Four weeks and Princess Cinnamon is alive and well.  She's even warming up to us.  I can walk by and she doesn't run into her tube! Of course, she also hears the bag of fresh veggies I carry to her cage each morning and evening. 

She also knows that when we approach, there's a good chance she gets to have some out-of-cage time.  Unlike cats and dogs, we can't really tell if she likes being out of the cage or not.  She has the same expression on her face...constantly. (Greg does a great impression!)

She makes lots of noises and we have no idea what they mean.  Yes, we've You-Tubed 'guinea pig noises' to try to figure it out, but no one really agrees which noises are happy ones and which noises are scared ones.

Stout (remember him? Our cat, Stout 'Trouble') perches on the closest chair back and stretches to look in her cage.  There has been no evidence of jumping on the cage and he seems less obsessed with her when she's out.

But, he is still a cat...with instincts.

One day recently, Her Royal Highness was sitting on my lap and Stout jumped up.  I decided to trust him and this resulted:
No swats, no teeth...can we relax now?

Well, no, not really.  While this scene has been recreated a few times, there are also times when Stout's instinct kicks in.  Like, a few minutes ago...Ella brought Cinnamon out and she was watching me write this post.  Stout was obsessed - he even took a swat (and missed).  Luckily Cinnamon didn't see it (it was at her behind) so she is clueless (we think).

Like I said, we can't tell if she's afraid or happy or what...but she sure is sweet.  We haven't given up on a peaceful multi-species househould, we just need to respect the deep-rooted history between hunter and prey.  We can't expect Stout to forget his 'catness' and we can't expect Cinnamon to not be afraid once in awhile.  We won't force change upon anyone. 

Now, as I write this, I'm thinking of how profoundly simple that statement is and how I wish it was implemented worldwide, countrywide and in my own little town.    
As a child, my brother and I would often alternate the role of reigning President of the Try Club.  If my memory serves me correctly (which is seriously in question these days), I think I was President far more often than he was.

Now, Ella is the President and proud of it, not to mention WAY more adventurous at eating than I ever was.  She tries bean burgers, pad thai and her new favorite: sushi.  She has named me Vice President, and I try to live up to that title.

We do try a lot of things, but there is one type of food I have never developed an appreciation for....Indian food.  I was mentioning this to two of my walking friends at work ~ Sue and Punam.  We decided that I just didn't really know how to eat it (or what to order) so Punam offered to give me a lesson.  This is where we went:
It was great.  I learned what to eat with what and how to use the bread.  I developed a whole new appreciation for the balance of spices and textures of Indian food...and learned it's not all about curry!

My history with Indian food is this:  It started about fifteen years ago when Greg and I tried an Indian restaurant in Bellingham, Washington (where I completed my undergraduate degree).  We craved it, we tried it and had enough for a year or two.  Then, a couple years later, the craving came again and we tried a new place in Minneapolis (where we were going to graduate school).  Same thing! We even tried the restaurant where Punam took me once!  I did say once.....

But, I think I can safely say that Punam has helped me break the pattern.  I will SO be back there.  As for Greg, well, he's glad I have some new lunch partners to go there to get it out of my system.  I bet I'll be able to get the President of the Try Club to go soon though!
Last weekend, I had an awful day.  Nothing important happened, but it was one of those days where everything went wrong.  This is how it started...

I was fixing pancakes for Ella and Greg.  I had a few in the pan and was getting some plates out.  I reached up in the cupboard and had to move some plates to get to the ones I wanted.  It happened in slow motion. . . I grabbed the ones I wanted and watched the three I moved begin to fall... 

They crashed on the counter and shattered...all over the floor.  I immediately started to cry.  Two of the three dishes were from my grandmother on my mom's side.  I understand the difference between material things and people, but this was different.  I never knew my grandma. She died tragically in a car accident when my mom was twenty-one...I wasn't born yet.  So, the only way I know her is through my mom's stories and the few things I have that were hers.  Seeing the dishes shatter was heartbreaking.  They were my memories of her.

Well, I pulled it together and finished the pancakes.  I gave Ella the ones in the pan and fixed the rest for Greg and me.  As I was rinsing out the bowl, I saw a couple small pieces of the plates. Uh oh. . .

Greg and I decided to eat them anyway.  We sort-of smiled as we ate the pancakes like fish, searching for 'bones' in every bite.  It was all fine until.....
This was Greg's plate..."Uh, hon, I'm not sure I should eat this...." How on Earth did I miss that? Of course I had to get the camera.

I'm not going to live this one down for awhile. 

And, for the'll see these plates again.  Greg saved the pieces and I'm going to make a trivet with them.  At least I'll still have my grandma in the kitchen with me.
I just love to learn. Period.  I don't usually master anything, but I learn an awful lot about many things.  I seek out adventures that I can share with Ella, because I want to make the most of every moment of her childhood.
That is why I decided to take a cake decorating class last Summer. Today, Ella made her first decorated cake!
Ella's cake - a cat walking on a fence under the moon and stars
We spent a few hours together planning our cakes, making the icing, working on our techniques...It was a blast!

Here's my cake:
top view - 'Cats guarding the pumpkin patch'
close up
And here's the VERY best thing (although selfish on my part) ~ the doorbell rang three times (hopeful friends at the door) while we were decorating....and she wanted to hang out with me.  It doesn't get much better for a mom.
It's a lesson we've learned since, well, birth.  My parents taught it to me and we taught it to Ella.  If you ask her what she would do if a stranger approaches her, she'll tell you: yell and run. She knows the rules.

This rule isn't black and white, as we all know... for example, if your parents are there you can talk to anyone.  Ella loves this caveat.  Whenever we cross a street, she waves at all the cars.  If we're in line at Target, she talks to people.  It's not obnoxious ~ she reads people really well.  Usually she'll just smile at them and if they start talking to her, she's all in for a good conversation.

The above picture was taken on a recent rainy Saturday during Pumpkinfest in Zeeland, Michigan.  We were enjoying the festivities when we decided to duck into the Zeeland Bakery for a donut and hot chocolate (coffee for me).  Ella picked a table in the front looking out over the sidewalk and various street scenes made of scarecrows while I fixed our drinks.  I sat down and she dug into her donut...not a word.

Then, a family of three walked in ~ two young parents and a boy of around two.  As soon as they entered, they looked around in awe.  Zeeland Bakery is a local treasure.  They have pies, breads, cookies, donuts, you name it.  The family worked their way through the line and ended up with a couple loaves of bread and a cookie for their cute boy, who was already bilingual (English and French(?)). 

The young father walked up to our table and looked at Ella. To my amazement, he started to talk to her! "I just wanted to say thank you for waving at us.  We wouldn't have even noticed this place, and now that we did, we are so happy!"  Then, he looked at me (I think he saw the utter amazement on my face) and said, "Your daughter waved at us through the window.  We were all the way across the street!  But, my son really wanted to come in after he saw her waving." 

We bid each other a wonderful day and I looked at my girl.  Never in a million years would I have reached out to strangers in that way when I was a kid.  Who am I kidding...I probably wouldn't do it now.  She always amazes me, and I love it.
We were recently treated to a delightful dinner at Artisan Cooking School & Catering Company in Grand Haven.  I're already wanting the recipe.

First, you need a knowledgeable and charming chef:
Chef Howard Norris
Add a fun group of people and beautiful setting and begin to create your menu.
Family (and me in the mirror)
1st course  - a celabration of the harvest
roasted delacata bisque
Ella's FAVORITE Part! Intermezzo...from the taste to the presentation
mango blueberry granita
Essential to the evening: Fresh, vibrant ingredients
Our main dish....'before'
If the ingredients are the is the work of art:
Plack Pearl Salmon w/ Jasmine Rice Timbale/Asian Vegetables, Ponzu Sauce, with Toasted Black & White Sesame Seed Finish ... or 'after'
Finally, to create a bold, classy finish...

Tricked you! As if I could lead you through the whole evening and not show you this....
Yeah, we wish you could have been there too! 

Please check out Artisan Cooking School & Catering Company for a truly unique and splendid evening!
While taking out the kitchen compost on a cold and not particularly sunny Autum day, I found myself on a treasure hunt.

I started out the back door and ran down the steps - head down, making a list in my mind of what I needed to get done before bedtime.

Then...something caught the corner of my eye. I have time to look? I mean, there's so much to do! Ok, fine, I'll take two seconds on my way to the compost pile to take a look.

Wow. that's a beautiful color:
Yep, it grabbed me...Where's that list going?  Must get camera....must get camera...

I emptied the compost bucket, ran up to the house and grabbed my camera.  Oh! The treasures ~ how could I let this moment pass?

I slowly walked through the yard and stopped.  I heard the wind blowing and kids playing nearby.  It's getting cold.  Soon our yard will be covered in white. But now...right now...color was everywhere.

And, it wasn't just color, new textures were displaying themselves beautifully:
And...I almost missed it. Living in my head thinking of all the things to do. That spark of red made me stop and be present...even if it was just for five was refreshing.

Now, back to that list...
My loyal readers remember Toulouse, our first attempt at Guinea Pig raising.  You'll also remember how he only lasted four days.  Ouch. 

Well, not ones to give up, we immediately went out (to a different store) to find Guinea Pig number 2.  We thought it would be tough, because Ella was pretty attached to the little guy....but nope. First one she saw was the chosen one.  Of course it met her one criterion: it had to be a girl.

She's older and more 'robust' (who am I kidding? she's chubby).  She's been with us now for over three weeks and is just starting to get used to us.  At first, when anyone would enter the room, she'd run into her tunnel or tube.  Now, she actually runs laps around her cage. 

I was a little nervous to introduce you to her, since last time it was a little premature.  It's hard to explain to a seven year-old that you did everything right, but sometimes pets just die.  But, that's not the whole story...

So, when we bought Toulouse (who was a baby), we put him in an aquarium, because the lady at the pet store said it would be fine.  Well, leave it to me to research the 'ethical treatment of guinea pigs' online.  Yep.  Aquariums are a no-no.  They don't give the little guys enough air.  I immediately bought Toulouse a new cage.  After we found him lifeless on that sorrowful Friday, I realized something....Stout (our cat, who has adopted the middle name of 'Trouble' (if you know what I mean)). Could jump on the cage from the couch.  Ugh.

I am convinced that he scared the little guy to death. It could have been prevented.

But, we're moving on....and the guilt lessens a little each time Ella plays with Princess Cinnamon. I still feel bad about it, but life is all about learning lessons, and I learned mine.  We now have a board on top of the cage with anti-cat sticky tape. 

So far, so good!

My harvest - apple sauce, apple butter and caramel apple jam
Autumn is my favorite time of year.  Of course it's beautiful and crisp.  Of course the air smells clean and fresh.  These are all wonderful things about Autumn.  But my favorite part of Autumn is...the harvest. 

I think it goes back to my elementary school days when I learned about the harvest bringing together cultures in early America (ok, so I choose to hold on to the positive and not the slaughter that occurred afterward). 

Then, I married into a family that really appreciated the harvest.  Greg's grandma Dot had a huge garden.  I wrote recently about visiting her when there was a tornado.  Of course, she was too tough to go down into the cellar, but I couldn't get there fast enough.  When we entered this cold dank room, I was amazed.  All around me were jars...pickles, tomatoes, beets, beans....She actually did all this?

I was immediately intrigued, but it intimidated me.  After maturing a little, I experimented with jams...then pickles and I can't stop. 
I love it. It's more than just preserving for the winter, it's an art form.

It's also dying. I can't believe how few people actually do canning ~ especially in this economy.  I tell people how I spent my weekends and they think I'm nuts! "How do you ever find the time?" It confuses me! I find the time, because it's important, and it really doesn't take that much time at all! 

There is something priceless about baking a loaf of whole wheat bread and spreading some homemade preserves across it. Nothing I can buy in a store tastes anything like it.

So, yes...for me, Autumn is all about the food. I love it. I do truly feel thankful at this time of year.  It's a time to simplify, regroup and take a deep breath before the busyness of Christmas starts.

Happy Harvest!
Oh, beautiful squash, hanging on the vines, what will you become?

We grew you with one purpose: To make a birdhouse.  Of course, this is a two-year process! The first year, you must be planted from seed and supported as you grow. Greg has kept his watchful eye on you grew, he held you up with creative contraptions.

Your maturation time is long...180 days..really? I'm not sure if that's possible here in Michigan, but we'll give it a try.  So, we planted you as soon as we could, and watched you grow.

Finally, during late summer, small flowers resulted in tiny squash (or, 'squarsh' as Greg's Indiana grandma called it).  Now, you're growing...getting ready for the season to end.

Then what?

Well, you may not like the sound of this, but it will preserve you forever.  We'll need to dry you in the basement....yes, all winter long.  The drying takes months and months.  But don't worry, we'll check on you. Perhaps in a year from now, you'll be ready.

For what? Oh....nothing really....well...

Ok, I'll be honest. You'll be ready for us to drill a hole in you and clean out your seeds.  Then, I'm going to paint you. Of course it will be non-toxic, how could you think otherwise?

Then, perhaps you'll be a gift, and the recipient will hang you in her yard.  And then...this is the best part of all...maybe a bird family will make their home in you, and you will protect them from the cold and other unkind elements.

Yes, I think that's how I will remember you.  You are quite a lucky gourd after all.

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    My name is Kristen Porter ~ I am a corporate attorney by day, and a writer/artist/renaissance-woman wanna-be by night. 

    This is my summary of life and attempt to capture small moments forever while appreciating their impermanence.  Those small moments are what make life so wonderful!

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