Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas To All....

We are having a blustery and wet Christmas morning (I have beaten everyone else up, as usual).  I guess it won't be a white Christmas - there was a slight chance.  Our weather has been so nice, and mild, up to this point, that my plants and animals were confused.  Our apricot tree had buds on it - in November, mind you - and we still were getting zucchini, basil, and tomatoes from the garden up until a week ago (I know, I know, it's a blessing, but really, nobody wants to eat that much zucchini).  And one of the chickens actually started molting (she looks horrible - very comical and entertaining for the rest of us).
As I sit here and wait for the pitter patter of feet (no longer little, for I wear the smallest shoes of all of us now), I will perhaps listen to some of my favorite Christmas songs, since I am the first one to the CD player.  Bear in mind, I have extremely eclectic tastes in music. I noticed this year that although I love these songs more than all others, I can't actually sing them, because they put a lump in my throat.  I think I'm a sucker for deep lyrics and originality of sound.  First, I love "What Child Is This" (even though I have a vague memory of being forced at about age 5 to sing it with my parents up in front of the whole church - I'm sure that was worth the price of admission!), especially verses 2 and 3, and my favorite version is by Roberta Flack from the "My Christmas" CD.  I admit that the first time I heard it, I thought, "Oh my, what has she done to this song?", but now I just love it, maybe because those meaningful lyrics are easy to hear and understand.  I also love the second verse of 'O, Holy Night' : "Truly he taught us to love one another.  His law is love and His gospel is peace.  Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease."  I'm teary just writing the words!  But my very very favorite Christmas song is an obscure song that is never played on the radio.  In fact, it is the lone 'mellow' song on a punk rock Christmas CD called "Happy Christmas, volume 2" (I was shocked to discover there was more than one!).  The song is called 'Peace Child' by The Normals.  It is a kind of re-writing of 'O Come, O Come, Emanuel'.  It talks about "the kingdom that cradles the broken" and everyone being invited to the dance, because "heaven is full of us peasants".  Yes, I torture my family with these songs every December (and sometimes beyond).  Can you imagine the delight if I could learn to play them myself on the piano or guitar?  Why, I could play them all year....hmmm....not a bad idea.  Maybe I should go now.
Well, although it looks like our Christmas will be wet, we will still spend it enjoying each other, and thinking about all of our amazing family and friends.  Really, I am related to some extraordinary people, and have some very cool friends.  So if you are reading this to keep up with the Pappas Family, have a WONDERFUL Christmas.  I suppose I'll go put some music on.....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Smart Dumb Dog

Don't get me wrong - I love my dog.  Max is big and black and loud, and he scares strangers who come to the house (Perfect!  No salespeople ever come through the gate).  He is my running buddy - he's gone with me rain, shine, cold, hot, 2 miles, 5 miles.  When my neighbors' goats escaped the yard and began wandering down the road, Max rounded them up and herded them back - apparently by instinct (I never taught him that!).  One day at the beach, he got in front of a pit-bullish-type dog that was heading for Jason.  We adopted this dog from the pound, and I consider it one of the best deals ever.  He doesn't chew or dig up the yard, or require professional grooming, and he doesn't even poop in the grass (and we have a lot of grass!) - he always goes in the dirt way back by the fence.  He has been trained with relative ease to 'sit', 'shake hands', to leave the cat and chickens alone (the fact that he doesn't go after the chickens is quite major in Garden Farms, where it seems like everyone's dog has eaten one of everyone else's chickens), and most recently, Jason taught Max to lie down as if dead when one points at him and says, "Bang!"  He keeps critters out of the yard and has caught several squirrels and gophers (this is why Jamey likes him).
So it was confusing the other Sunday when Jason and I got home and there was a dog-head-sized hole in the picket fence.  And Max was sitting on the other side of it.  Our guess is that he panicked when he heard some distant gunshots (hey, it happens in my neighborhood...).  Perhaps the most puzzling thing, though, is that there is actually an opening in the fence about a foot to the right of where the dog went through.  It would be like me, leaving my room by going through a wall (using my head!) instead of the doorway just to the right.  So we stood and looked dumbfounded at the hole, wondering how a dog so smart could do such an utterly dumb thing, wishing that one person had been home to see it happening.  
And the debate among us continues: is he smart? Or is he truly a dumb, dumb dog?

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Mouse In The Kitchen

It's that time of year here on the central coast....the time when it begins to freeze at night (finally that zucchini plant is starting to die off).  The walnuts begin falling, along with leaves (it's so uncanny, but the leaves seem to fall right into the rain gutters!).  And of course, that means that the critters are looking for warm places to hang out.  Mainly, inside our house.  The kitchen in particular, which makes sense, because there are delicious things there (bread, nuts, the compost bucket, yum yum).  I know there's been a mouse in the kitchen - I have seen the evidence.  He or she has left me a present in one of my cabinets, if you know what I mean.  
When I was little, I used to collect mice (cute little stuffed mice, ceramic ones, etc).  Clearly there was something very wrong with me.  Now that I'm older I am also wiser.  I know that mice are plague- and hanta-virus-carrying rodents, with ugly pointy teeth and creepy eyes.  They give me the willies.  And they need to stay OUT of my house.
My tactic - I put sticky traps everywhere.  And, because one of my uncles made fun of me for not using 'real' mousetraps, I got a couple of those, too.  But the mouse must be either smart or lucky, because I haven't caught it yet.  This is where having pets comes in handy though.  Last week I did find a small carcass out in the yard.  I don't know if it was a cat or a dog that got it, but that animal is my hero!
 I'm keeping the traps out in case any mouse relatives decide to explore the inside world, and I will be keeping score in this latest 'game' that is on at our house (FYI we will be getting buckets of walnuts this year, so my team definitely won the squirrel war!).

Some Thoughts On The Half-Marathon...

Well, I did it!  On October 12, along with almost 800 other people, I ran 13.1 miles from downtown SLO to Shell Beach.  My goals were to run the entire way, and to finish in under 2 1/2 hours, and I did both!  I got some souveniers - a t-shirt, a great breakfast afterwards at the Seaside Cafe (courtesy of Jamey), and tendinitis in my right foot (it's almost better).
The first thing I noticed (not new knowledge) is that I am extremely quick to compare myself to everyone around me (I've talked to so many college girls over the years, and this seems to be an almost universal female condition.  I had kind of thought I had grown out of it).  For example, Jamey dropped me off at the starting line about 30 minutes before the race began, and I sat there for about a half an hour thinking things like, "Wow, she's wearing a really cool wicking shirt.  I probably won't beat her," and, "Wow, she shouldn't be wearing shorts with all of that cellulite.  I bet I can beat her."  This just shows what I know....I came in just ahead of the woman wearing the wicking shirt and well behind cellulite-woman.
At about mile 5, we went under the freeway and right at the side of the course was the biggest snake skin I've ever seen just laying there beside the road!  It was all I could do not to bend down and pick it up and take it along with me - must be a residual instinct from my days as homeschooler extraordinaire.  It was a treasure.  But fortunately I realized how bizarre I would have looked running 8 miles carrying a snake skin, or with it draped around my neck, and I just passed it by (I seriously thought about having Jamey drive back past it on the way home, but by then I was tired).
Here's the funny thing that happened (well, I was amused, anyway).  When I run I listen to my ipod shuffle.  I never know what song is going to come on next, so it makes it more fun for me.  My very favorite song, "24" by Switchfoot, came on at mile 11, so I listened to it three times in a row.  But then I thought I should let it move on, and finish to a different song.  So I kind of wondered what kind of song would come on to appropriately guide me to the finish line.  And it was...."I'm Not Alright" by Sanctus Real.  Classic!  Because at mile 12 1/2, I pretty much wasn't alright.  
Overall, I had a great time training for the race, and besides my foot starting to really hurt at about mile 10, I had fun running.  It's good to know I can do it (and if I can do it, I'm pretty sure anyone else can, too.  Except Max, the dog.  He can't go more than 6 miles).
Next year I am going to see if Jamey and I can make it a date.  Then we can ice our old feet together - how romantic!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

On Running And Being 42

I am currently 'training' for a half-marathon.  I put training in quotes because I'm not a very serious runner, and I haven't yet signed up for the race.  My friend Heather recruited me, then weasled out of it (it's not actually her fault.  She had girly surgery.  She's the least apt-to-quit person I know.)  As I was running/thinking, it occurred to me that running at age 42 is way different than running at age 17 (the last time I trained for a race - my senior year in high school).
*When I was in high school, we wanted cute boys to see us running, so we ran past the baseball team when they were practicing.  Now, I purposefully wake up at 6 a.m. and run on back roads (we're talking dirt, gravel, and bridle paths) so that no one sees me, particularly cute boys.  Once, Jason's baseball coach (nice enough, but not a cute boy) passed and recognized me while I was out running on 'the ranch' - it was horrifying.
*At 17, I only liked running with other people - friends, teammates, aforementioned cute boys.  What fun would it be if it wasn't also a social activity?  At 42, the only running partner I ever take along is my faithful buddy Max.  And my i-pod, the best running accessory ever.  I can go at my own pace ("slow"), listen to my own music, run where I want and for how long I want, and it's rather peaceful.  Except when Max chases something (gophers, my neighbor's goats....). 
*When I ran in high school, my knee often hurt.  Now, my physical pain is not just limited to my knee (I do have to say, my knee pain is probably far less frequent now than it was in high school).  It could be my right shoulder (which is pretty much wrecked from years of volleyball and backyard passing to one Jason Pappas), which is not actually caused by running, but from occasionally having to yank the dog away from something like a cat, garbage, or a dead animal.  Or it could be sciatic, which plagued me for almost a year whenever I would run, and which I affectionately refer to as 'my left butt', because that's where it hurts.  It could be an ankle that gets a good twist on the bridle path, or an arch, or my arthritic big toe (just like Shaq!!).  There's just no end to the things that could hurt (thankfully they don't all hurt at the same time.  In fact, I hesitate to say it lest I jinx myself, but I've been amazingly pain-free lately).  It makes running at 42 a big adventure!
*Since I did my high-school training in Arizona (desert), after school (inferno temperatures), I never saw any kind of wildlife, besides an occasional lizard.  But living where we do, and running in the early morning is like running in a zoo!  You never know what you'll come across.  I've seen the following animals - some on a daily basis: dogs, cats, chickens, goats, horses, donkeys, cows, deer, llamas, sheep of all varieties, turkeys wild and tame (one poor fellow always gobbles at me from a back yard play structure.  I don't think I'll be seeing him any more after Thanksgiving), gophers, a red fox (I've seen two - both were gorgeous), snakes, bunnies, mice, owls, hawks, a bald eagle (I have a photo to prove it) and of course, squirrels.  Now for those of you who know about the 'war' with squirrels going in our back yard, I have to tell you that it was a really good week for my team.  Jason and I bagged one flea-laden varmint each (with assists from the dog), and Max actually chased and caught a squirrel on one of our runs.  It made the mistake of  trying to run along a post and rail fence (causing it to be off-balance and wobbly), and its tail hung down just within reach of Max, who had fun tossing it up in the air several times after catching it and before proudly bringing it over to me (for my part, I stood there looking around to see if any PETA-types were watching, and lamely said, "Drop it.  Leave it."  over and over.)  The only down side is that I will now have to inspect the dog's behind for the next several days for any signs of tapeworm (This is my life.  This is what I do.).
*One more big difference.  Now that I am 42, and possibly because I had two babies, I keep in my pocket a little bit of toilet paper, 'just in case' (I've never had to use it - always made it back in far as you know).  Back in high school, I remember making fun of my friend Beth because she ran a 10K and the last mile or so was done with wet shorts (we were relentless - she was an exceptionally good sport).  So I guess I deserve it (my hubris again), especially since I recently laughed at a 40-or-so friend of mine who confided to me that she actually wet her pants a little when reading my blog. Serves me right I suppose.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pappas Clan Vs Squirrels

So the gophers in the garden are no longer a big deal....they aren't really bothering the tomatoes or pumpkins or zucchini, and the cantaloupe has already been picked safely (and eaten.  It was good!!).  Now is the time of the year when my attention must be turned to the English walnut tree out the back door.  For the third year in a row, the thing is LOADED with walnuts, and because I am both greedy and cheap, I like to harvest as many walnuts as possible and give them away (usually roasted with cinnamon and sugar) at Christmas time.  The nuts begin dropping sometime in October.  The problem is, the squirrels know and love this tree, so they come out en force to try to steal the nuts before they drop to the ground - last week, actually, which seems awfully early to me, but then again, I don't know how the squirrels' sense of timing works.  So it is yet another war between my team (which includes me, my trusty dog Max, Jason, who just likes to shoot things, and our BB gun) and the varmints (in this case, squirrels).  For those of you who are under the illusion that squirrels are cute, sweet, puffy-tailed little critters, let me just explain that here in Garden Farms, squirrels are flea-laden, horrible-underbite-with-jaggy-teeth, fruit-stealing, disease-carrying rodents and are to be treated accordingly. Here is how the battle is waged:
1.  Squirrels send a representative to test our defenses by sneaking into the walnut tree and, if possible, chewing on the shell of a nut.
2. Max, our faithful sentry, sends out the alarm, which otherwise would just sound like really annoying persistent barking (high-pitched, too).
3. Jason or I respond with "Ooooo, there's a squirrel in the tree!" and run for the BB gun (first person there gets to shoot).
4. Many things can and do happen at this point.  Sometimes the mere presence of all of us will send the wimpy squirrel scurrying off to the next yard.  But sometimes the varmints will freeze, thinking that they become invisible when they do this.  Then the fun really begins for our team .
Okay, let me just say here that my goal is truly not to kill the squirrels.  It's messy.  And when they drop into the yard, the dog gets them, and more than once he has gotten tapeworms from the fleas (yes, squirrels really are that gross).  So my objective is to get them to leave the property and never come back.  I prefer to send them off with a little reminder in the butt (a shiny round metal reminder, if you know what I mean), so our rule for firing the gun is "Aim for the tail".  They are fluffy and make excellent targets.  And it usually works!  Except when we have to leave the house....then the dog is stuck by himself without the ability to fire the gun.  I sometimes imagine a little army of squirrels hiding out by the creek with a lookout saying, "Okay, boys, they're gone!" at which point several come brazenly over the fence, climb the tree and eat nuts to their hearts' content, all the while taunting the dog.  I've returned to the house and seen the evidence of this - mainly nut shells all over the cement.  And an embarrassed-looking Max.  But that's just one battle, and the war for walnuts has just begun..... 

Sunday, August 3, 2008

How We Are Doing On Our Summer 'To Do' List...

Here are Jamey and Grace working on the Rambler.....aaah, what a great bonding experience. This project is going well because a) it is about an hour's work away from the paint job, and b) we bought a canvas 'garage' for it so it can be zipped inside and completely hidden from view (not quite as white-trashy.  Hooray!).    

And, a highlight of my summer, here we are at Camden Yards for the Orioles-Blue Jays game (which the O's actually won!!!).  That brings J's and my summer total to 3 baseball games and one more major-league park (that total is now 7) with the possibility of an A's game and a Dodger game yet to come.  Woo hoo!

The gophers are staying away from the cantelope, which is great (Neighbor Chuck's got eaten, unfortunately.  He went to pick them and discovered that they were hollow - the little boogers tunneled up underneath and ate out the inside!).  We ate the first last night and picked another 'cute little cantelope' this morning.  And we are starting to get some really good tomatoes.  As a bonus, I asked my Aunt Virginia how she cans hers when we were back east and she explained the process to me, so hopefully I'll get some tomatoes canned to use later this fall.

No new grass planted yet, but we have an excellent reason - we haven't been home enough to water it (the new seed must be watered a few times a day).  So this project will get started after we get back from beach camping next week.  And then we will have a great wiffle-ball field / soccer field / football field in the backyard.  Hooray!

Guess where we went?

As you can see, we made a stop outside the US Capitol building on our way around Washington DC.  Despite the heat and humidity, we managed to log about 5 miles as we went from cool site to cool site.  Favorites: National Archives (Declaration of Independence), the war memorials around the Mall, and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  And Monticello (in Virginia - we drove).
And below you can see the plethora of delicious food that was my family reunion (I might add, this is just the salads....the meat wasn't yet present, and desserts were on a different table).  We had family members from age 83 down to 18 months (about 60 total) playing volleyball, cards, croquet, target shooting (Jason is quite a marksman with a shotgun and a water balloon launcher!), exchanging facebook and cell phone info (that would be Grace's crowd), and telling great stories.  My aunt even arranged for each family unit to have their own color T shirt (ours are jade green, as you can see from Jason's modeling).  All 8 of my mom's siblings were together and it was wonderful in every way.  Wish we could host the next one - everyone would go home with a big zucchini!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Things to be thankful for today:
I got to take my dog for a 3-mile run this morning
Most of my legs didn't hurt afterwards
Our house is clean
....especially our claw-foot tub ('Kaboom' is good stuff!)
Jamey fixed all of the dents in a bumper today - 
the body work on the Rambler is almost done
We ate some great yellow tomatoes from our garden
....with zucchini, of course
Jason went to the Mid-State Fair today
We still have some pie from Jamey's birthday
Grace and Jamey went to the drive-in
I got the Klingenbergs to take a zucchini
A nice cold Coke Zero
I got to stay home and watch baseball!!!
Even though it was hot inside today, it will get into the 50's here tonight
We have great friends and neighbors

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Cat's Big Adventure

Howdy - my name is Hunter and I live in the Pappas' garage.  I'm an orange tabby cat and yes, I really was born in a barn.  My favorite pastimes are sleeping, dozing, napping, lying in the sun, and sometimes catching moles, which I stash behind the stack of surfboards in the garage.  A couple of weeks ago I rumbled with a raccoon over the cat food (no longer stored in the garage) and got a, well, we'll call it an "owie" back towards my tail on the right side.  No matter how much I licked that thing, it would not come off, and believe me, I tried and tried.  Now, I like Gretchen okay - she feeds me most every morning - so I was all right with her putting peroxide on my hind end and smearing my owie with Neosporin ointment (which I promptly licked right off), but I reached my limit when she put me into that crate and took me to the vet.  How humiliating - I got my behind shaved and was shackled with a 'collar' and was forced to stay inside the Pappas' prison....I mean, house.  It was okay during the day.  I actually enjoy napping on the couch.  But at night?  Trapped inside?  That's where I draw the line.  But I sure got them back - I yowled and yowled all night long (I can be both loud and persistent!)  and peed right on the floor in the kitchen (more than once!).  After one more day of being inside,  I thought I heard Gretchen muttering something about "not caring if that cat lives or dies" and sweet freedom was mine!  Ah, I am back outside on patrol (when I'm awake) and my owie is finally all better.  It's great to be a cat.


When it's hot at our house, it's usually nice at the beach.  Here are Grace and Jason enjoying a good surf and delighting their dad's heart as they do it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Slightly Hot

I'm not complaining, but we sure picked a hot week to start re-doing our back yard!  On Wednesday it hit 103 here in Garden Farms, and we hit a record 91 inside the house.  Why didn't we get a/c along with the heater we got last year?  Oh yeah...because we're cheap.  Well, it serves us right.   I think we're also very spoiled.  We spent the hottest afternoon at the movies (Jason and I saw "Get Smart" - funny.  Eleven-year-old boy funny.) and came back and ate dinner in the air-conditioned trailer (or 'guest house' for those of you who might come and visit).  The next day, Jason and two of his friends and I spent the whole day at the water park.  Notice that Jamey wasn't in on any of the fun - that's because he was here working through the heat of the day and into the nights.  What a stud!  Somebody buy that man a beer and take him surfing!  And even though I did hose down Max the dog when it hit the 100 mark, all of the animals are fine and the garden is actually doing great!  Yes, we had zucchini for dinner tonight.  And we are eating plums like crazy.  Soon we will be in cucumber and tomato mode (can you say Greek salad?  or gazpacho?).  And you should see the pumpkins we are growing - by October they might be as big as VW bugs.  So all in all, we have it good.  And today the temp topped out at a mere 86 (and the wind blew the smoke from the fires away).  Life is very nice in the summer after all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Zucchini Game is ON

This morning I got up at 6 a.m. and baked a cake (because we don't have a/c, all summer indoor cooking must be done at crazy hours).  A chocolate-zucchini cake.  Yes, zucchini.  If you have it in your garden, then you know what I'm talking about.  I don't know why it is so prolific here - maybe it's the sandy soil, or the perfect balance of sun and shade.  I suspect that it's just one of those vegetables that you simply can't kill (like radishes - which we picked last week. Hundreds. Not bad with a mixture of chili oil, rice vinegar, and brown sugar as a dressing).  Jack's magic beans must  have been zucchini seeds - he just threw them out the window and see what happened?  
On Monday evening we received our first bag of zucchini from our neighbor, Chuck.  It had a great assortment of a few regular green zucchini, a round zucchini, and a yellow zucchini.  In the Garden Farms Zucchini Game, we have been tagged, and we are IT.  We now have to either use up the zucchini (thus the cake experiment) or pass it on to someone else (there's a running joke in the neighborhood that if you are seen leaving your house during the summer, you will find a bag of zucchini on your porch when you get home.  It actually happens.).
But AHA!  I have an advantage (besides all of the creative recipes I have stockpiled over the winter....) in the form of 8 voracious hens who will eat just about anything I put in the coop; especially nice, juicy squash.  So when the humans at our house can't stomach any more zucchini in any form or fashion, I can just cut it up and give it to my plump, feathered garbage disposals.  That means, in the Zucchini Game, we win!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Glorious Summer

Hooray!  Summer is here - and best of all, we've already completed our tenth annual family camping trip to Plaskett Creek.  90's at home, foggy and 60's at Sanddollar State Beach (with good surfing).  In true Jamey Pappas style, we pulled into our camp spot and discovered that there were about 8 Cal Poly Crusade alums camping around us in various places.  The man can't go anywhere without meeting someone he knows.  Activities: laying out (Grace), surfing and mountain biking (Jamey), reading (Gretchen), skimboarding (Jason), grilling the best tri-tip (Jamey), cooking spaghetti in a frying pan because we forgot the pot (Gretchen), walking the dog (Grace), making and playing in fires (Jason), rolling in dirt (Max the dog), playing Yahtzee (everyone).  We also busted out the spooky campfire story book and read about 'Red Man' and other creepy things. 
Back at home now, we are filling the hours with work and play, glad for the time away from our 'other jobs'.