have a nice peninsula on one side that I can use as a baking prep area when it isn’t covered with school papers and design magazines. The countertop space otherwise isn’t overly plentiful and with my coffee maker, toaster oven, spice rack, baking canisters and dish rack on them, the surface area is greatly diminished. I make do with the space I have though and have learned to consolidate and tuck away.

The secret ingredient in my applesauce.

The secret ingredient in my applesauce.

My range is a nice gas unit with reliable burners and ample oven space for two sheets of cookies. In my previous home there was an electric range and I was worried about using gas because of my occasional mishaps with open flames. I got the hang of using gas pretty quick though and I love how much easier it is to control the temperature on the burners. Thankfully my microwave is a space-saving unit above the oven so it doesn’t use up any premium counter space. Oddly enough the microwave is black but the range, dishwasher and previous refrigerator were white.

My least favorite part about cooking and baking is washing the dishes. You didn’t read wrong, I did just say I had a dishwasher. However, I also have sulfur water and it’s not very effective at removing dishwasher detergent from plates, glasses and silverware. So instead I wash everything by hand because then there isn’t nasty film all over everything I eat off of. My nice big refrigerator died this spring and as I couldn’t afford to replace it with another big unit, I bought a small fridge/freezer combo similar to what you’d find in a hotel. It was supposed to be a temporary fix but I’ve been living with it for six months. Putting groceries away is kind of like a puzzle but I’ve got a system now. Hopefully I’ll be getting a new, grown-up size fridge in the near future. In the meantime, I make do.

My latest batch of fluffy pancakes!

My latest batch of fluffy pancakes!

The size of my kitchen doesn’t prohibit me from making what I love. I’m always mixing up cookies, muffins, soft pretzels, bread and cakes. I love to cook fish, rice, veggies, pasta, tacos, you name it! Would I love more area for my prep work? Or one of those neat fridges with the freezer on the bottom? Or enough counterspace to keep my food processor, blender and mixer out? Or a dishwasher that washed dishes? Of course! I’d be in paradise in a nice big kitchen. I like the ones where the burners are in the middle of the island so people can watch what you’re making. I could pretend I have my own cooking show when I’m entertaining! That would require a social life and friends to entertain as well as the kitchen, but oh well. My dream, my personal cooking show.

The picture below is similar to my kitchen layout (with way nicer appliances) only the island in this one is a peninsula against the wall in mine.

Below is an example of a kitchen that’s a bit over the top even for me. Talk about open flames!

Envisioning a Dream Kitchen

 

wayside kitchens littleton ma

Kitchen Design by Wayside Kitchens in Littleton, MA

I think I managed to perfect my pancake recipe the other night. I often make pancakes for dinner. It’s a tradition my father started and one I enjoy carrying on. The pancakes came out fluffy, moist and melt in our mouths! The girls had four each that night and they were gone after two morning breakfasts. I was so proud of myself I finally took out a new 3×5 card and rewrote the recipe so I’d know exactly what to do next time. I’m looking forward to next time!

The following night I made my best homemade macaroni and cheese ever! It wasn’t technically macaroni and cheese because I didn’t use elbow macaroni, I used mini shells but it was still good! I don’t think every woman’s place is in the kitchen but I love being in the kitchen cooking and baking and I happen to be a woman. My kitchen sink is right in front of a window and I love being able to watch and listen to the birds on my back feeder. I also just started a small herb garden and every day I set it on the windowsill to soak up the sunshine.

The view out my kitchen window.

The view out my kitchen window.

It should come as no surprise that when I’m looking at pictures of homes and interior design online my favorite room to investigate is the kitchen. I dream of having one of those big kitchens with an eat-in island or peninsula, double ovens, several professional-grade gas burners, a huge fridge/freezer combo, two sinks (one of them apron front), a stand mixer with tons of attachments and beautiful layers of light from windows, pendant lamps, under-cabinet lighting and recessed fixtures. That might sound excessive but this is a dream and I don’t put limits on my dreams.

In between articles today I’d pause to look at gallery photos from kitchen remodeling businesses in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. I decided it would be good to know what my options are when I need my dream kitchen built in my dream New England home. Just because it’s a dream doesn’t mean I can’t be practical about it. I’ve embedded links to the businesses in the photos I used. I will now shamelessly plug that I’m available to write blog postings for them if they’re ever interested.

The picture below is my winner for ultimate dream kitchen layout. I love the colors, the unique backsplash behind the cooktop and all the windows but there are some things I’d want to change. Pros: The overall layout, tons of natural light, combination of darker wood cabinets and lighter wood island (complete with beadboard wainscoting), glass front cabinets with interior lighting, the tile wall, has all the features I like including double ovens, dishwasher, two sinks (one by the window and one in the island), gas cooktop and large island with seating. Cons: stainless steel appliances (I prefer black), no cabinet facade on the refrigerator, knobs as cabinet hardware (I have them now and they come unscrewed all the time) the color and style of the stools doesn’t seem to fit the room and the pendant lights are pretty but a bit too small. Perhaps I’m a bit picky but hey, this is my dream and I’m allowed.

Design by Dream Kitchens of Nashua, NH

Design by Dream Kitchens of Nashua, NH

To see all the pins I added today check out my Favorite Kitchen Designs on Pinterest!

My Way is a Unique Highway (revisited)

I’ve had a rather full day of…well, everything. These are the days I’m glad I have old blog posts on Corbin Creations to re-post here. This was one I wrote when I posted the first part of the story detailing my first trip to Massachusetts. That entire story is an e-book on Amazon and were I better at self-promotion, I’d say click here now! And have a handy-dandy hyperlink. I’m not doing that though. I’m just posting the words of a blog entry that even a year later, still inspires me.

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My Way is a Unique Highway – 8/6/2012

I believe I’ve probably mentioned this in previous blogs, but I don’t do things the usual way. If there’s a normal, set path for doing something then I most assuredly deviate and blaze a new trail with my machete of determination. I set a goal and it is vivid in my mind and within my power to obtain and so I pursue it every way I can figure out how. As I’m traveling the new path, I think up all these ideas and aspects of my goal that were not immediately visible to me and I then have to find bridges over occasional pitfalls. Luckily for me, I was blessed with a clever and intelligent mind that continues to amaze me and I am always able to build that bridge and find the light in total darkness.

I have never been and will never be, an average girl. Average is boring and predictable and I am vivacious and spontaneous. We are all of us extraordinary, if we just take the time to stop and look inside ourselves and realize what makes us all unique. I highly doubt following the rules brought success to any of the great trail blazers in history and being timid just means you get shoved aside out of the path of braver folks. I don’t take being pushed aside well and I certainly don’t abide by being overlooked and forgotten. To that end I’ve learned not to let certain things faze me and to accept that when someone fails to see my potential, it is a failing on their part and not my own. I’m tough and I’m strong but I am also very loving and expressive. It really is all about finding balance.

In my quest for my dreams, I have posted the first of many installments in my Massachusetts story on the page appropriately named “Massachusetts.” It truly is my story and not a fictional tale meant to draw in audiences. Writing fiction is far safer and what I’m accustomed to but playing it safe only seems to hold me back. You can certainly get to know an author through their fictional characters because they are all extensions of the writer, but I thought for now I’d just skip ahead and let you know the real me. My beloved English teacher told me in 11th grade that I should write my autobiography and I remember thinking he was crazy. I was only 16, what did I know of life yet? Turns out, he knew what he was talking about and finally at 35, I’m taking his advice. I regret that he has passed and is not here to witness my transformation from shy girl to brave, bold, determined, stubborn, strong woman but I know that his spirit is impressed and continues to cheer me on. Thank you, Derek, I promise I’ll make you proud!