Sunday, December 31, 2017

Where did Christmas go?

It disappeared somewhere after I found an excellent recipe for gluten-free ginger cookies. Having learned my lesson, I made a single batch to test the recipe. It was wonderful. And I don't even like  most ginger stuff.  But these cookies were dark and rich and chewy and intense, almost like chocolate. And pretty. So I  made a quadruple batch for my holiday mailings. Mmmm.

Then C. got sick. We drove in to the CHAS Clinic (she doesn't have insurance) in Deer Park, and the bastards refused to see her as we were eight minutes late (I slid off the driveway in six inches of fresh wet snow and had to cowboy my way out in the Subaru). And we didn't call (C., bless her heart, is plumb unable to get the cell phone to work though she tried repeatedly.) So they blew us off. In a rural area after a winter storm. I was shocked.

So we went to urgent care, which costs a bundle. C. got antibiotics for mastitis, and we crept home.

So C. is now really quite sick with this infection. (Or maybe it's my cooking. I have a limited repertoire, and nachos every day can make you feel a little weird.) And I find I just can't make myself  get back in the car and face the roads. I learned to drive in Alaska, and I usually love to go charging into the snow, hurtling over berms, sliding into my parking spot, but MS has pretty much killed my confidence. It's less fun to get stuck when you have a hell of time walking or digging out. I put off mailing cookies until it's too late. Pathetic, I know.

And we hesitate to have the kids come up for Christmas, since mastitis can be contagious and both girls are nursing their babies.

So C. rests and we work on our now post-Christmas-present projects.

I'm making a rocking dachshund for our little granddaughter. The rocking base is the hard part, and I get it assembled all wonky. I've never made a rocking anything, and we're winging it without a pattern. And it's really cold in the shop area of the unheated gym, so I set up a spot in the living room and proceed to make a huge mess. C. is too ill to protest. I dart in to the gym and sand or cut or drill, them rush back into the warmth.

I disassemble the base, clamp the rockers to a box to keep everything square, and reassemble. It works!

I feel pretty successful when Bella barks at the partly finished intruder. I still need to cover the screws, and apply the final paint, ears and loooooooong tail.

When C. feels better she works on her own metal project. Shoot, she's making a bigger mess than I am!

We plan to get everyone together soon and pass out weird homemade presents. It will be lovely.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Holiday crankiness

Well, crap.

I got all giddy with the season, and decided to make awesome gluten-free cookies for my work friends and my garden friends and my family near and my family far.

No, I hadn't tested the recipes. Shut up.

So far, it's gone badly, and I'm surprised.

Now I'm thinking I'll be lucky to get a tiny box of cookies to my folks in Texas, and one to C.'s most excellent brother in Seattle. And lots of ugly bits to foist off on the kids when they come up. Or maybe the dogs.

The top row is three failed attempts to cook normal (not gluten-free) shortbread cookies. I'm getting really, really pissed. I Googled the problem, and apparently it might be the fat content of the butter (Oh, Mr. Grocer, can I exchange this butter for less-fatty butter?), or the proportions in the recipe (too late to do anything about that), or rolling them out too thin (if they were thicker they could make even bigger puddles!) or the oven firing too hot. I started cooking at 325. I'm down to 200 now. They are a a tiny bit better. Feh. And I forgot they had wheat flour and ate some dough, so now I have a headache and feel like a moron. (I cook, I nibble. It's how I roll.)

That's the Martha Stewart Cookbook in the back, and the Bonnie Scottish Cookbook to the left. You guys were not helpful.

I've wasted three pounds of butter, and my kitchen (C.'s kitchen, really) is a greasy, flour-streaked mess.


The bottom row is my less-than-brilliant success row. Left, gf lemon shortbread (better for baking, but with a funny gluten-free taste. You know what I mean), the pretty-dang-good gf chocolate crinkle cookie, and two fairly successful gf chocolate-covered peanut-butter cheesecake balls (yes, they are "decorated." It's the holidays. Shut up).

So, Ma, Pa and Dick, guess what you are getting for Christmas?

No, not pecan shortbread cookies. Those are for the dogs.

Snow, again

Kewpie noticed that it snowed.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Pantry inventory

I went over to the pantry (off the other kitchen) to turn the heater on, since 20 is the expected low tonight. And while I was there, I counted the jars of canned food, which I've been meaning to do.

Here's the 2017 inventory:
In quarts, from this year:

40 vegetable soup
93 green beans
6 shelled peas
36 snap peas
32.5 tomatoes
23 tomato sauce with herbs
10 quarts salsa (in pints)
9 spinach
4.5 sauerkraut
20 sweet pickles
5 carrots

From past years:

9.5 beet pickles
31 dill pickles
8.5 tomato sauce
13.5 borsht
6 plums
and 27 half-pints of jam

There are also 6 Jarrahdale squashes, a bag of shallots and a bag of onions.

This is to feed two people, and five dogs (four small and one medium-sized).

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Rain, meh

Grey drizzle outside. The bathroom ceiling drips into its bucket. I'm not feeling motivated to a damn thing. The house is a mess. The rabbit room is a mess. The hallway is getting narrower and narrower. Feh.

I haven't been idle all week. I'm just about done hanging the pantry door – need to find a couple of trim pieces in the gym, and patch the holes and dings in the cheap, modern, used-and-abused door jamb. It took days of slow-mo carpentry to do – chiseling out the hinge pockets, finding hinges and pins, rummaging out shims and trim.... Richard, bless his heart, hauled the door over from the gym. It's one of the original doors from the school – there are 20 or 30 stored over there. The casing (thats the flat trim part, yes?) is original, too, and warped and fragile. The jamb is a battered newer one, almost tall and wide enough, that I found in two different places. The handles and operational bit (we call them "door guts") are from our stockpile of cool metal parts.

Of course, since this is an old building, nothing is truly square or plumb. And the old materials are not in the best shape. And the walls are a weird thickness. And I scrounge materials. So it's all a little funky. But since the old door was sheet of plastic stapled over the hole (augmented by a down sleeping bag during the cold spell last year), it is a big improvement. 

It opens and closes beautifully.

I'll have to get creative on the inside trim.

C. has been making corn tortillas from masa harina (gluten free!) and we've been making enchiladas from our own black beans, salsa and tomato sauce. Pretty tasty.

Also, the local roofing guy came by and did some patching up there. He's a nice guy, but very shy. He quietly appears, climbs up there, and clumps around painting roof-goop on bad spots. We're shy, too, so this lack of interaction is fine. He does need to get us an invoice so we can pay him from our special roofing account at the bank. 

Right now, trying to make myself do something. I split a little wood and haul it in in our little red wagon. Feed and water the animals. Read. Wait for some kind of ambition. Or motivation. Or sunshine.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

World's best son-in-law

His name is Richard, and he's awesome. He, Em and little Liam came up Saturday, and he spent the whole day reaming out our four storm drains in an effort to make the roof leak less.

He is a wonderful guy, and we are lucky to have him. We're lucky to have all three of them, and we know it. But he worked his ass off for us Saturday, and it wasn't the first time, either.

I called the rental place and reserved the 85-foot "electric snake," and E. and R. picked it up and brought it out. The thing is heavy and awkward, and consists of a frame, a cage for the line and a motor. Basically, you feed the pointy end and heavy line into the pipe, and the motor drives it around and around to ream out the pipes. It doesn't feed the line, just rotates it, so you have to push the line in and pull it out manually. It was a hell of a workout, not including hauling it to and from the basement for the fourth line, which was eight feet off the floor. Em and I took turns assisting, holding the flashlight, bracing the frame, and putting it in reverse when needed.

Em captured the threatening shadow of the machine.

I rented one and reamed out the septic lines four years ago. I wouldn't be up to it today, especially on a ladder in the basement!

So thanks, Richard. You rock.

He hit multiple blockages and worked through them, so we're hopeful that the roof sumps and storm drains will do a better job of getting gallons of rain water off the roof and into the dry well.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Midnight in the land of sauerkraut

At midnight last night, C. decided to start the sauerkraut.

No, I don't know why midnight was the magic time, and I personally was ready to go to bed, but I got caught up in it, too.

She fired up The Robot, and started slicing away.

 The yellow glove is covering the wrist brace she's wearing after hurting her arm splitting wood.

The hardest part, after cutting the core out of these big cabbages, is deciding the slicing direction of the chunks of kraut. Purists slice by hand. We aren't that pure.

I removed the outer leaves and cores, and quartered the heads, then helped smash and juice the shredded leaves with a one-handled rolling pin.

We filled a six-gallon crock with five or six cabbages, covered it with a cloth and a plate, and left it overnight to produce brine.

I'm glad she decided to tackle the job. We've been kind of low lately, having a hard time getting started doing the many jobs that should be done. And the weather is dreary.

In other news, we had pie. I love pie.

It was apple, and C. made her first gluten-free crust. The recipe is here. She said it was a little awkward to work with, but doable, and pretty dang good.

Thursday, November 9, 2017


Yesterday Earl and I made our monthly trip to The Can (Spokane, the local metropolis of 215,973 souls – and a Costco, and a fine bookstore, Auntie's).

Our very kind younger daughter Emma took us to Costco for serious cheese shopping. (Young Liam helped by making motor noises from his stroller.) I had a quick lunch with my work buddies. Bought gas. Bought a month's worth of Canadian and Mexican beer. And met with an angelic woman from SNAP, to apply to have our mortgage reconfigured to lower our payment, since we're on disability now. She was great, and we are hopeful.

Then a quick stop at WinCo to score a month's supply of Guittard milk chocolate. Will it last a whole month? We don't know. We are hopeful. C. has offered to hide it, and allow set amounts each day, but I'm afraid I might turn violent.

Today C., Earl and I hit Deer Park (pop. 4,000) for Blue Sky cola and some miscellaneous groceries I didn't have time to buy in Spokaloo.

I think we're set for the month, and we're happy to stay home now.

The weather has turned wet. I think the usual fall monsoons are here, though late. We need to hit our mushroom spot for fall pickings.

Today C. went up on the roof and cleaned out the stovepipe topper. She poked around a bit, looking for the causes of our usual leaks.

We have some money set aside for roof work, and talked to a nice local guy about it. He has no sense of urgency, though, so we may need to call one of the more businesslike places. I do not want to be bailing out the back door this year.

We've had a couple of deaths in the last month or so. Birdie, our neurologically damaged house chicken, died. And Walter, our granddog the pug, struggled with a horrible autoimmune disease and was finally, mercifully, euthanized. He was only 6.

I keep busy feeding and watering the animals, hauling firewood, and reading. And thinking about next year's garden.

And older daughter S. gave us her old Nikon digital camera, so we should have some good shots to post!

No eggs today. None yesterday.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Snow day

The snow got serious, and we must have five inches out there. It's not a lot, but it's enough to keep me mostly inside, reading and listening to Jango internet radio. Ruthie Foster's "Death Comes a Knocking" is playing. Crank it up! Great song.

Friday, November 3, 2017

First snow

We've got little dusting of snow out there today, but it's mostly melted away.

Earl and I hit Deer Park for groceries (mostly chocolate) and chicken food. The roads were bare.

I've been reading and puttering instead of posting, so here is a recap of recent events.

First, my mom is doing well after surgery. :)

Just before the temps plummeted, I insulated the pipes in the pump house.

Here's the before shot. The pump and pipes are in a big (10x10x10 feet), loosely insulated room inside the cinderblock building. We run a small heater in there, but it's still frozen three times in the last five years, generally at the elbow in the upper left foreground. Last year's busted pipes sent spray cutting through the fiberglass and foam insulation around the room. What a mess. I planned to build an insulated plywood box just big enough for the pipes, and run a little milk house heater in there, but did some research online and decided to make better use of the heat tape and add the recommended inch-and-a-half of fiberglass insulation. I think I'll wrap the whole thing in plastic before it gets really cold. Fingers crossed!

Granddaughter Ciri celebrated her first birthday with a gathering at the restaurant where her parents work. Her friends Eloise and Landon helped open the packages when she got tired. We had fun!

Here's a gratuitous shot of Smokey, our angora house rabbit, with amaranth. He's a very cool fellow.

I'll be posting a final tally of the preserves in the pantry soon. The last of the tomatoes are still ripening in the other kitchen, but I think we're done with canning. Huzzah!

One egg today.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Thinking of my mum

Who is having surgery for noninvasive breast cancer tomorrow. She's 79, her name is Suzy, and she's pretty damn tough. I'd sure appreciate any kind thoughts or prayers you'd send her way. She says she's not worried, just really pissed off over her bad luck.

She and my dad raised us four kids all over the West, from New Mexico to Alaska, before retiring to Texas.

Hang in there, Ma, and get well!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Big wind

No, not me. There's wind storm out there, rocking the pine trees and stirring up dirty grey clouds. The wind advisory firm the NWS calls for gusts up to 50 MPH.

If we're lucky, the big pines will stay rooted in the ground. If not, some of them will blow over, taking power lines with them, and the area will have no lights or water for a day or three.


The wind got a little scary there, and I shut down the computer. But all is well – no power loss or downed trees. The ground is littered with pine needles, though. Might rake up some for kindling.

The forecast is for rain, for the next week. And likely until the snow flies next month. Not excited about the fall rains, mostly because of the leaky roof, and the relentless grey skies and muddy ground. Snow usually comes as a bright, clean relief.

I'm pleased I managed to finish the rooster house and the roofing over the basement stairs before the rain hit.

During the storm, I made the rounds of the building, blocking that floppy window in the stairs room with bricks, and the north door with a heavy can of paint. Locked the south door to keep it from blowing open, and added a few chunks of heavy wood to the metal roofing over the woodpile. Hauled in some bigger logs for the stove. Brought four bowls of nearly ripe tomatoes from the other kitchen. Left a message at SNAP, a local HUD agency, to see if we can reconfigure our mortgage and lower our payment since I'm officially disabled now.

That's it for work for me today. I'm reading "Slow Dancing on Dinosaur Bones" by Lana Witt. Good book. Just finished "Dancing Bear" by James Crumbly. Also good.

Earl is out barking at coyotes.

Tamale pie for dinner. One egg today.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Chilly, windy day.

I stacked on the pile of wood the kids brought.

I winterized the duck house that A. gave us last year and Em and R. moved over to the rooster quarters. Basically, I covered the bottom, sides and front with thin plywood, which stiffened the structure quite a bit. The roof is metal, and lifts for human access. It should be quite snug for the four fellahs. C. helped me prop it up on 4x6s to keep it out of the snow and ice. Higher would be better.

I added a stout branch for a roost, and tossed some layer crumbles inside so they'd check it out. They moseyed in to eat the crumbles, then went back out into the wind to roost on the brick windowsill. Idiots.

I'll cover the floor in straw, and maybe as the weather worsens they'll move inside.

Then worked on putting a tin roof over the outdoor stairs leading to the basement. I've had to cobble together scraps of the tin to finish the thing, so am adding some wooden supports in a couple of places. (Yes, it'd go quicker if I bought new materials, instead of scrounging roofing from the barn leftovers, but hippies don't do that.)

Hope to finish that tomorrow, and go on to reinsulating the pump house and a bunch of other jobs.

I've managed to put behind me (snort) the hideous image of my old-woman butt. And my tailbone is feeling better after that fall, though it still hurts to sit down, lay down and get up.  Seriously, I need to wear some protective gear, since my natural bumper back there has shriveled up and fallen down. Something like an orange life jacket, stuffed into my underpants. A whoopee cushion, duct-taped to my jeans?

Three eggs today.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I'm in shock

Seriously rattled.

I made the monthly trek to town yesterday, lunch with buddies, pharmacy-grocery-beer-gas-chicken-food shopping, and dragged my tired old butt home.

Em, Richard and Liam (with a pumpkin cheesecake) were here to celebrate C.'s birthday, and they'd brought two loads of wood from a neighbor of my garden-club friends. It was awesome. R. unloaded the wood, and the car. Em made dinner. Liam and I read in the big recliner.

Then I helped Em deliver plates of cheesecake and the GF carrot cake I'd made yesterday, discovered I was without my cane while I crossed the kitchen holding two plates of cake, and in ominous slo-mo,  windmilling, fell backward onto my butt on hardwood floor. Richard lunged to catch me and managed to save one plate, but not me. Boom.

Nothing was broken, not even me. I hurt some, and I'll be taking it easy for a few days. The shocking part came when I checked in the bathroom mirror for a bruise.

Sometime in the last 30 years, something has happened to my ass. Now, I've lost weight in the last year,  thanks to my doc's ban of gluten. Maybe six belt notches. I don't pay much attention – after all, I'm in here, not out there. I don't look in mirrors much. (Who knows how many times I appeared at work with my hair sticking up, or tags on the outside? I don't. I have kind friends.) And I've gotten old – 59 at last count.

This morning I met my butt face-to-face. Or face-to... you know what I mean.

And I'm still reeling. (Mentally, I mean. Though if I forget the cane and am tired, physically, too.) Where there should be a robust bumper of butt cheek, there is a... sort of saggy hollow. And the cheek bit is a shriveled thing, way down there. Whoa.

What happened?

I'm going to go sit on the heating pad now, and read some escapist fiction.

Do they make helmets for the butt? Or do I have to wear my old fanny pack backward?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Fine weather

The monsoons have backed off, and we've had lovely days in the high 60s, blue skies with lots of clouds. No need for a fire at night. Indian summer: my favorite time of year. Long may it last!

C. canned another batch of veg soup today. There was enough left over for dinner – I think it was the best batch ever.

She's working on more tomato sauce now. I'm to stir the soup pot of paste tomatoes while she is in the shower. She'll put herbs in and let it simmer overnight, and can it tomorrow.

She spent the day picking tomatillos and digging spuds, and I cleaned up the messy area outside the rabbit room. Our boy and family are coming up tomorrow to help with the harvest, so I ventured into the basement and cleaned up the "ice room," our root cellar area. I was pleased with myself. I haven't been down there in a couple of years. I don't do stairs anymore, and these are a steep set of 20 concrete steps. There's an old-school pipe handrail, though, and I took it slowly. Hah. Maybe I'll get on the roof next.

We'll ask the kids to dig carrots, beets and parsnips, pack them in buckets of moist sand, and haul  them to the basement. And dig spuds. And move the duck house around the building to the rooster yard....

We're lucky to have family to help us out with the heavy work around the place.

The spuds will cure for a few days outside, and we'll get them to the basement, too.

Yesterday I cut all the cabbages, pulled off their outer leaves, and hosed dirt, aphids, earwigs and slugs off. We've got about 30, some of them bigger than basketballs. They'll become sauerkraut, except for a few in perfect shape that can be wrapped in newspaper and go to the root cellar for storage.

C. cut all the winter squash, and fed the vines to the goats. And I picked the field corn and cut the stalks for the goats and sheep. I'm pulling the husks back and hanging the ears to dry in the entryway.

Our venerable microwave/convection oven died. C. found another for $25 on Craig's List, and the microwave guy gave us some apples, too. C. plans to make apple cider vinegar, after pricing the real stuff ("with the mother") for her pickle-making. You can't buy gallons of the good stuff – it comes in quarts for about $5, and she uses lots of it.

Our fine son-in-law brought us two loads of firewood. He's batching it for a week while Em and Liam are in Portland getting some specialized medical treatment. He's such a good guy. C. will fire up the chainsaw and cut the wood into stove lengths, and I'll stack it on the porch.

Two eggs today; four yesterday.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Garden: toast

Well, pretty much. A good hard frost hit us Friday night.

It was a surprise – the weather service predicted 36 degrees, then issued a frost warning (didn't know there was such a thing) in late afternoon. We'd been at the Friends of the Deer Park Library book sale all day and didn't know about it until 6 or so. I told C. about it, then promptly went back to the Civil War, and forgot all about the garden. I do get involved in a book. I finished "The Black Flower," by Howard Bahr, at dusk, and wandered outside, wondering where C. had gone. Duh. She was draping plastic sheeting over the tomatoes.

I put on a headlamp, dug out more plastic, clothespins and all the spare sheets, and covered tomatoes until midnight or so. Hard work on uneven ground. We have three 40-foot rows – and a few plants here and there – of indeterminate tomatoes, and those plants get 6 or 7 feet tall.

We had a fire in the wood stove that night.

So Saturday we pulled off the plastic and the sheets, and checked the damage. Some of the covered plants, especially at the bottom of the garden, were hit hard. Others were barely touched. The pole beans were uncovered and took only minor damage. As usual, it's weirdly random.

Then the fall monsoons started. It's been gray, chilly and rainy since. The remaining tomatoes aren't going to ripen much now, and another freeze is forecast for Friday. Might as well accept it.

We finished picking the last of the tomatoes today – six buckets full. The green ones are spread out on the island in the other kitchen. They'll ripen over the next couple of weeks, probably. The yellow, orange and red ones are over here. Wait – I forgot to get the toms on the fence on the little dog yard. We'll get those, and the tomatillos, squash and corn tomorrow. Then we'll pick the giant cabbages, and launch into sauerkraut production.

C. is making salsa right now. She makes really good, mild salsa. I asked for her recipe, and she says she just wings it. I pressed for details, for you, my three readers, and here you go: Take a shitload of tomatillos (Exactly how many is that? A bunch. A bunch? A lot. All you have. Like... a gallon-jar full? Two, maybe... and the tomatillos should be mostly yellow, not green. They're sweeter that way.), three big onions, maybe a dozen medium-sized paste tomatoes, six Ancho peppers without seeds, four big cloves of garlic. Cut everything in half (chop the garlic), coat with oil and roast in batches in a 450-degree oven. (For how long? Until it's done. Blackened on the edges? Browned.) Drain off some of the liquid. Pulse everything up (not too fine!) in a fancy red food processor. Add lemon or lime juice, vinegar, salt, cilantro, cumin. Makes 10 pints to can in a water bath. And since the canner holds only nine jars, that leaves one to eat with chips or crackers while you clean up the huge mess this makes in the kitchen. (That's pretty good. More specific measurements would be helpful, though. Oh. Oh, well.)

So we're closing the gardening season down. Next, we'll get the winter's wood supply in. I'm already remembering those 90-degree days – just a couple of weeks ago – fondly.

Two eggs today.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cooling off

The smoke is mostly gone, and the days are much cooler – fall is really here.

The tomatoes are ripening like crazy. I pick pole beans every day, then tomatoes. It takes two trips with the picking bucket to get each day's toms in.

No, that's not me. But that's
my bucket. $1 at an estate sale
years ago. 
Very handy.
We moved the food driers over to the other kitchen, leaving a whole length of counter over here for tomato sorting and storage. I go through them a couple times a day, moving the ripe ones here, and the bad ones there, so we know what needs to be used or canned or refrigerated. I'm pleased to be a slave to tomatoes. And the rabbits and chickens are happy to eat any iffy ones.

We've been making our usual tomato-season sandwiches: a thick slice of homemade bread (or a gluten-free pancake, in my case), a generous layer of homemade pesto, slabs of tomato and grated asiago cheese, all toasted under the broiler. Mmmmmm.

The kids were up the other day to help with the garden. (Liam is getting so big! And he's got chunky little thighs.) We harvested the hops. My pulley system didn't work as well as I'd hoped. The vines climbed four lines tied to a ring, and the ring was to be raised and lowered with a rope going through a carabiner on the top lip of the 20-foot ham-radio pole. But the vines bound everything together, and it took some serious reefing to get the ring lowered. We cut the vines and tied everything up in clean sheets. Next I need to pick off the hop cones and rig up a place indoors to dry them.

That's the hops tower on the back of the chicken house.

This year was an improvement on the last, when the vines grew into the chicken wire on top of the chicken run – picking the cones was a real pain. Next year, I want to move the vines to the flower bed around the building, and set up several towers. The towers can attach to the roof for stability, I'll use actual pulleys for smoother raising and lowering, and we'll get away from the dust that the guineas and chickens churn up in their yard.

C. wants to make beer with our hops, which would be cool and maybe even save us some money. Of course, I get to design the label. She is looking for a recipe for a "skunky" lager similar to either Labatts or Dos Equis. Don't ask me – I'm not a beer drinker.

My addiction is chocolate, which I think is altogether more sensible. I've been buying Guittard milk-chocolate chips, big fat bits of smooth, rich chocolate – better than any candy bar, IMHO. Since we try to limit our grocery shopping to once a month, I figured I could limit myself (ha!) to four ounces a day, so 10 12-ounce packages would last a month. Right? Not so much. So far, I'm consuming a whole package a day. I guess I'll be realistic, pick up a few packages on payday, suck them down, and then do without. Self-control is a bitch.

Six eggs today. Milk and two dozen eggs from Rose Saturday.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Smoky and hot

September has been just like August, so far. Smoky skies from wildfires. Temps in the 90s. The air reeks of smoke, and the sun is a sickly orange disk.

We watched Em's four dogs for a weekend so she could visit family in Moses Lake. The dogs were pretty good. We still have the weiner, Bella, while they work on training Arnold. We have a weak spot for dachshunds. They are stubborn, arrogant, sneaky, greedy, noisy – and funny. Our own weiner,  Annie, is pretty awesome. And she hasn't killed anything inappropriate for a long time (like chickens or kittens). She did get a mouse last week. She's a little jealous of Bella, so I have to make a fuss over her, and give her the best spot on the lap.

Yes, the buttons light up.
C. is in the kitchen, skinning tomatoes for sauce and a batch of vegetable soup. She gets to slice up a bunch of veggies in her new food processor (woohoo!) for the soup.

I picked rabbit food, green beans and tomatoes today; green beans, dry beans and tomatoes yesterday.

Eight eggs yesterday; five today.

Friday, September 1, 2017

September garden

Our camera is dying, but managed to function for a few minutes today. We have another, but it has too many buttons. We are considering looking at the manual.

Savvy the sheep chows on horseradish and parsnip leaves.

Amaranth and the east corn patch

The dry beans

Amaranth and the north corn patch. We started this corn inside – some of it is 8 feet tall now.
Unfortunately, it's field corn, not sweet corn.

The cucumbers continue to crank out blooms and spiky fruit.

These purple snap peas will not die, dammit.

Peculiar volunteer tomatoes

That big cracked tomato must be 8 inches across.

C.'s Just Joey rose is going to bloom! It's in a pot, or it'd be in a gopher.

C. is having one of those days where she knocks things over every time she turns around. It's a butt-swing thing. Right now she is on a stool pouring boiling water on pickles in the little crock. I offered to help, and she said, "Hell, no!" I was a little hurt until she said she'd just manage to pour boiling water on me.

Five eggs today; six yesterday.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Late summer

Life is still centered around the garden. It's hot, in the 80s and 90s, but cool at night.

The tomatoes are slowly ripening. I do enjoy picking something that turns bright red when it's ready. Makes a nice change from rummaging among green leaves to find green beans or peas. We have several big bowls of lovely ripe ones we need to do something with today. I think C. plans to cook them down to make sauce. I'm lobbying for catsup, and salsa, too. So much better than store-bought.

We've been saving our pennies, and bought a fancy-ass bright-red HUGE food processor to replace the old Cuisinart. It's magnificent. It's squatting, glowing red, on the counter. It's a Breville Sous Chef, which sounds pretty cool (though not as cool as the Robot Coupe, another brand). I've promised to never use it, so it should last a long time.

I hate those things (C. loves them). C. has five or more small ones, most bought second-hand. They've all got discs and stems and bowls, all in different sizes, and are all such plastic crap. I hate the way they all open and close and lock and work in counter-intuitive ways. I get frustrated and come close to breaking the damn thing every time I use one. Give me a knife and a cutting board, please.

But when it's time to thin-slice basketball-sized cabbages for the 10-gallon crock, I can see the advantage.

C. is thrilled.

The house was messy, so I decided to organize the books. That's how I roll. So now the messy house has stacks of books everywhere. I've been working on it for a couple of weeks. Most of our books were just plunked on random shelves when we moved, and it's been hard to find anything – especially anything in the boxes of books that were never unpacked! I tacked together a shelf for paperbacks, but will probably need to build one or two more. And the book sale is next weekend...

I'm off to feed the chickens. C. is preparing to slice some vegetables.

Sheep, sheared!

And I can almost say I did it myself.

C. is the fiber person, and she's always done the shearing. She thinks I'm insufficiently careful with both sheep and fleece. But she's busy with the garden, so I decide to step up.

I bait the triangular catch pen, in the pasture, with grain, and manage to catch Bambers.

I know professional shearers plop the sheep onto her butt and hold her upright, and take 10 minutes to peel that fleece right off – like mamma whipping off baby's jammies. I'm not up to that. I put the halter on her and tie it up tight, then sit on a stool next to her and start clipping at the neck. She hops and fusses. I try all four pairs of sharpened hand shears, and one is... okay. Not great. I think it might be hand strength that is the problem. Or the angle of the blades. I eventually go to the scissors, and manage to get the top of her neck down to the middle of her back. Like a reverse mullet. Or a crew cut that slid off the head onto the neck. I leave it for the day, and she gets the hell out of there. Yes, her haircut is tragic – but she is a little cooler, and it is a start.

Next day, I catch her again, and manage to shear her back and sides on down to the top of her tail before we both get tired. Now her haircut makes her butt look big. Heaven knows what the neighbors think.

Shearing is hard on the back, so I rest a couple of days and get back to it. I try the same grain game, but everyone is a whole lot more suspicious. Every time I get one in the pen and the gate nearly closed, she plows past me to freedom. Damn sheep.

They hadn't knocked me down (yet), but I am hot and frustrated. I need help. I find C. in the garden. She is in garden mode, though, not sheep mode, and was not enthusiastic. She has important garden stuff to do. I am hot, frustrated and convinced that one of the sheep needs to be sheared now. It's possible that one of us is being unreasonable.

Peevishly, she joins me at the big gate from garden to pasture. Peevishly, I bring a bucket of oats and the sheep halter. I step through the gate, the goats mob me, and yellow jackets fly out of the pipe next to the gate and sting me. And C. refuses come through the gate to help because of the hornets. Bloody hell.

OK. Plan B. I'll catch a damn sheep in the halter somehow, take her through the hornet gate, and C. will lead her through the garden and out the other gate to the shearing area (my cane and I are not steady enough to lead her any distance.) OK? OK. (Pity it doesn't occur to me to withdraw gracefully, lure the sheep back over to the shearing area and catch them there on my own. Duh.)

So I dump several little piles of oats to distract the goats, make a lasso of the harness and lay it along the top of the grain bucket. The greedy sheep push their heads into the bucket, I pull the loop tight, and I have two. OK, that's a problem. I manage to release one, and keep the other, just in time because here come the goats after the bucket. I pull Tricks the sheep, my intended victim, over to the gate, staying well away from the hornet nest in the pipe. C. opens the gate for me and I hand off the sheep, who drags C. away into the delicious wonders of the garden. I'm closing the gate, wary of hornets, and the other sheep plows right through me into the garden. In the pasture, the goats are fighting over the grain bucket, and one manages to get his horns and head through the handle. Now he's wearing the bucket around his neck, dancing to keep his brother out of the grain. In the garden, C. loses hold of the halter.

We have two sheep loose in the garden, one with a noose around her neck, and a goat stuck in a bucket. It is not our finest farming moment.

The sheep are skittish, we manage to herd them back into the pasture, and the goats are too distracted by the bucket of grain around the little guy's neck to rush the gate. I grab him and somehow wrestle his head and horns out of the bucket handle.

I withdraw to sulk and plot my revenge. C. returns to her gardening. Her hand is hurt from the sheep ripping the halter away.

A few days later, I have a cunning plan. I draft help me move the triangular catch pen into the barn. I lure the three sheep into the barn pen, and shut the goats, and alpaca out. In a confined area, it's pretty easy to get a sheep into the triangular pen, where I sit and shear for a few hours. I'm nearly done when I cut poor Bambi on the thigh. And I had been doing so well. Sheep skin is so thin and delicate, it's easy to do. I lose confidence. C. kindly comes over and finishes for me. We dab that purple wound stuff on her to keep the flies off.


Yes, I sheared the sheep all by myself this year.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Weather change

And it's huge. The smoke from Canadian and Montana wildfires is gone. It's cooler, especially at night. Makes me think about getting wood.

My friend Darrell always said that August 17 is when the hot summer weather changes. I'd forgotten that, sure that hot July would go into hot August, and it would be hot forever. Silly.

It's so cool at night I quit opening the windows, and added another blanket to the recliner where I sleep.

It's wonderful, even though the fields are yellow and crispy and dry. We even got a little rain. Now there's blue skies and some beautiful wispy clouds, instead of the dingy white smoke that turned the sun and moon red for the last month. We had a record 15 consecutive days of over-90 temperatures (breaking a record set in 1894). I hear that the fires continue and the smoke will be back, but maybe lighter this time.

The garden is stressed, but surviving. Yesterday I mixed up a lime solution and poured it on the roots of the row of tomato plants with blossom end rot. I picked all the affected tomatoes so the plants wouldn't waste energy trying to ripen them. Not every plant has it, and not every tomato on each affected plant has it, so we're hopeful.

C. is out in the hall picking out "Shenandoah" on the pump organ. I forgot to mention we have a pump – or rather – a reed organ! It's an oaken beauty from the 1890s, and the kids got it for us at an estate sale. Our favorite estate-sale people gave them a great deal on it. C. has been wanting a piano since we sold ours 20 years ago. This isn't a piano, but it's pretty dang cool.

KC, our handsome grandson, came up to try it out. It's worth having just so we see more of him. He's had no musical education, but is very musical, and can play just about any instrument he picks up. We're all jealous.

In other news, the sheep are sheared. Seven eggs today.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Hot, hot, hot

As the Cure sings. It's been over 90 every day for weeks. Bloody tedious.

We've been to a book sale, though, so there is plenteous reading material.

We work to keep everything watered, but there are yellow leaves on many plants. And we've got blossom-end rot on some tomatoes down at the bottom of the garden. I've been researching a solution – a guy on YouTube recommends dissolving a Tums antacid in a spray bottle, and squirting the foliage. Other folks dissolve a couple of handfuls of garden lime in water, and pour it on the roots. I guess the problem is that the plant can't make use of calcium because of heat, uneven watering or an actual calcium deficiency. So you apply calcium in an easy-to-access form, and sometimes it clears up. We'll try that tomorrow.

The peas and beans are still producing, but they have slowed down. We've had a few ripe tomatoes. Stupeechka was the first, as usual, around July 29. Since then, we've had some big Prudence Purples, a few Opalkas and some cherry types.

The guineas, who have been allowed out after sunset, have unfortunately discovered the orange and red tomatoes, and are pecking chunks out of them. I'm working on getting the birds all in at night and keeping them inside, but there are a half dozen that refuse to go into the chicken house and instead sleep in the pine tree out front. And every time I herd one over and open the gate to let it in, another one or two will get out. I wave my cane around, and toss grain on the far side of the chicken yard, and still fail to get everyone locked up. I'm tempted to wear a bowler hat and little mustache, get video of this, turn it to black-and-white, and speed it up. It'd be real cute.

I guess I need to buy some more chicken wire and cordon off the tomatoes.

And while I'm whining, I'll mention that, for the first time in two years, the goats have gotten into the garden, the little bastards. They pushed the gate – a 6-foot chunk of heavy cattle panel – off to the side and squeezed their pudgy, horned selves through. We fixed the gate, but they so enjoyed the raspberries and amaranth they figured out a way to jump between the top of the fencing and the wire above, after loosening the fencing by rubbing their big old goat butts on it. So I ran bright yellow binder twine from the posts, around the three wires and through the fencing mesh in big "v" shapes to hold it all tightly together. It looks a bit sad, but has kept them out. I think I'll move all the cattle panels we own to the garden perimeter when we get another pasture fenced this fall. We cannot have goats in the garden.

A weather change is finally coming – there's a 20 percent chance of a thunderstorm tomorrow, and then highs of 80 forecast for the next week. It'll be a relief.

Five eggs today.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Too hot for peas

The peas have pretty much quit producing, though I do have to check every day. I think it's just too hot. Most of the plants are in good shape, though, green and robust, so we're hoping they get going again when the weather cools off a bit.

The pole beans are blooming furiously, so we'll soon be slaves to beans. Looking forward to it.

Earl and I hit town yesterday to fill a prescription. It was hot and boring, and the highlight of the trip was a stop at Zip Trip for ice cream cones. He had vanilla in a cup, and must have gotten "brain freeze," as he kept shaking his head and looking funny. I gave him my cone after removing every  trace of chocolate ice cream as it was chock full of gluten.

C. is keeping the food driers going 24/7 with herbs and rabbit greens. My friend Vicki gave us a cool dehydrator from the 1970s – it's a Harvest Maid, and looks like a microwave. Does a beautiful job.

I'm working on organizing the hallway, and the front yard.

Nothing exciting to report.

Six eggs today.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Pea slave

No, I'm not talking about being a slave to an over-active bladder, though I am.

Remember when we got the peas planted so late in the season, and worried that we'd get none? Hahahaha. I am spending three hours a day picking peas. Every day. And I'm pretty glad to do it. I love shell peas. And the dogs love snap peas. And we have lots. We've had them with new spuds in cream sauce, steamed with butter and salt, and in salads. The extra fridge has big bowls waiting for me to shell or break them for canning or freezing or drying or eating. And soon it'll be cool enough for me to get out there and pick some more. It's good. If we're really lucky, we'll get enough put  away to have peas once a week all winter.

The weather has been hot, hot, hot. A thunderstorm is forecast for Saturday, then back to hot, hot, hot.  Peas aren't crazy about hot weather, so we're keeping them watered and picked, and hoping they keep producing.

Also, we have a prisoner.

He's a young pocket gopher, and I just reached down and picked him up by the tail in the garden as I was headed in one evening. He's now installed in an ice cream tub in an old bird cage, and not real happy about that.

Em, who is tenderhearted, and hasn't had these little bastards tunnel up under her tomato plants and just suck a whole plant into the ground, is all for us returning him to his gopher family. We said no way. I was planning to relocate him to the woods someplace far away from gardens, but Washington state law prohibits releasing him anyplace but our own land. Legally, we can kill gophers (but no lethal traps without a permit) and we can live-trap them, but that's it. So we're not sure what to do with him. Meantime, I deliver garden greens to him.

My friend Allison was telling a story about her parents, who were plagued by squirrels. They were nature-lovers, and weren't about to go shooting or poisoning them. So they caught one in a live trap, killed it with carbon monoxide from the car exhaust (said to be painless and humane), and left the furry little body on a platform in the woods frequented by eagles and hawks.

Makes perfect sense to me. Shoot, I use a battery-operated mousetrap that electrocutes mice, then I feed them to my chickens. It seems harsh for a vegetarian, but we all draw the line somewhere. I will kill to keep mice out of my kitchen. And gophers out of the garden. And to protect myself and my people and my animals, I suppose. Just not casually, for dinner.

I keep offering him as a pet to my friends. He's kind of appealing, in a hamster-on-steroids kind of way. No takers, though.

Monday, July 3, 2017

It's my birthday

so I'm sitting here eating chocolate ice cream. And if it wasn't my birthday, I'd still be eating ice cream. It's hot out!

Em, bless her heart, made me a gluten-free chocolate cake, with garbanzo beans instead of flour. It sounds weird, but is delicious, and sort of cheesecake-ish. I think we've discovered the secret of successful GF cooking: don't try to imitate ordinary dishes. The texture is never right. Just make something tasty, however strange. She buzzed up a can of chick peas in her blender, added the usual sugar and eggs and such, and baked. Came out really well. Thanks, Em!

She dropped the cake off, along with two dogs and her two big weird tortoises, on Saturday. We're keeping everybody over the long holiday weekend, so the kids can go camping at Priest Lake.

We're doing the usual gardening tasks today. The alpine strawberries have been producing like crazy, so I've been out there picking the little things, and popping them in the freezer for jam-making later. C. is planting little patches of carrots and beets here and there. The spuds seem to need constant mulching. And the driers need to be kept full of greens for winter rabbit food. And the weeding... and the picking....

We got the Subaru food dehydrator in operation.

It's just a clean old nylon-net curtain stretched over poles in the back of the car. I can roll it up, fold the seats back up and be ready to drive in just a couple of minutes, should we need to go somewhere. I like the operating cost, and the fact that it doesn't heat the house up. Makes me feel like such a virtuous hippie.

That's kale drying there. The poles are mostly sections of fishing poles that we picked up
at the estate sale of a fishing-pole repair guy. We have hundreds of the things.
We're off to buy milk and eggs, then back into the garden.

Three chicken eggs today. The guineas are somehow hiding their eggs, despite being locked in the chicken yard. It's a mystery.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Bird bath

I'm sitting here holding a wet chicken wearing a bib. Birdie is still damp from her bath in the kitchen sink, and is eating oatmeal while I blog.

I'm hoping C. will take her and blow-dry her, so I can go tidy the hallway or something. It's 82 degrees out, and we're avoiding the garden until evening.

Earl and I did a little shopping in Deer Park this morning. He was very good, so I bought him a little box of crackers. I let him open it himself – I think he enjoyed ripping up the packaging as much as eating the contents.

Two eggs today.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

An interesting few days

It's hot again, so I'm sitting here eating vanilla ice cream. I've been out tying up tomatoes and reinforcing the tomato towers.

We learned that the towers were tippy on Monday. It was hot and muggy, and I was out mulching potato plants. I was hunkered between the pea and potato beds, pulling old hay out of bags and poking it around the bases of the spud plants, when the weather decided to break. The sky got grey, a wind came up, and splotches of rain fell. No big deal – we garden in the rain all the time. Keeps the skeeters down. And rainstorms out here are often brief.

So I'm poking hay, and poking hay. The rain gets heavier, and the wind starts lashing the trees. Poke. poke. These things usually blow over pretty quickly. I'm getting damn wet, though, and the thunder is rolling. Poke, poke. The rain is coming down so hard my glasses are channeling rivulets. Can't see a thing. The thunder is becoming constant – and the lightning is making brief, quick flashes just to the north. Hmm. Might be time to go inside. I heave myself up out of a puddle with the help of the terrace wall, grab my metal cane, and start for the house. The air has gone white with water and the ground is covered in puddles. I'm bent way over, clutching my useless glasses in one hand, rounding the tall wire fencing that supports the pole beans. It's times like these I remember the guy from work who was struck by lightning in a fishing boat. Years later, he still had no eyebrows. My old neighbor in Denver, who lost his big toes to lightning. Those four farming sisters killed by a single strike of lightning out in the fields, in that southern novel. (OK, fiction doesn't count. Stop thinking about that.)

I'm working really hard to get up to the house. It's taking forever, the thunder a never-ending rumble, the lightning dancing close. I see the lights in the house go out abruptly, then I make it up the steps and inside, and C. hands me a towel. I made it.

We light the candles, and read by battery-operated LED.

The power is still off the next day. We find a can of Sterno and a folding survival stove (good thing we buy weird stuff at estate sales), and make coffee with the water we keep in gallon jars on the fridge, in case of outages. (The well pump is electric.)

Fortunately, the freezers are nearly empty – just ice cream and a few quarts of Chinese cabbage. But I worry about my lovely gluten-free chocolate ice cream turning to runny sludge in there. I finally whip the door open and grab it, and close the door quickly. It's soft foam, not very tasty, but I eat it anyway. I get a stomach ache.

Out in the garden, one of the bean towers has blown over. And a bit of the brush pea-trellis. And one of the stepladders supporting tomatoes. The plants look undamaged, except for a battered rhubarb. And rhubarb is tough.

Apparently one of the power poles on our west fence line is among the casualties, as crews are over there with backhoe and cherrypickers Tuesday afternoon. A few hours later, our lights come on.

We really need to look into a backup power supply, just for the freezers and pump.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The cockeyed optimist plants peas

Sure, they'll be plenty of room between rows for picking! And 34 inches is certainly tall enough for pea trellis! See, here, on the packet? "Plants grow to 30 inches high."


The peas on the outside of the fences are relatively well-mannered Lincolns. On the inside, a variety new to us, and ridiculously vigorous.

Our '"short" peas, taller and wider than expected. That disappearing thing in the middle is the path. 
C. caught the peas just starting to twine together across the path. I made a bunch of ties out of binder twine with a clothes pin on each end, and used them to pull the plants back to their trellises. It's still tight in that path, but I think it's passable. But then, I'm a cockeyed optimist.

The improved path. Wide enough?

We'll need to add some strings or something to the trellises for height. How tall are they apt to get? Who the hell knows. I guess we learned something for next year.

It's hot out, over 90, and I'm sitting here eating chocolate ice cream. I darted out, fed the chickens, hauled a couple of bags of bedding hay out to the potato beds and spread them on the tall spud plants, then came in to cool off. If I'm quick about it, I can keep that up all day. If I stay too long, it's over.

The potato plants have to be heavily mulched several times over the summer, or the spuds will get green where the sun touches them. Fortunately, we have lots of old hay for mulch, since some cheapskate bought crap hay last year. 

C. is out in the heat, planting something in the second-to-last empty bed. 

The dehydrators are full of spinach and kale, and I'll be rigging the car up to dry stuff today, too. Our volunteer kale bed is really productive, dammit. The rabbits don't like it much, though they'll eat it gladly in January. I don't like it much, either. I've been looking up online recipes for kale chips. Maybe they're delicious. Hey, it could happen.

OK, time to dart out again and do a little gardening.