Thursday, January 29, 2015

January 29: We witnessed our first kill today. It was bound to happen with both hunters and prey residing in our back yard. One of the beautiful creatures is a large red-tailed hawk who we named Baron. His wing span is great enough to cast a shadow when he swoops past our picture window. The snow seems to have made him extra active and brave. Here he is perched on a branch right outside our window, but you have to look closely to see him because his feathers are such great camouflage.

Suddenly he spotted lunch...perhaps a mouse or squirrel silly enough to leave its hidey-hole. He took off, straight up, then dove down, snatched the critter in its talons and soared up and away, sort of like a plane doing a touch-down. It was incredibly cool.

With all the wildlife we've seen, we decided our Animal Kingdom needed a page of its own so, when you have a moment, please check it out. We're sure we'll be adding lots more pics as we get closer to spring...which, by the way is only 49 days away!

Monday, January 26, 2015

January 26:

We had the hills. We had boogie-boards with built in flashing lights. And finally, we had enough snow to do one of the fun things on our list--SLEDDING! We recruited our outdoors-wise tenant/sometimes fire-starter, Ben, to show us how it's done.

The first attempt barely got us down the first hill.

Ben added Pam spray to the board and demonstrated how to crouch-run-drop-and-push for more momentum. Joie went for it and did somewhat better. Marilyn opted for a manual push off since her athletic days are mostly behind her.

With each downhill slide, the course got longer and faster. Then we really got brave, doubling up on one board so that Joie could film the descent while Marilyn tried to keep the board on the track. Ah well, at least we all got a good laugh out of it.

The news says a blizzard is on its way tonight. We're not worried. Hurricanes taught us how to be prepared and we have a solid shelter, food, water, wine, plenty of firewood, and 3 pitchers of coffee already brewed. Most of all though, we can't wait to see more snow build up on the hills so that we can improve the track we started and maybe move on to the steeper, winding one waiting to be tackled!

Friday, January 23, 2015

January 23, 2015:  HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! At least we have high hopes that it will be a happy one. Honestly, we're not sure what to think of this year yet. There have already been several dramas, traumas and giggles to keep us on our toes.

It began with Joie cracking a tooth (on oatmeal!) that resulted in multiple dental visits and her living on a diet of soup for the last 3 weeks.
On the flip side, the Texas house closed successfully on the 5th. YAY! That same evening, in near-zero weather, the heater motor died in our house. BOO! No problem for the Campbell girls tho. We just moved a mattress into the living room and camped in front of a cozy fire until morning. The heating company arrived shortly after dawn, replaced the motor and we had heat again. YAY! But the 50-year old system is getting terribly close to retirement. UH-OH!

We got some snow at the beginning of the month, but mostly we've been getting rain, lots and lots of rain, rain that freezes during the night when the temperatures drop into the single or minus digits, forming massive, thick ice floes everywhere. The main streets in our area are quickly cleared; our long driveway isn't so easy. Joie and Marilyn hacked and shoveled and salted for hours just to make a path from the door and a de-iced area for the dogs to do their business. Milkdud, the sleeper in the green sweater above, isn't particular, he'll pretty much go anywhere. Sweetie, the one in the red sweater, has decided she will wait until we create more suitable accommodations befitting her princess status.

With all that rain, we weren't sure what was happening when we heard a deluge of pouring water coming from the garage. It turned out there's a pipe that runs from an outside faucet, up into the attic over the garage, then down again. Why it's in the attic we have no idea, but it froze and broke and all the water in Western Massachusetts seemed to be pouring out of light sockets and cracks in the ceiling, down onto our 2 cars. Once again, Joie's large brain leapt to a solution and she ran into the basement to shut off the main water valve. Crisis averted. Sort of. No plumber could come out until morning, so we and our 3 roommates downstairs would have no water to flush toilets. Again, no problem. We've survived 4 hurricanes with no water. So we gathered up buckets, filled them with snow and put them in each bathroom...for emergency flushing purposes. And we had bottled water for drinking and teeth-brushing. Now here's a shout-out to Facebook. Joie posted our dilemma and minutes later she got a call from the wonderful builder-turned-friend, Ryan Regan-Ladd. He told her there should be a shut-off for that one line and to call the previous owner for its location. Fortunately the previous owner only moved next door and was home that night. Braving a steep hill of ice, he came to our rescue without hesitation, shut off the appropriate valve, restored the house main and guided us through the maze of more plumbing-related things that need to be done because we live in snow country.

Now you might think that was more than enough for a 10-day period...that's right, TEN DAYS!... but you'd be wrong. Both of our cars suddenly developed scary problems (obviously they are Florida machines and not at all happy with their unheated garage). But they were both repaired after several trips to the mechanic and should be in good working order for a while. However, Joie's Mustang has been ordered to stay off the roads if there is the slightest hint of snow or ice, so it turns out that it was a very fortuitous thing that CarMax did not offer Marilyn enough to sell them her car as planned before moving north.

Despite the challenging nature of the new year's onset, we are delighted to announce that, as of the 20th, Joie is now in her second term at UMass Amherst and loving it! Great professors, great classes, great dining facility, garage parking and a campus office where she's already hung a Wonder Woman poster. (The pic at left is actually her office at home, but the visual is similar: computer, papers, books, books, books.)

Marilyn is also back to work on ROMAN, the all new (not previously published/rebooted) Book 6 of her futuristic romance series, The Innerworld Affairs, and as soon as it is turned in, she's given iBooks a guarantee that Book 7, BLAZE, will be completed before the end of 2015.

With all the challenges thrown at us this month, we were in need of...something, and it was given to us by a clerk in the grocery store. She said, when winter gets her down, she starts counting down the days to spring. Even if there is still snow on the ground on the first day of spring, the date on the calendar promises it will soon make way for green grass and flowers. And so, we are marking the calendar right now with the note that there are only 55 days to go! Wow! We feel better already. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

December 31, 2014:  MERRY CHRISTMAS! We apologize for the many days included in the following journal entry but the weeks since our last post were filled with holiday-related visits & activities rather than home renovations. Nevertheless, this is a "diary" and we want to share the fun times, as well as the challenging tasks, with our friends. We also want to bring this blog up to date as quickly as possible so we can move forward.

We had found the perfect tree, hung all our decorations and wrapped a few special gifts before the first house guest arrived.

On December 10th, an incredibly talented, rising star of film production, and future director of academy award-winning movies, came to stay at Chateau de Joie (have we mentioned that's the property's nickname?). Who was this phenom? Why, none other than Jake Campbell, son of Marilyn and brother of Joie.

As practitioners of the metaphysical arts, one of the first things Mother and Son did together was walk the labyrinth.

The three of us took a drive up to Brattleboro, Vermont, just so Jake could say he went to another state. (He came in thru Hartford, CT, so that made 3 states in 1 trip.) There was nice scenery despite leafless trees and no snow but at the Whetstone Brewery, we sampled more than a few of their specialty brews and enjoyed an excellent lunch.  Definitely must visit there again.

We spent some time checking out Joie's school, including getting a personal tour of the Renaissance Center, where Jake got to hold a 600+ year old book and examine a medieval printing press. Joie also arranged a private visit to the Smith College rare manuscript collection where, among other magnificent gems, we were shown a cuneiform tablet used as an ancient business receipt. Plus, in another room, Jake and Marilyn got to stroke the butt of an honest-to-goodness golden Oscar statue that was awarded to director/writer Nancy Hamilton in 1955 for Best Documentary Feature, "Helen Keller in Her Story", and she donated it to the college. All things that you don't get to see or do every day!

Another day took us to Shelburne (formerly Salmon) Falls, site of glacier potholes, another new visual treat.

And here's Marilyn, showing off her Christmas gifts from her kiddos - the gorgeous parka was covering a warm black turtleneck sweater and a chic black and white print scarf. (She'd been wearing an extra-large, man's hand-me down coat.) This pic was taken at Puffer's Pond, which has a beautiful waterfall and is literally just around the corner from our property.

When we weren't exploring the area however, we were doing our most favorite family activity -- watching movies, both in the theater and at home. In less than a week, we made up for months of being too busy to stop and be entertained. It started with all three Hunger Games and moved on to Maleficent, Transformers 4, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America Winter Soldier, Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live, Die, Repeat), Amazing Spiderman 2, Star Trek Into Darkness, 22 Jump Street, Mr. November, Wolf of Wall Street, Mud, Stretch, Long Way Down and The Other Woman, plus there was some catching up to be done on favorite tv series. Okay, so obsessive compulsive disorder is a family trait...

On December 28, Jake had to head back down to Miami Beach but since his plane departed shortly after our next holiday visitor arrived, we had a mini-party in the airport lounge. Joie's lovely friend and former Texas State colleague, Lisa Merritt, arrived with the agenda of the perfect house guest -- to practice the art of doing nothing, do as little running around and as much friendly catching up as possible. Rather than a New Year's Eve celebration in a fancy hotel, we had beverages and tapas, and did a jigsaw puzzle. And since our interpretation of relaxing usually includes television, there was also a Phryne Fisher marathon going on throughout Lisa's stay.

One more happy thing occurred in December -- we received a sales contract for our Selma, TX house!

And so, we said goodbye to 2014, an incredibly exciting year filled with massive life changes. We certainly hope that 2015 is equally exciting, though we wouldn't mind if it's just a bit less hectic.