Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Helicopters and holidays

With each month that goes by it sometimes it seems like we discover something new about the area we live in. This month it's been the Christmas tree harvest. It turns out we live near several Christmas tree farms and they've begun sending them to market. It sounds like the soundtrack from "Apocalypse Now" lately at our place, since helicopters are used to transport the trees off their hills to one staging spot, where the 18-wheelers can easily load and then transport them all over the country. 

In thinking about the fossil fuel/carbon footprint of this whole endeavor, I truly believe that an artificial, reusable tree (we've had ours for going on 19 years now) is a vastly more eco-friendly alternative, even if someday, a long time from now, it ends up in a landfill.  

The place I hear the helicopters the most is when I'm out in the shop, where I've been working on our alder wood doors for downstairs. I'm still not sure how they're going to look next to the oak trim around the doors, but the doors themselves are coming along fabulously. If necessary,we'll re-do the trim on the doors if the difference in wood types is too glaring.

Checking stain colors against trim and floor to get a match.
We also had a major paint failure on our new shutters, which was my favorite part of the new house paint scheme. The official Sherwin-Williams paint name is "Secret Garden," but Big Ag and our painter have nicknamed it "Army Man Green" for the little plastic troops both played with as boys. Anyway, the Army Man Green latex paint just didn't adhere to the shutters properly, leaving us no option but to order pre-colored green shutters in a shade I'm not particularly fond of (Midnight Green, for those keeping track of wacky paint color names). 

Army Man Green ((lighter) versus Midnight Green. Army Men win hands down. 

But I am experimenting with different paint types and if we can find a good paint that will adhere to these shutters, next spring we'll give painting them another go. Never give up.

Future olallieberry patch
We're also getting the trellises built for the olallieberries we brought with us from California, which have been living in pots for the last two years. We'll be adding some table grapes to other trellises eventually, and then we can really begin harvesting a nice variety of both fruit and vegetables.

In case you haven't noticed by all the pictures taken in actual sunshine, we've had a really dry (by Oregon standards) autumn, which I can tell you I'm thrilled with. Last year it seemed like it rained almost every day, but this year we've had stretches of week-long periods days with no rain whatsoever, and it's been great. There's been enough rain to keep things green without it becoming an inconvenience to outdoor activities. We've also had a good deal of morning fog, which has brought to mind my winters in the Central Valley of California. A happy kind of nostalgia, and perfect for getting in the mood for the holidays.

I did plant a winter garden of lettuce and some onions, but it's been disappointing, so I probably will not do it again. Once the weather turns cold, I'll just focus on inside activities more, and leave the food growing until spring. And of course there is always work to be done with the chickens and general yard clean-up and pruning, so I won't lack for outside chores in winter, should I get the urge. And I always do get that urge. I just have a hard time staying inside for long periods of time.

Hope everyone's late autumn/early winter is going well, and the seasonal roads that beckon to you are being traveled!  

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Long days turning into nights

I never realized it, but Halloween's Samhain origins are all about the change of seasons, namely autumn turning into winter. The change is very real up here in the Pacific Northwest, autumn leaves have peaked already and we've had a cold snap this week with nights down into the 20s. 

Autumn color and some new paint!

With the longer nights coming, the last month was a last-minute rush to finish projects before working outside became an unattractive prospect, and we got most things on our project list done. The rest will wait until spring.

Hen Mail. This will hold garden tools and chicken treats in the back pasture.
They certainly aren't camera shy.

With the cold temperatures Ella and Esme are coming in at night, since they are only eight weeks old and it's well below freezing for about 10 hours a night -- quite unusual for our part of Oregon. I'm probably being overprotective, but if being a helicopter chicken mama is a crime, convict me. There's nothing more emotionally expensive than regret, especially if your livestock dies because you assumed everything would be OK...and it wasn't. 

But while I've managed to save the chicks from having issues due to the cold weather, the paint on our brand new shutters has not been so lucky. (although the newly-painted house itself looks amazing!) We discovered the latex paint the painter used did not adhere to the vinyl shutters, so when the temperatures dropped and then rose rapidly the paint blistered, bubbled and peeled.

Frostbite? Sunburn? Either way, ugly.

That lovely green paint peeled off using only my fingers, in one fell swoop. Yikes.

That's disappointing, because now we're stuck with $300 worth of shutters we can't paint (although I'm thinking after I peel the paint off I can donate them to Habitat for Humanity and take a nice tax write-off, since they are good as new, just the wrong color.) And on the bright side, we CAN replace them with green vinyl shutters that are close to the trim paint. For those keeping score, cha-ching, another $300. Since we picked the shutters ourselves I don't blame the painter. I blame us. 

Even at our age, this kind of thing happens sometimes; we face home improvement challenges, and we either complete them handily or mess up and learn from them. At the rate we are going, by the time we are 80 years old we will literally know everything there is to possibly know about house maintenance -- at which point no doubt we will promptly move into a retirement facility.

And on the homestead front, I finally hauled all 12 quarts of tomatoes out of the damn freezer and just canned them instead of keeping them frozen. They were taking up way too much space in the chest freezer, while empty shelves stood unused in the pantry. I got a fair amount of "tomato water" in my cans due to freezing the tomatoes first, but since most of the recipes I use them for call for a cup of water to be added anyway, I've got that. And I can see what I have in my freezer once again -- always a good thing.

Tomatoes...and water. 

This weekend when the clocks go back it will be a time of drawing in next to the fire and enjoying inside activities. Everything we didn't get done outside will now have to wait until spring. And since I don't drive much in the dark anymore, any evening event or party not close to home will be something we take a pass on. We're heading into the long nights now. Time to slow down and settle in. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Watching the changes

In 1992 I was both newly married and newly moved to a little town in the California's Central Valley, the kind of place that time had seemingly forgotten -- where we knew the cops by name and where there was (at the time) little crime or even news, for that matter. (The week the Taco Bell at the shopping center opened, it was front page news for several days, I kid you not.) 

It was sitting in that sweet, safe little town, in the comfortable living room of our rented condo, that I watched my hometown of Los Angeles fall apart, live on television, during the riots that took place after the Rodney King verdict.

While the 1992 riots were violent and therefore more shocking, I found myself once again watching my home state on the evening news last week. Only this time the news was about PG&E shutting off power to a million customers in Northern and Central California during the inevitable and (nowadays) annual autumn wildfires. It felt oddly familiar -- watching from a distance something that was having a huge impact on parts of my home state, where I still have family and which I will always love. 

I have a running theory that when major grid blackouts start occurring any place, whether it's Aleppo, Syria or Calistoga, CA, it's a sign that something is going on, whether the blackout is deliberate or not. In California, you could argue over whether the "something going on" is 1) climate change or 2) a corrupt utility that hasn't done its part to maintain its aging equipment, but the truth be told, it's probably both of the above. But it doesn't bode well for the future of the Golden State. 

Our new state of Oregon is not without its own issues, to be certain. In our state, it's bridges everyone is concerned with. Oregon's bridges are old, they lack seismic updates, and no one can agree how to pay for the needed repairs. But at least you can structure your life so that you can avoid needing to use a bridge, at least here in Salem. We (deliberately) chose to live east of the Willamette River, so the I-5 corridor and most of Salem is on our side of the river, so if a bridge were to be out of order -- or gone -- our lives would not be severely impacted, unless we wanted to drive to the coast. 

But avoiding a week-long shutdown of your electricity? It's hard to avoid that. You can have generators, candles, fireplaces and every other off-grid convenience known to mankind, but a week-long power outage will put a strain even the most well-provisioned among us.

It scares me a little that this is only the beginning of the pain of living with a climate that is changing, combined with transportation and electrical infrastructures not equipped to handle those changes. 

The only question is, how much pain will we endure before facing the pain of paying to keep our old way of life in a new world? I have no answers, just questions, like everyone else.

But if the fires of autumn and the pre-emptive blackouts are any indication of what's to come, we're in for a wild ride.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Home Chores: Mom vs. Dad

Great color for the pump house, not so much my hair.

The house painter is here as I write, patching, caulking and priming the exterior of our house to get it ready for painting, which will hopefully happen next week. Tuesday I went to the stylist to get my hair cut and as she was washing my hair, she asked, "so...doing some painting?" Apparently there were a couple of different shades of paint I'd somehow gotten into my hair while I was painting walls and a couple of outbuildings around here, before the painter showed up for the Big Job. 

I'm of the opinion that when you start to wear your work it's probably time for a break. 

I used to have some neighbors who had a very clear division of labor in their home: mom took care of everything inside -- cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc -- and dad took care of everything outside, like yardwork. Since mom had no interest in gardening, their roles were enjoyed by both and their house was run well. What was funny was that I was a single mom at the time I lived next door to them, and so I started to realize that around my place, I was both mom and dad. I still am to some extent.

That's because Big Ag works off property in a high-powered job in the agriculture sector, which leaves me pretty much in charge of the homestead. The things I can't do, he gets memos on, in the form of "to do" lists. Anything that requires significant upper body strength I leave to him. So he stretches fence, digs holes, and builds outbuildings in his spare time, which believe it or not, he loves doing, since most of his day job uses brain, not muscle power.  

I do all the typical housewifery-type stuff, but also work in the garden, manage the general landscaping, do the painting (wherever possible) and decor, and manage our finances.

I'll never hire someone to pick our pumpkins. Too much fun.

It works, but honestly after a day of being on a ladder painting or moving 10 yards of pea gravel, the last thing in the world I want to do is come inside, clean house and cook. And so on the days when I'm the Estate Manager and Chief Handyman (dad), those mom things suffer. I've joked before that all I really need to do is hire a professional housewife from 9 - 5 to manage all that inside stuff when I've got a lot of manual labor to do outside. But with the painters here, I've actually had time to clean the house really well, can some tomatoes, AND have some good food prepared by the end of the day.  

When I worked at the winery, I had a housekeeper, so many of my "mom" tasks were covered by her. This week, I'm paying someone to do some "dad" stuff. You can probably gauge how busy you are at times by how many auxiliary people you need to hire to help you. But unless your homestead is your job, some aspect of what you do is probably hired out, whether it's the construction people, electricians, or just hitting a restaurant for take out dinner once or twice a week because you're too tired to cook.

None of us can do it all, and even if you could, you shouldn't even try. It's exhausting, plus there's every chance you'll end up resentful over some aspect of your never-ending tasks.

But in a year full of dad-type house stuff, I gotta say being inside with a latte preparing dinner has been a little slice of mom heaven. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Summer's End

One of the things I love most about life in the Pacific Northwest is the seasonal changes. No season ever wears out its welcome by sticking around too long. I'm especially happy about that when it comes to summer, whose backside I've never been sorry to see -- even up here. This year we had two days of 100 degree-plus temperatures, a handful of 90 degree temps, but mostly our summer stayed in the 70s and 80s. Perfect.

The lawn at our newly-bought home did turn brown in July and August since the property has no irrigation. Early in August, when we were sick of looking at it, we briefly entertained the idea of putting in some sprinklers, but with .75 inches of rain later that month and the same so far in September, it's all greened up nicely -- and quickly.

There is a three week difference in when these photos were shot. What a difference an inch of rain makes!

The one downside to those mild temps and rain is that my tomato harvest has really come in slowly. This necessitated a new protocol for canning, which is actually not canning this year. Instead of running the water bath canner for just one or two quarts of tomatoes, instead I've started blanching bowls of tomatoes as they come in and then vacuum freezing them. Next year I'm planning on planting a variety of tomato called "4th of July," which as you've probably guessed, is an early ripening variety. Live and learn.

We do have plenty of pumpkins for pies and bread this winter; squash, eggplants and cukes are just about done, so the only thing left in the ground are some late season lettuce and onions. All in all, I'd say our 2019 garden was a success, and we'll expand next year with more raised beds as well as some fun new galvanized troughs for planting containers.

When we weren't in the garden or fixing things around the house we were installing and painting a new chicken mansion for the girls. It's 8 x 10 feet inside, so in the rainy season they will still have plenty of room to scratch and peck. Unreasonable, you say? Nope. Not when it rains 48 inches a year.

La Poulet Mansion

Sadly, we lost two of our favorite hens -- Callie and Chloe -- in that weird 2-day heatwave, probably due to their age. So yesterday I headed to the feed store to get two fall chicks. Ella and Esme will take their place in the flock for spring laying, provided they are both hens, which the feed store only provides a 90 percent guarantee on (so fingers crossed). But for now it's been fun having them peeping and cheeping in the dining room, where they'll live until they're ready to go outside (hopefully before Thanksgiving).

The next and last big push will be to paint our pump house, front door, garden shed and shop before the regular rains set in. We're hoping the painter can paint the house by then, too. But since it's still a little chilly outside right now, I think I'll have a cup of tea, kick my feet up and watch my new chicks explore their world!

The forecast: Foggy, with a splash of autumn.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Which is worse: Luan doors or having no flour or sugar for two months?

 I am now prepared to answer this question, and the answer is this: Having to look at flat, orange-y 1990's era Luan doors every day is worse than a lot of things, including changing up your diet in a new and pretty drastic way. Really. It is. 

The Road to Hell may be paved in good intentions, but the Closet Doors of Hell are probably Luan doors

I've been doing the no flour, no sugar diet for two months now and feel great, except for the first three days, when I alternated between feeling like I had the flu and feeling like I wanted to kill everyone who crossed my path. (The body does not give up its carbs easily). 

While I was dealing with a whole new way of eating, we replaced three of our nine Luan doors, which unlike dieting, felt good from the moment we started loading the old doors on the truck to when we painted and hung the new farm-style doors in their frames. So, the verdict is obvious. New doors for the win, every time. 

Farewell, hideous doors, and may a choir of angels sing thee to thy rest.

If going through a few days of keto-acidosis felt like having the flu, the Luan doors have been like a visual flu virus in our house. They are to the eye what a hard diet is to the body, I am convinced.  Maybe I'm too sensitive about my surroundings, but I have a somewhat philosophical take on doors -- they take us into new places, welcome us back into familiar ones, and make a statement about what's inside before we ever lay a hand on the handle -- so how they look is important. They should say, "come on in," rather than "abandon all hope ye who enter here."

Was making my diet healthier for my aging body important to me, too? Sure it was. But honestly, I saw those awful Luan doors a lot more than I saw myself in a mirror each day, so that's why I'd vote on the ugly doors for being harder to live with than suddenly not being able to have bread and dessert. 

A pleasure for the eyes to behold! 

And with all this renovation going on inside, I have to say that changing my diet up for the healthier could not have come at a better time. Not a day goes by when something new doesn't get painted, hung on a wall, or moved around. It's nice to have an even energy level throughout the day as I work. We're settling in to a new, somewhat Luan-less house now (six more doors to replace before we're done) and will have lots going on in the next few weeks as we race to the finish of the dry season in Oregon. This is a magic time, when paint dries quickly and outdoor work can be done any old time, and it's quickly is coming to a close -- the leaves are already beginning to turn up here. 

So..body, lighter and brighter, and doors lighter and brighter, too, as we head into the last part of the year. Hope your late summer is filled with plenty of loveliness, too. 

I still see summer...

but it's giving way to autumn.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Still worth it?

A quart of hard work ruined.

Even if you don't do much homesteading, gardening or farming, there are times in your life when you have to ask yourself if whatever you're doing around your home is still worth the work or not. If you have raised kids and eventually move on to that Empty Nest stage of your life, you usually have to re-examine everything you are doing -- how you're cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and even vacationing -- because while you weren't watching, your life moved onto its next phase somehow, and it all needs re-evaluation.

This is where I've been with canning the last few years. This morning, a quart jar of relish broke inside the canner, which happens sometimes (the newer quart Mason jars are usually only good for about five years before this happens), but which was very frustrating, as it represented several hours of hard work, come to naught.

Is it still worth it?

Too bad it took a quart of ruined relish for me to start pondering whether or not I actually still need that much relish stored up in the pantry. Like most people, I tend to just keep doing the same things I've always done until it becomes impractical for some reason, and then I start re-thinking whether it's needed or not. 

So after cleaning up the canner and thinking about things, I've decided that, for the time being, I'm still saying yes to canning. BUT, it's a modified yes. If it's something I can put up in pint jars, like strawberry jam, apple pie filling, blackberry syrup, etc. it's definitely worth it. Pickle relish is also still worth it -- in smaller jars. But quarts of things? Not really what is practical or needed anymore for our household of two, broken jars or not. 

So in thinking of ideas I can use to supplement our pantry in other homegrown ways, one thought I had was starting to make my own mayonnaise. I've got the eggs, and if I'm not tethered to a water bath canner filled with quarts of tomatoes all summer long, I also have the time. One other thing I've already started doing is switching our dog over to completely homemade dog food and treats, which I've wanted to do for a long time. But I'm pretty sure I can find other things that will make us more eco-friendly and healthy plus save us money if I re-order my thinking just a bit.

I'll still keep those quart jars around, though, as they're such brilliant multi-purpose containers, holding everything from flowers to leftovers to frozen broth. So the quart jars I have left will get a break from the literal pressure of canning, and I catch a break, too, in terms of workload. Less pressure on all of us. 

That's a win for everyone, I'd say.

Mason jars -- still the Swiss Army knife of household living, even without the canning.