Thursday, February 20, 2020

Are we getting exercise wrong?

One of the pleasures of home ownership, to me, is the work involved in keeping up with a place. That's because I'm one of those people who really does enjoy gardening, painting, fixing things, and (sometimes) even taking a hula hoe to the weeds. There's a primitive satisfaction in a simple job, done well, somehow more so if it involves manual labor rather than something I'd use my brain for.

What I enjoy the most is the same thing I enjoy after a vigorous hike or workout: the pleasant tiredness at the day's end that comes from exertion. It's probably the endorphins. I've been painting ceilings again this week and my shoulders are, frankly, feeling it. But roller painting a ceiling is a great upper body workout, and any ladder work you do, whether with a paintbrush or hammer in hand is, in my opinion, a better workout than Pilates or even yoga for improving balance and working smaller muscle groups we don't normally use in our regular life of standing, sitting and walking.

Even housework is a good workout, if we're honest, although it can certainly become tedious if you don't ever vary your routine or schedule. But if you move furniture to vacuum, stretch to high places when you dust, or put some serious oomph behind your mop, you're building or maintaining muscle mass, flexibility and strength. I despise having to clean behind the toilet but it does get me bending and flexing in some interesting positions, which in the end is probably good for me.

Yet in modern society, the stuff I just described is the work that healthy, middle-class Americans are most likely to hire out, given the chance. Several of my friends will religiously go to the gym or to yoga class, but have a gardener come in to look after the yard, a housekeeper who comes in on Fridays and does all the housework, and a full-service, $35 car wash they like to use every time their car gets dirty. Some of them are even on fixed incomes, and are pinching pennies to pay for their water aerobics class and their car washes (and complaining about it)! 

And it's not so much distaste that makes them opt for bouncing around on an exercise ball instead of running a Swiffer over the floor -- it's that it's never occurred to them to pick up the mantle of housework or gardener themselves. At some point, they just got out of the habit of doing things themselves, and never went back. But if you need exercise, you're healthy and pain-free and there just happens to be a floor mop in the laundry room, well...just sayin'. Take the opportunity where it finds you. 

 The way I look at it, doing these things myself pays me exactly three times. First, it saves me the price of the class or fitness center I'd be attending for my exercise. Second, I get to keep for myself whatever money I'd be paying the occasional "staff" to clean my house or prune my shrubs. And last but not least, it pays the priceless dividends of good health, flexibility and strength, which are worth more than any amount of money, in my opinion.  

And lest you think I'm being preachy, when Big Ag and I were both working, we had both biweekly lawn care and housekeeping; with nice people who came in to do what we didn't have time to do ourselves. But now that I'm retired, I intend to do manual labor as long as I'm able, in the hope that the pushing, pulling, bending, lifting, and kneeling that it takes to clean a house and tend to a yard will keep me fitter than just going to a gym. I still love yoga (more honestly, I hate the stretching but love the result of being more flexible) but I can do it at home as part of my day's tasks now. I have another friend who does the same with four other friends, so it can even be a home-based social activity...and free of charge, of course. 

When I can't do the household chores anymore, I hope I will relinquish things gracefully, and if that means going out to a senior's water aerobics class while someone else cleans around the back of the toilet, so be it. But for now, I'm all about the free workout I get from doing manual labor -- the under-appreciated set of tasks I used to pay a bunch of under-appreciated people to do.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A lot of rain

We had eight inches of rain in January (and another inch so far this month) It was not quite one for the record books, but definitely on the wetter side of what we've come to expect here. I haven't lived here long enough that I really know what "normal" is, so I pretty much just take what comes and live it like it is normal. 

All I can really compare it to is where we came from, where there were more than a few years when we received eight inches of Like, for an entire YEAR. Being out in the country and on a well, I will say too much water is definitely better than not enough. We even had snow for a couple of days, which was heavenly to wake up to.

Big Ag and I were talking last night and joking about how sometimes we'd stop during those years in CA and say, "Hey, do you hear that? It's raining outside!" We'd literally stop doing everything, just for a moment, in order to hear that wonderful sound of rain on the roof and the water splashing against the windows and running down the downspouts. We'd go outside and smell the petrichor (wonderful word for a wonderful smell) as the water soaked into the parched ground. 

We stopped marveling at the rain about a month after moving here. Snow will get our attention though, as will bright sunshine during winter. But the other day it was raining so hard it sounded like someone was throwing buckets at the window, I kid you not. Precipitation is a whole new experience here. At least in between the rain we got a few sunny days and a little snowfall.

We had a few days of this

followed by this
and this
and this. Not much growing going on.

So what does one do when faced with almost a month of rainy days? 

1. You can organize all your shelves and closets. I don't have any pics of them, but believe me, every one of my closets is awesomely organized now, with a place for everything and everything in its place. In summer I'll be outside gardening and they'll revert back to the chaos-driven portals of hell they usually are, but for now....neat as a pin.

2.  You can refinish second-hand furniture you bought to fill in spaces where you had nothing, and then become angry that methylene chloride is no longer legal, since it was the only really effective furniture stripper ever invented. This two day project took me about two weeks because of having to use ineffective furniture strippers on the 99 coats of paint which adorned this sofa table. But to see that gorgeous wood top revived and re-stained was worth it. 

3.  You and your spouse can head to IKEA and load your cart up with Swedish knick-knacks with unpronounceable names! (Note: we did not actually purchase the Sagstua, just layed down on it awhile since we were tired. Plus how many Sagstuas does one really need anyway?) 

IKEA. Where else can you buy a storage bin, wood cutting board and charcuterie plate, table trestle legs plus pillowcases all in one stop? 

3. You can watch the Puppy Bowl with your quite disinterested pup. Then your husband can watch the Superbowl with his quite disinterested wife. 

In a way I guess I've traded the hot summers (when I'd try and stay inside) for cold winters when I do the same. The difference, to me, is that I can always bundle up, throw on a jacket with a hood, and head outdoors when I get cabin fever-ish. When it's hot -- like, over 100 degrees --  there's literally no way of dressing that will make stepping outside a pleasant thing. So I think I'm in the right place.

I do wonder when exactly spring is going to show up, though. I'm starting to see bud swell on the fruit trees, my roses have sprouted small leaves, and the daffodils are almost ready to open. 

Even paradise is a mystery sometimes. Albeit a wet one. 

Almost daffodil time. 

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.