Thursday, January 23, 2020

Broken eggs no more

All egg cartons should look this pretty.

Broken eggs have been a problem ever since I started keeping chickens many years ago. Whether they are accidentally stepped on or deliberately pecked doesn't matter much when the result is messy goo that looks like a bunch of junior high school kids decided to "egg" your chicken coop. Not easy to clean up in junior high, ditto for now.

I've had my share of egg-pecking hens over the years, but unless you catch them in the act it's difficult to pinpoint which hen is to blame. I know our pigeon Floyd is also fond of rolling eggs and breaking them, although it seems to be more for entertainment purposes rather than wanting to eat the yolks.  Floyd does this because he is a gangster/hoodlum in a pigeon suit, as I believe I have stated before. 


But broken eggs are not just messy, they're also not sanitary as far as the nesting boxes go, because obviously broken eggs attract bacteria, unless you sanitize thoroughly each time it happens. And let's not even get started on the second nesting box issue most of us face -- eggs which are laid and cared for properly, but which end up smeared with feces by either the laying hen or whomever comes into the box after her.

We now have an In n' Out AND a Tractor Supply!

With that in mind, Big Ag and I drove down to the brand new Tractor Supply store in Junction City, Oregon, to buy a nesting box system with a slanted bottom and egg catchment box.  Tractor Supply stores are a staple in California, but have only recently made their way up to Oregon. Back in Paso Robles, we had a Farm Supply store, which was locally owned -- but more expensive -- and a Tractor Supply Store, which was corporate-owned, but which had better prices. We tried to split our time and money between the two; both were needed in our little town, and we knew if one decided to leave or go out of business, the other would probably immediately raise their prices, knowing they were now the "only game in town." 

But I digress. We had a nice drive down south, seeing about 500 swans parked in a field of grass, and two bald eagles (wish I'd gotten some pics but we were going 65 mph at the time). Those sights alone made the drive worthwhile. We picked up our nesting boxes, bought some rhubarb crowns, some asparagus crowns, two grape varieties (table, not wine) and some seed potatoes and Big Ag installed the boxes in the coop yesterday afternoon, after the day's laying was done. 

Looks good...but does it work?
And while I heard a lot of bitching coming from the henhouse this morning (hens really don't like the new and unfamiliar) when I went out, voila! One perfectly-laid egg in the self-contained egg compartment!

I'm hoping this allows us more freedom to be off the property, since one of my (self-appointed) tasks has become being home during morning laying hours so I can grab eggs before they become a yolky mess on the bottom of the nesting boxes. This will also keep them free of fecal matter, which means less eggs discarded due to being impossible to clean, so just a more hygienic endeavor all the way around.

Yes! It does!
One thing I am sad about it denying the girls the pleasure of sitting on their eggs for a few moments after they are laid. It's something most hens seem to enjoy doing, but for all the above reasons, isn't really practical. So they'll have to make do with extra treats and love instead, while we enjoy our omelettes, fresh ice cream and egg salad sandwiches.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

A little taste of home

In and Out recently established their northern-most restaurant in Keizer, Oregon -- a 15-minute drive for us -- and it opened a couple of weeks ago to HUGE crowds. We waited until after the holidays for the opening insanity to die down, then went for a very early lunch there this morning.

It felt like a little taste of home. The only thing missing was the trip to the beach afterwards, which I suppose we could have done, but as its only about 45 degrees there right now, with huge "sneaker" waves, that might not have been as much fun as it will be in July. 

Nonetheless, the palm trees on the sides of our shake cups made us feel a little bit of sunny California has come north to live near us, and we can visit whenever we want!

An Animal/Protein Style cheeseburger has never tasted better, I'm telling you. The shakes were as good as ever. And the fries were divine...just like I remember. Who says you can't go home again?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

A slower year

I've been reading a lot recently about how much the passage of time speeds up as we age, and why. One theory is that as we get closer to the end of our lives, the time we have left seems to compress itself more -- with less time remaining, it seems to move faster towards the finish line. And we all know what the finish line is, for us all. Ya. What a happy thought.

 Another theory is that our measurement of time when we are younger seems subjectively extended (which is why it seemed like three years between Christmases when we were seven). But most of us feel that time in our 20s and 30s moves at about the "correct" pace -- a year feels pretty much like a year. But after our 50s and 60s, time seems to speed up to a point where the 20 years between ages 60 and 80 will apparently, for most, only feel like about 13 years or so, according to one study of seniors.

To me the most challenging aspect of this is how to feel like you're making enough time to relax and slow down time, once it starts moving more quickly. When time seems compressed, it can always feel like you are rushing off to the latest chore or outing, and that the weekdays seem to just scream by into the weekends, all bumping into each other like train cars on the downslope of a hill.

But the advent of our tiny screens, I think, has also contributed to our never feeling like we have enough time, no matter what our age. First, because our iPhones, laptops and tablets steal so much of it through fairly useless (but time-sucking) activities such as Facebook or internet surfing, and second, because we can be roused to our phones at any given moment, via the alerts that let us know we've just received an email, text, or phone call from work or from loved ones reaching out. All of which take us out of our unscheduled "time out of mind" moments, back into the drumbeat of work or social life.

I loved having this table filled with family and friends, but also the solitude which came after.
We had the entire family here at the holidays and it was pretty much what you'd expect; being busy, being seriously plugged in to other people, and constantly thinking ahead to what was next on the schedule. It was wonderful to be with everyone again, but in the time since then, I'm really trying to be more mindful of putting less into the days, if just so I can enjoy the hours passing more slowly, for now.

Busy, busy busy!
One nice thing about the Oregon winter is that the short days and rain allow you to do that; there's never a time you feel less guilty about spending the day inside with a good book than when it's raining all day and the sun's going to set at 4 p.m. (provided no one's expecting you to cook dinner for seven people). 

I know in Paso Robles, I never felt like I had a lot of free time, and that's because the weather was so nice year-round, there was usually some chore around the property I knew I needed to get after, or something to do in the  chef's garden at work, or some appointment, errand or social activity scheduled. When every day is nice, you pretty much do something every day. Which is fine for people who like to have something on the calendar all the time.

Big Ag's vineyard in Paso Robles -- where every day could be productive.

I'm hoping to enjoy more "slow time" in 2020, and to be more conscious about pulling on the reins of time a bit more and watching the hours pass at a walk rather than a gallop. It will mean more time by the fire, or the stove, or by the window, just looking out. It will mean expecting less of myself and saying "no" to more activities and events. But ultimately, I think saying no a little more to some of those things will be worth the reward. 

If it lengthens my days so that 20 years feels more like 20 instead of only 13 years, that will mean seven more years of my life handed back to me; a reward paid in the one dividend we cannot make more of -- the gain of time itself.  

Slow time in Oregon. 8 am sunrise. 

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.