Dec 3, 2015

Good Little Kitten

There's nothing wrong with bacon and eggs for breakfast.  Add (coconut) pancakes with maple syrup, and you pretty much have la dolce vita, whether camping or in the home kitchen.

But for The Breakfast of the Gods, you must really have:

eggs and PIE.

My sweetheart and I ate out on Thanksgiving, letting some nice restaurant chef baste the turkey, smash the potatoes, slice the brussels sprouts and stir the gravy.  All quite delicious and satisfactory, until we arrived at dessert.  Which was pie.  Pumpkin pie, and solely pumpkin pie.

And although the pie crust was a poor amateur effort by our own household standards, the main flaw in the menu was the pumpkin part.  My sweetheart likes pumpkin pie well enough, but such slimy, slithery brown stuff is not for me.  I am loyal, faithful and true to one pie, and one pie only:  All-American, George Washington-approved, cherry pie.   I will, when desperate, nibble on a slice of apple or pecan.  Fresh apricot pie is a very close second  to cherry -- but finding the requisite state of utter ripeness in a store-bought apricot is nearly impossible, so I don't even go there.

So imagine my disappointment when I was offered the dreaded brown-pap-in-a-crust at the end of Thanksgiving dinner last week.  I waved it off, asking for the offending item to be boxed up for my sweetheart's future lunch.  I must have pouted quite impressively, too, because last night, for no reason other than the goodness of his heart, this lovely man whipped me up my very own, personal cherry pie.

I must have been a good little kitten!

The man knows how to make a pie.  Years ago I was fired as head pie maker, after an unfortunate altercation between myself and a recalcitrant crust that ended with me shouting some bad words as I hurled the offending piecrust across the room and against the wall.  Ahem.  Drawing a veil over that embarrassing scene, I can only say the therapeutic value of the crust toss was far greater than just the release of frustration.

For after a moment of shocked silence, my sweetheart stepped forward, barring my way from continued pummeling of the block of dough which now rested,  trembling in fear, on the floor, and said, in his best manly tones,  "I'll be taking over pie crust duties from now on...." and he has been as good as his word.

He claims he inherited his pie-making skills from his grandfather, who made all the pies daily for the family diner in Conrad, Montana.  His grandparents had two diners in Conrad during the 1950's, located on the small main street just a block or so apart.  There was a mini-boom going on at that time, as the US was building missile silos in the area as part of the Cold War preparations.

His grandmother, Minnie Ethel Leet, ran the place, but it was his grandfather, Richard, who made all the pies by hand for the 'main' diner.  The other diner had to make do with store-bought -- shhhh, no one was supposed to know, but everyone came in early to get the real pies.   We think these two photos were taken on Opening Day of the second diner.

Those diners were ordered from the Valentine Diner Company in Wichita, Kansas, delivered on a railroad car, and were erected in situ on an owner-prepared foundation.  They contained everything needed -- tables, counters, etc.  And they were well-made.  Many are still around.  The two Conrad diners have been moved more than once, but are still in Montana -- one is in East Glacier, and the other in the even tinier town of Chester:

Apparently my sweetheart spent a long summer visiting his grandparents when he was 14, and he claims that's where he learned to make pies.  I don't know the whole truth, but I do know that he makes the best pies around, and I'm sure his grandfather would be proud.

He makes the crust and filling, while I am relegated to mere crustal decoration.  I am no artist, but we have had fun through the years.  Here are a few favorites:

this one was for the team party celebrating Cyclocross Nationals held in Bend one year.

 for Pi Day, naturally....

for some May celebration, when roses were blooming sweetly in our garden....

and this epic set of chicken pot pies, prepared for the freezer before he headed off to Europe on a long bike holiday, to keep me fed while he was gone.

We do occasionally have guest celebrity pie makers.  Here is our Scots friend Kevin, putting the finishing touches on that great Scottish culinary creation,  Banofee Pie.  

For the next day or so,  I envision pie and soup for lunch, and pie and steak for dinner.   And I am going to spend the rest of the winter keeping track of my mittens, on the off chance I will deserve another pie.   

Nov 27, 2015

Date Day

It's been quite a few years now since my sweetheart and I started Date Day.  We have arranged our work schedules to have Thursdays off together each week, and although we occasionally go for a bike ride or ski, most weeks we go for a hike.  We originally met in the hiking club at Humboldt State University, the aptly named 'Boot 'n' Blister Club' in the late 1960's.  Most of our first and best memories together come from hikes and outings we did with B&B.

After a hiatus of many years, when bicycling took center stage,

we have returned to feet on ground for our weekly outings.  Distances and difficulty range from the 40 minute 'around the 'hood' stroll on our local river trail, to several hours' long hikes in the Cascades nearby, depending on time of year and energy level.

Although we love our spring and summer hikes on nearby mountain trails, there is something special about our fall and winter hikes.  Trails are less crowded, and weather can range from amazing to 'interesting' to really cold.

Occasionally when there is too much to snow to walk very far, we opt for lunch and a movie.  Naturally, since Thanksgiving always fall on a Thursday, at least one Date Day a year occurs on a holiday day.  A couple of years ago we started a new tradition for those years when we aren't joining friends for a big Thanksgiving feast.

This year is one of those years, so, after a few Home Improvements yesterday morning, we started the day with a walk.  With 15" of fresh snow on the ground in town, we thought maybe if we headed east to the real desert, the snow might be less deep.  Well, no, it was about the same.  But we put on our snow boots and did a short hike anyway.

Our trusty snow car, Oliver, plowed through the uncleared road to what is normally a mountain bike trailhead.  No bikes, but plenty of parking.

No other people, but plenty of (invisible) company, as shown by previously made tracks in the snow.  Several different folks met here over time:

This critter took off in one direction, but then circled back for some reason.

We did realize, belatedly, that possibly skis would have been slightly more useful.

But the sky was clear blue, the crystals in the fresh snow sparkled in the bright sunshine, and we had the place to ourselves except for a raven, croaking from a nearby juniper tree.  In the end, we made a big loop,

and emerged back at the car via this snow-covered sagebrush area.

A lot of snow for a juniper forest.

We had a fine turkey dinner at a favorite restaurant, and finished the day with a movie.  Another excellent Date Day for the record books.

Nov 7, 2015

We're Back!

Computers.   You can't live without 'em, you can't kill 'em.

Stymied by massive and labyrinthine computer problems, and my own computer ineptitude, I have been unable to post to this blog for many months.  I was on the verge of simply starting a new one when suddenly -- miraculously -- the digital waters have cleared, and for reasons inexplicable to me, I was just now able to update my account with new email and password, and post to the blog.

Possibly it was a reward from the cybergods for deleting 1655 emails from my 'Archive' folder earlier this morning, though I'm not sure what Archive is.  It just showed up one day.  Or possibly a certain period of reflection and time was needed to settle the dust of all the changes, updating everything after our move, to a new house!

And hey:  new house = new garden! After 37 years, we pulled up our tent stakes, got out the camels (U-Haul truck) and did the 'downsize' thing.  The move itself was hellish.  On top of trying to sort out, winnow and pack nearly 4 decades' worth of grut and memories, and shoehorn it into a smaller space, the week we moved the temperature was over 100 degrees, the people buying our old house scheduled their movers to move in before we could move out, and the piano movers screwed up big time.  But let us allow the horror to continue to fade into memory and look around at the current situation.

We have gone from a 55 year-old suburban ranch style 2200 sq ft rambler on a third of an acre,  to a brand, spanking new 'MidCentury Modern' 1650 sq ft bungalow on a little more than a tenth of an acre.

There are still boxes.  We have reached the classic Downsizer's Dilemma point, where you have filled up the new house and there is still more stuff to unpack.  Oh, you mean 'down'-sizing means less space?  The biggest change is that our new house has far less storage space, in the way of drawers and cabinets.

The biggest problem is that we have too many books

and too much piano music

In the garden (which I guess is now Arabella's New Garden) I am thrilled to have a much smaller, more workable space in which to play.  But I am glaringly aware that for the first time in 35 years,  I have no place to overwinter my tender container plants.  Since forever,  I have been able to stash my geraniums, begonias, agapanthus, Spanish lavender, etc in my sunroom or greenhouse, along with containers of blooming annuals still bright and beautiful when the first frost hits in mid-October.

Although a proper greenhouse is in the long-range plan for the garden, this first winter at least there will be no shelter for these treasured darlings, short of bringing them inside.  Maybe I will clear a space in the garage and hang some grow lights over a table.  

For now, I am heeding Nature's signals that 'Winter is Coming' and battening down the hatches for coming cold and snow.  One of the first things I did this fall was get my new address to all my favorite seed companies, so I can spend the winter planning my new garden for next spring.

Stay tuned.

Monty and I, exhausted after four hard days of moving.

May 17, 2015

Making a List and Checking It Twice

After living for nearly 40 years in the same house, we are woefully out of practice for moving, or even buying a new one.   The world of real estate has changed drastically in all that time, and so have we.   Were we just young and dumb, back in 1974 (well, yes), and lucky (probably), when we found our first home through a classified ad in the newspaper?  And the owner sold it to us for a song AND carried the contract?  And when we moved into our present house 4 years later, the fact that it was filthy, unloved and battered didn't faze us -- we were young and strong and frisky and enjoyed fixing it up.  And we could afford it -- always a plus.

Now, as two people perilously close to qualifying for the term 'senior citizens', we began our search for a new home with a rather vague list of 'things we want in our next house if we ever do get around to moving someday' that soon crystalized into a very short list of requirements containing several seemingly mutually exclusive items:

1.    New -- when we fell in love with a couple of small houses on the tour, which we could actually afford, we realized we were also in love with the idea of brand new plumbing, up-to-the-minute super energy efficient design and building, new roof, new floor, just ..... new.  

Neither of us has ever lived in a brand new house in our whole lives, and suddenly we craved it. After spending so much time in older houses ourselves, and after much visiting with friends in the UK who live in houses much older,

it felt slightly ...... decadent.   But fun.

2.   Small, but with a living room big enough for a 7 ft grand piano.   You'd be surprised how few houses have that much space -- which I naturally think is odd.   Who doesn't want/need a grand piano in the living room?    Or better yet, two?

Not too surprisingly,  small houses tend to have small living rooms, and houses with big living rooms tend to be, well, big.  Bigger than we wanted, anyway.   This requirement reduced the number of available choices by a good percentage.  Still, we carried on with our list.

3.   A yard large enough for a modest sized garden.  This is where the requirements really start crashing into each other.  Most new houses being built in our town take up every square foot of land legally allowed by the city building codes -- 5 feet on each side, I think, and what yard there is, is mostly in the front.  Most new houses seem to butt right up against the back of the lot, with another house just beyond the fence.

Not for me -- I need a decent-sized space in the front, and room for a real garden in the back.   I'm not going to quit gardening, I just want a modest place in which to grow some tomatoes and flowers.  Putter.  Throw dirt around.  With bambi-proof fencing.

The number of houses that met our requirements just shrank to almost zero.

4.    Single story.   Although I grew up in a single story house, I always fantasized about living in a two-story house, like I saw in books and movies.   Child of California that I was, I thought they were romantic and old-fashioned.   Now, though, I see the advantages of not dealing with stairs.   We are still hale and hearty, but I have grown accustomed to the ease of having everything in a two-dimensional plane, and honestly, I don't like the idea of having to install one of those funky stair elevator chairs for old people if we ever get, um, old.

In the interests of finding a place with all of our other requirements, though, we decided we could deal with a second floor if necessary to achieve our other goals.  And most homes, even new ones here, have two stories.   Builders continue to assume their target home buyers are young couples with families.   We know they are behind the times -- there is an emerging cohort of buyers who are Boomers, doing just what we are doing:  downsizing, simplifying and looking for single story homes.

5.   And probably the most important factor overall, we want to stay on the west side of town, where we have lived all of our 41 years in this town.  Unfortunately, so does everyone else.   It is the 'cool' part of town, for everyone from young hipsters to yuppies to wealthy retirees from L.A. and elsewhere.

Houses in this area are relatively much more expensive than anywhere else in town.  So our modest home buying dollars will not go as far here as we would like.   Plus there are relatively few new houses.  This is the original residential area and since our town is relatively young, that means the bulk of the older houses are early 1900's Craftsman-style bungalows.  I love the word 'bungalow', don't you?   But these houses are mostly small and of course, being over 100 years old, thus don't qualify for our 'new construction' goal.

So we had our list, and we started looking at a few -- very few -- houses after the home tour.  Most had only two or at most three of our required elements.   All along, we had a couple of options in our back pocket:  two small houses we had looked at on the tour that seemed doable.   By the end of the summer, they were looking more and more like our only options, other than staying put.

Meanwhile, the gardener was panicking -- I can't leave this garden!   I've put my heart and soul into it.   I have grown up in it -- as a gardener and as a person.  It is full of beloved plant friends, and plants given to me by beloved human friends.  My Arrowleaf Balsamroot plants that I started from seed 8 years ago might be going to bloom this year for the first time...... all the native perennial flowers I planted in the 'desert woods' section three years ago are going to start looking big and impressive this year ......... my amazingly fertile and loamy soil, hand-built over 40 years of composting .... my mature fruit trees .... my greenhouse!!! ... my roses!!!

In short, despite my authentic enthusiasm for the move on one level, in my deepest, darkest, most fertile earth goddess soul, I was a wreck.   

May 13, 2015

What the ------- ???!!!

What the heck just happened to11 months?  I'll tell you what happened.  Arabella's Garden had a terrific shock, and the gardener has been paralyzed into inaction, i.e. silence on the blogging front.  Wherefore art thou now, Arabella?

In reality, Arabella herself, my grandmother, split the scene long ago.  But my garden, named in her honor, is still here, only now ... in transition.

Looking back I see that my last post was June 29 of last year.  Right after I wrote that, baby chicks started hatching and I spent the next 48 hours scrunched down in the coop, watching mamas and babies do their thing.

All that bending over did my back in, and by the time I was walking upright again, Fate had Intervened, and you know how that goes.  You can't argue with Fate.

Fate, in the form of a perfectly innocuous decision to check out a few houses on the annual Tour of Homes, put on by the local builders' association each summer.  Mostly dedicated to showing off the kind of ridiculously humongous, bloated McMansions beloved of real estate agents everywhere, each year there are always two or three 'normal' homes, and my sweetheart and I like to check these out, for future reference.  'Future' defined as 'let's think about downsizing sometime in the next 5-10 years'.

Call us boring, but we have lived in this house and neighborhood for 38 years.  We are homebodies, and we love our cozy, if unexciting 1950's ranch style house and big, roomy garden.

I love my 500 square foot separate music teaching studio.

But honestly, we don't need this much house -- or yard. After observing various friends, family members and aging parents through the years making decisions -- or lack of decisions -- about housing for the later years in life, we made a vow to be smart and plan realistically.  Not move to a small town with no longtime friends, medical services or social networks, not move onto acreage needing mowing, disking, plowing, weed-whacking or moving irrigation pipe while we are in our 60's, 70's and 80's.  Not move into an old house needing constant repair and maintenance.  And also not stay in a too-large house on a hill with a huge amount of snow shoveling, pine needle raking, weeding, and watering until we were too old and too tired to make a move.

Despite this somewhat vague, long-range plan, no one was more surprised than we were to find a couple of small houses on the tour, that we really liked, and which were in our potential price range.  Just like that -- *SNAP* -- we said "it's time!" and flipped over into Prospective Home Buyer Mode.

And there went the rest of last summer!

Jun 29, 2014

Buk Buk Buk Buk Buk

It seemed pretty straightforward.   Get some chicks at the feed store.  

Procure a feeder, waterer, heat lamp, and a big box to start.  Meanwhile, build a coop.  Move chicks to coop when the time is ripe, watch them grow, and wait for eggs.

It actually worked fairly well, considering I was a complete novice, though well-read.   

There were a few bumps in the road:   Lucy, named after my feisty mom, turned out to be a hell-hen, bully supreme.  Babe, a bantam cochin frizzle, was pecked featherless by one and all, until I gave her away to someone with a big, big barnyard and a whole flock of bantams.   Samantha, my sole Australorp hen, turned out to be Sam.   

But after Betty, my favorite hen

laid the first egg ever, on my birthday

I considered the whole backyard chicken endeavor a huge success.

I learned the value of craiglist, for finding homes for girls that needed to go away for one reason or other.  Larger flocks on farms and ranches outside town have the ability to absorb hens with er, personality defects and slowing production, that small city flocks don't have.   I've learned that space constraints are real, and that managing a small flock for maximum egg production requires some planning.

In my original vision, my flock would include one of as many different breeds as I could get.   This turned out not to be such a smart thing, for a variety of reasons.   First of all, if birds of a feather flock together, that means, for chickens, that everyone gangs up on the ones that look the most different.   Secondly, not all chickens are content to lay eggs.   Some breeds really, really, really want to be mothers.

My first broody hen was poor Maisie, a Dominique

who had already begun her sketchy laying career by becoming egg bound just a month or two after starting to lay, barely surviving to tell the tale.   The following spring, she began parading around with all her feathers fluffed out, her tail stuck up straight behind her like a tom turkey, bukking constantly, like a chicken version of Mrs. Rochester in the attic.   Broody hens are a pain unless you want babies, and with no rooster, and no space for extra chickens, I realized my mistake and passed Maisie on to someone who happily welcomed a prospective mama hen.   

Some breeds are prone to broodiness, and some are not.   Another newbie mistake.   I should have learned my lesson with the Maisie incident, but then I saw some Speckled Sussex hens on a backyard coop tour, and fell in love.  Forgot to check the broodiness factor.   Penny went broody for the first time last fall, just a month after starting to lay.

It took a week to stop that, but of course she started up again a few months ago, just as soon as the first spring days hit.   Grumbling, I put her in an isolation zone with no nest, and after a week her hormones settled down and we were back in the egg laying business.   Predictably, Sassafras, her partner in crime, went broody a month ago

and Penny started again too.   My choices were few:  give it up as a bad choice (i.e. give them away immediately), continue to break their broodiness every few weeks for the rest of the summer, or ......... get some fertile eggs from a local farmer and give the girls a chance to do their thing.

By now they had both taken up residence in one of the two nest boxes, thus forcing the other girls to wait in line for the remaining nest.   

Several days someone couldn't wait (picture chickens with their little knobby chicken knees held desperately together) and I found an egg on the straw under the nest box.   When chickens go broody, they stay that way -- not eating, not drinking, not laying -- until .........  I don't know how long if they're not removed from the nest and deprived of a place to brood.   

So I gave up.   I moved them into the smaller outside enclosure, with their own dedicated nest.   I had to forcibly remove them, as they stayed in the box while I unfastened it from the wall and moved it.  Here's the rear view!

Then I called Mike, the hen expert at my favorite feed store, and ordered a dozen fertile eggs to be picked up the next day.

These are mutt eggs, collected from his large flock, which contains Rhode Island Reds, Ameraucanas, Barred Rocks and more.   Just for fun, I dowsed for sex with my pendulum.  6 males, 6 females?   We'll see how accurate it is.

Then I took them out and stuck them under the broodies, and left them to their work.

A few days ago I realized hatch day was coming right up!   I got some chick feed, and after consulting with Mike, decided the two hens in the one small nest box was probably a bit much.   A good chance babies would get squished.  Against all internet advice, I set up a larger nest box, and moved the eggs, very close to hatching, over to the larger space.   Carefully, carefully, trying not to change their orientation -- babies are in the final stages and apparently need to be stationery the last day or so.

Hmmmm, I could swear I put 12 eggs under those girls.   Why are there only 10?    I suspect one or two got broken in the press and shuffle, and the girls thriftily ate them.   ?????

Sassafras tucks in the last egg

before Penny settles back in for the home stretch.  Notice the intense look of concentration on their faces below.   Not that chickens have a lot of expression, really, but these two have been in The Zone for three weeks now -- not even blinking when I pass my hand in front of their eyes.   Whether or not these eggs hatch, these girls have proven to be dedicated to their task.

Today is Day 21, and so far no babies.   I've read that chicks can be heard peeping while still in the shell, in the last day or so before hatching.   The mamas are still setting patiently this morning, but are cocking their heads -- are they listening to the faint peeps coming from underneath their feathers?    Stay tuned....