Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Powell's pilgrimage

What could possess me to wake up at 4:45 on a foggy August morning? Further, to rouse five sleepy girls (mine plus one sleepover pal) just 15 minutes later? To bundle up for the still chilly air, to buckle into the Suburban fortified only with a cup of coffee in the pre-dawn moments? To drive three and a half hours on the Interstate? Oh, my. What could be worth that?

Downtown Portland is nice.

Waiting for the train with strange silent umbrella guy, equally nice.

Oh! Powell's famous independent bookstore. Covering one full city block on seven levels of near-heaven (I'll have to ask them if they designed that many levels purposefully) is tailor-made for a perfect day for a bibliophile and her bookworm brood. Totally worth the pilgrimage.

Madeleine stood mesmerized in the young adult mystery aisle and caressed the vintage Nancy Drew collection.

Laura happily read Eloise Wilkin as we walked and shopped. Literature and reference sections for Mommy. Curriculum for the school year. Maritime fiction for Daddy (who had to work but was with us in spirit). Forensics for the big girls. Oops. Gory. Let's move on from that to see if they have any age-appropriate references on crime solving. Well, of course they do! It's Powell's famous independent bookstore, the City of Books. So the girls chose some books that detail how to make and use fingerprint powder and how to tell (without a polygraph) whether a suspect is lying. That should make life in our little town interesting.
I visited my old stomping grounds in writing and literature but didn't dare take all five girls into my favorite haunt: the rare book room. You can peruse that ever-changing collection at Powell's online, but it's not the same as being there, breathing in the particular scent of centuries-old hand-decorated volumes nestled up next to signed copies of first edition Ursula LeGuin.

So in lieu of the rare book room we had lemonade and sandwiches in the coffee shop, which is not as funky or fun as it was in my pre-mommy days when my husband and I used to close down Powell's like some 20somethings close down bars. But it's probably cleaner. I'm alright with that tradeoff.
Sarah kept a notebook close to her chest. What was she writing all day? A list of "strange" things she witnessed. The dog in a "wheelchair" to support its paralyzed back legs. The men with "inappropriate" piercings. The woman with no apparent disability in a designated seat on the train really offended Sarah's sensibilities. Green hair, blue hair, business suits and tall buildings that reflect everyone passing alike. Someone wrote on that window with a diamond. Someone didn't buss their plate. "City people are colorful," she concluded in her notebook. I just love the little editorial journalist in her.
I successfully navigated city traffic in the Suburban -- so much different than in my Volkswagen! The kids played highway bingo and catalogued nine different state license plates. We stopped at the Northwest classic Burgerville for real ice cream shakes (none for me, thanks, Carb Police) and drove along the river through Oregon City and meandered back roads all the way home.
We were back by dinner, bags full of books and hearts full of memories.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fermentation, shots and one day at a time

It's not what you think. The seeds and pulp from two heirloom tomatoes attempting to ferment in my sunny (slightly schmutzy, it appears) kitchen window. Saving heirloom tomato seeds is easier than I had thought. This year I spent a small fortune on organic heirloom plants in four-inch-pots. Next year (Lord willing and the creek don't rise) I will start these seeds and have some to share as well.

The worst part of the experiment (outside of having my shot glasses otherwise engaged for three days) was the scummy disgustingness that develops as a byproduct of fermentation. It's important to ferment the seeds before drying. I understand that it helps to prevent next year's plants from developing any diseases too.

But gross nonetheless.

After scraping the bubbly gooey crust off the top of each shot glass (stir each container one time per day; remove fermentation crust approximately three days later) I rinsed the seeds very thoroughly and laid them on wax paper to dry. In our climate it took just a day and a half for them to skitter around, dry as can be on wax paper.

Then I labeled them in little envelopes and put them to bed in my seed catalog file.

Elsewhere on my kitchen windowsill: sprouts. This is very, very easy. Also easy to forget. It seems my chickens are getting my sprouts with regularity this summer. I don't have a hard time rinsing and draining them every day. It's the remembering to harvest (which just means eat the dang things) that's my apparent downfall. So one morning they're just perfect, and I mean to put them on top of some salad or in a pita for goodness sakes, but then by nightfall they resemble a tangle of full-grown invasive vines and I have to send them out to the henhouse. Sigh.
I'm still dieting. Will this never end? Sixteen pounds down and one size down. I do think the low carb lifestyle (I just gagged a little on that phrase) is big in Hollywood for a reason. But what, my friends, will I do about bread? My lovely homemade loaves of egg bread. The crunchy crusty French bread. The homemade pasta.
I can see myself now at a CA (carboholics anonymous? it must exist) meeting. "Hi. My name is Miriam... I used to think I could take just one bite. But now I'm taking it one day at a time."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sideways like that


If I were to upload that photo one more time in an effort to get it to NOT be sideways, I think the little wires and etherwhatever that transmit all the intergook would just disintegrate. Disintegrate, y'all. As in "fail to integrate."

Which is pretty much where I am for the moment.
The septic tank is fixed and thus we can flush that worry away. The well is producing enough water to shower. Well, to be precise, it's adequate water to bathe half of our family per day. It's putting a crimp in the girls' style. Not. In fact one of our children announced she wanted to set a record. A personal worst, as it happened. A record for number of days not showered. Ew.
Real estate is booming in case you didn't notice. Or at least I'm working the hours as though it were. It seems to take the work of ten deals to cause one to close these days. Underwriters and appraisers and general everyday folk alike are cautious and prone to reverse their decisions. Realtors are prone to shave their heads and go into mourning over the fruitless time spent away from their families. (Just kidding about that last one.)
We had a little round of the flu go through the Suite clan. It fell at the best possible time. Of course. It's always a good time to have one's limbs too heavy to move when one's children need to be carried up the stairs and served extra PediaPops in the middle of the night. Let me know when it's not a good time for that. Especially when the well is not able to support enough bleach loads to clean all the household bedding in one night.
But hey! We rescued a chicken last week. The poor little leghorn was reportedly "charging" people at the village store all last Monday. So of course the clerk (the store owner's grandaughter-in-law and a lovely dental-hygienist-in-training) called up to Farm Suite, where we'll take in all manner of three-legged cats and apparently loco chickens.
The girls named her Tallulah for her spirit. She's a gorgeous little girl who wasn't "charging" at all. It appears she is a lost or abandoned pet because she will leap into your arms like a lap dog seeking a cuddle. After a few days inside a chicken cage inside the henhouse (to help the others get used to her without the typical "pecking order" fights), she is one of our regular flock now, laying an egg a day.
I have been reading about everyone's back to school anticipations, and in a few cases your children are already back at it! This has me freaked out. I mean, inspired to get my homeschool act together.
And. On another up note (and I do mean up) I am back on the diet. My total loss is 14 pounds. I spent the last week on a "maintenance" phase in which I still had to weigh every day but couldn't "diet" and "shouldn't" lose weight. It's all too complicated for little (hah) ol' me. But now I'm back on all protein, all the time. Watch out for flying egg whites and falling scales. Or something like that.
How was your weekend?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Life is just a bowl of chevre

The great homesteading adventure continues with an enormous, and I do mean beyond believably huge, gift of cherries. I spent the better part of a day dealing with approximately 60 (sixty, six-zero, I-know-it's-a-lot) pounds of cherries. I did this job without benefit a "pitter," which is some sort of appliance my farmgirl friend offered to lend me when she saw my purple (all-natural) manicure after the fact.
I dried nearly all of the cherries in my dehydrator. There is nothing as delicious as dried cherries! Well, the pears may compete, but there's another month for the cherries to stand alone on the platform of perfection.
And here's my favorite recipe for dried cherries (works well with fresh cherries too, but of course those are only around a couple of weeks a year):
Cherry Chevre Salad
One head red-leaf Romaine lettuce
One cup (or so) baby spinach leaves
One cup fresh chevre, crumbled
Half-cup toasted walnuts
Half-cup dried cherries
Balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing with orange juice and minced garlic
Toss it all together right before serving
That's it! I know, it's not really a recipe. But it's so good.
We'll have no trouble using the cherries in salads, trail mix, muffins and granola. I have heard some people freeze cherries. And of course there's always cherry preserve.
Any other ideas for me?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hovering around

I was in town last night when this stealthy (nearly silent) medical helicopter landed on the school track up the hill from our homestead.

No one was hurt; it was a demonstration. The kindly fire chief gave my husband and the girls a proper introduction to the "ca-coppa" (Laura's pronunciation just for you, Barb). And then he took this photo on his phone.

Today no one will stop talking about the experience. According to Sarah, "it hovered an inch" above their heads as it landed. "No," scoffs Madeleine, "it was at least a car length."

Pretty cool deal for us country kids.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Heirloom tomatoes and other sun worshipers

I heart heirloom tomatoes.
And sunflowers, especially the volunteers.

The unfurling promise of a tiny seed turned into a giant flower.

So glad the birds didn't get this one.

Our personal drought at the Suite homestead seems to have regulated itself. I can water the garden every third day as long as I don't also care to do any dishes or laundry on that day. And you know I don't mind that arrangement!
In other self sufficiency news, I am sorry to report that we experienced a septic tank issue last week. The issue was too disgusting to report in all its gore, so I'll just tell you how glad I am (once again) to be married to a civil engineer. With a specialty in wastewater management. How lucky could I get?
Plus: Now we can shower again. Madeleine and Seven have walk-trot-cantered their way through six weeks of successful equitation. The stars are all in alignment and the hobby farm life is never boring.
Tomorrow I'm going to try to ferment and save some of the heirloom tomato seeds. Want to watch?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blackberry cobbler alert

The diet was going great. Down 13.5 pounds. And then the blackberries started to ripen.

We might not blame the blackberries but rather the butter and sugar and flour mixture that tops them. Oh, and possibly the ice cream that tops that.
Easiest Ever Berry Cobbler
About four cups fresh blackberries
About one cup sugar
Juice of one lemon
Three-quarter cup whole wheat flour (white will work fine)
Three-quarter cup lightly packed brown sugar
One stick of butter
Stir the sugar and lemon juice into the berries gently. Pour into your favorite pie plate.
With a pastry blender, two dinner knives or your food processor, cut the very cold butter into the flour and sugar until it's crumbly and the largest pieces are about pea-sized.
Spread that mixture over the berries.
Bake at 350 for about an hour or until the juices are bubbling up through the crust and it's lightly browned.
Cool just enough that the cobbler thickens. Serve with homemade vanilla ice cream.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Big girl bed

Pardon my typos today, friends. I haven't had a lot of sleep. Plus I had to do manual labor. And let's not forget the anxiety attacks. Those are draining.

Last night Laura (19 months!) became a crib escapee. Not coincidentally she also became a big-girl bed occupant.

Of course this happened when my husband was toiling late at the office.

It went down (and downhill) like this:

Around 7:30 I tucked Laura into her crib. Her favorite blanket was in a bleach wash. You don't want to know. Still, she commanded five books be read to her and then as is her custom she wanted to sleep with the books. I tucked her in with reading material and she chucked her not-favorite blanket out of the bed at me as I left the room. It was a warm night. I wasn't worried about her blanketless baby self.

Apparently she didn't go to sleep. The three "big girls" and I were downstairs reading and playing and in general winding down from the day when I heard the first soft thunk from above. A book dropped out of the crib. It was shortly followed by a louder ca-chug of, perhaps, a larger book being shed as she settled in for the night.

Nary a peep from Laura. I assumed (and you know what that means) she was snuggled up and snoring those sweet little baby snorts of sweetity sweetness.

I turned on my laptop to check up on a few of you. And that's when she snuck up behind me on intrepid but pudgy feet, carrying the book she'd liberated first.

"Hi, Mama!" Oh-so-proud of herself for plunging from behind crib bars to the hardwood floor. For manipulating the closed door of her bedroom. For navigating the super-steep wooden farmhouse stairs. Okay, I'm giving myself a little panic attack right there. The stairs.

After much ill-placed congratulations from her sisters, Laura made the very mature decision that she was ready for a big girl bed.

So that's how it was that I came to disassemble her crib without a proper goodbye and subsequently to assemble an antique iron big girl bed in its place. Much clapping and bouncing on mattress ensued. In all the uproar I forgot to put her favorite blanket in the dryer. No matter, she was happy as a clam in sand and soon (well, by 10:30 p.m.) snoring in actuality not just my imagination.

I settled all the girls into bed a mere two hours late and fell into my own bed. But not before also installing a baby gate. By midnight I was sound asleep. By 2 a.m. she was wide awake and screaming at the indignity of the baby gate. Luckily by then I had backup in the form of Daddy. Unluckily I still did not have a dry favorite blanket. So I spent the next hour downstairs drinking tea while her "bee" dried. At 3 or so I tucked it around her, and she's still sleeping as I type.

And that's how the babyhood of our last babies leaves us, friends. On tiptoe pudgy feet and with a small thud it was gone, leaving me unprepared but necessarily moving into big-girl mode.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In no particular order

Our rural fire department holds an ice cream and pie social every August. This year it fell on my dad's birthday.

All the girls' cousins and friends descended on our little village center. (Along with the unexpected visit from a bona fide Harley Davidson, er, group. They moved right along when they realized there was no beer garden.) The children (and even a lot of the adults) rode the fire trucks through the countryside, scaring dozens of sheep with the siren. They were so impressed with the headsets inside the cab that one neighbor boy asked whether he could trade his junior firefighter sticker for a headset.

They emptied the tanker trucks on the church lawn and each other. That's Madeleine and Zoe with Headstrong getting caught in the crossfire.

They even rode the bucket truck. I can't breathe and look at that at the same time.

But isn't that cute?

And where would we find my dad during the festivities? In our backyard, reading. Pushing Laura on the swingset. Enjoying the shade while the kids conquered all the fire equipment.

And then when the sirens were all quiet it was time for some Dolly time. Cousin Cayden was so patient that she got the first ride.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Still crazy after all these years

Seventeen years ago today my husband and I said "I do." But the truth was we didn't. We didn't have any clue.

At 10 a.m. August 8 1992 he was tipping his last ten dollar bill to the best waiter at the Glenwood, a man who is still a server at that great restaurant. At 10 a.m. August 8 1992 I was sipping a cup of tea and having my hair set.

The fairy lights and ivy were strung around the reception hall. The flowers hadn't been delivered yet but the caterers were hard at work. My mother was rearranging the seating (again). My fiance's grandmother was slyly hanging a pinata in the middle of our English-garden-on-a-budget decor. White lights, white roses, white candles, baby's breath and hot pink paper mache. It worked.

We had no clue.

And after the I dos? We were married for nearly eight years before our first baby was born. There was so much time for eating in tablecloth restaurants, for traveling, for hot rod cars (that part wasn't me) and classic pickups and cycling and spending the grocery cash on antique chairs (that part was me). Besides, who needed grocery cash when one could just eat out?

But we had no clue. No clue whatsoever how much crazy fun this would be. As I type, my husband of all these years is moving a mountain of Maple wood from one side of the yard to the other in preparation for approximately 30 guests expected tomorrow. (That should be interesting with our current water situation.) Our oldest daughter is at equitation. (See how not-controlling I am? I'm blogging while she's riding.) Our youngest is napping and the middle two are changing the ring tones on all the phones. (If I'm not cracking the whip on party prep, they're sure to cover the most important items. Clearly.)

It makes me wonder about the next seventeen years. And even though I've been told my imagination gets away with me, I'm sure I have no idea what fun is in store.

Especially for tonight! (We have date night. I bought a new dress. I think it might be at a tablecloth restaurant.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Guest photos by Mr. Suite... and, sad to say, one by me

Madeleine and Sarah on their way back home. (Silly. Makes it sound as though they walked 350 miles.) The girls and their dad stopped at the lighthouse in Trinidad. And bookstores in Eureka and Arcata. And probably a lot of Dutch Brothers coffee stands. My little girls have discovered the (decaffeinated) iced mocha.

My husband took lots of pictures of this field for me. That was romantic, wasn't it?

And then we arrive at the produce bowl shot that I took. Does anyone else have too much liberal arts background? Um, say, do you notice anything about the arrangement? Of course I only noticed the, er, resemblance, after downloading the photos and by then the produce was long gone.

In actual farm news:
Our well is limping along and did not collapse as I had feared. Extra drama? Never. My garden, however, is on life support. We abandoned the corn and we're watering the tomatoes, squash and cucumbers with buckets. I feel a little like I've been kicked off of reality TV's farm girl channel. If there were such a thing.
The fruit trees, my flowerbeds, and the whole vegetable garden for that matter, are surrounded by deep blankets of straw mulch. The temperatures here continue to set record highs. A massive forest fire to the south of us makes the air too thick to breathe.
The horses paw at their water trough, splashing themseves with water to cool down. We place frozen water bottles in the rabbit cages each morning and the bunnies stretch out against them throughout the day. The chickens are on a layoff until cooler weather allows them to return to work. (Heh, heh, I crack myself up. Layoff? Not laying eggs?)
Well, it was funny in my own head.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Delicious window shopping and some Grange sale treasures

Last weekend we drove 3 hours each way to meet my husband's sister in Southern Oregon. Madeleine and Sarah spent a happy week running the whole family ragged in the Redwoods. Grace and Laura spent a happy week playing with all the big girls' stuff!

On the way there we stopped in Oakland, a tiny Victorian town of old-fashioned ice cream shops and more than its share of great antique stores. Laura fell in love with the Smarties display in Tolly's. Num-num indeed.
I fell in love with this restored vintage Schwinn. Haven't been able to get it off my mind. I have two vintage Schwinns in my husband's shop, just waiting for someone to lovingly restore them. But I haven't a trike like that. And it's already done. Must be meant to be mine.
Except my husband went to pick the girls up solo. So I didn't get a chance to stop in and drool on the trike again. At least there are pictures.
Oh! And a garage sale update from yesterday. Our local Grange was hosting the sales, so we didn't have far to go for our treasures.
Grace and Laura and I bought:
One working 1960s hairdryer hood thingamajig, 50 cents. This will lead to the best beauty shop party ever when the big girls get home.
One redwood bench that converts to a picnic table, 20 bucks. Score! AND the seller delivered. Could I be any luckier? It will come in handy when we host all the cousins and grandmas and grandpas and neighbors and friends for a barbecue before next weekend's fire hall ice cream social.
Three small Breyer horses, 50 cents because one was missing its tail and Grace couldn't leave it behind. Sigh. One matchbox car and two dump trucks for the sandbox, one dollar for the lot.
Four books: how to draw horses, French for beginners, creative writing prompts for fifth and sixth grades, and a Nancy Drew that Madeleine didn't already own. One more dollar and we had the wagon loaded down. Thank goodness it was within walking distance for Grace because she lost her seat to the hair dryer.
I would love to share photos with you but my husband took the good camera to California with him and the other camera may have been dropped. Don't look at me like that. It's the multitasking that does it.
Then, to cap of our waterless but wonderful day, my great friend Caro rescued us from an afternoon of agonizing over the well. She drove us to town to the feed store! And then we meandered out to her farm, which is about 35 miles from ours on the other side of the small town where Caro and I graduated high school together a couple of years ago.
We met her neighbor's puppy and played on her farm with her two fabulous teenage sons (who give me so much hope for the teen years every time I see them) and then her husband accompanied us back to our little farm to deliver huge jugs of drinking water and then to diagnose our pressure-tank-water-line-stuff-I-don't-understand. So we feel very taken care of in my husband's absence.
Manoman am I blessed. Even without the Schwinn of my dreams.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mr. Sun, sun, Mr. Golden Sun

Alright already with the hot!

Our well, traditionally a fantastic water producer for our area, is straining under the responsiblity of my big garden and new flower beds. Not to mention the new trees: apple, cherry, pear, dogwood, fig, plum and more.

Last night I had the yummiest zucchini-tomato scramble ever. A little olive oil, a little garlic and onion (my own garlic and onions!) and then of course the fresh veggies from the garden into the pan for just a minute. As soon as the tomatoes popped it was dinner time. And everything except the olive oil was from our little farm. I love when that happens. You could call it Eating Local, Extreme Version.

Oh, and we had a little garnish of fresh basil from the herb bed on top of that.

Wish you could have been here.

Except the washing up was problematic, because the well.... Well. How do I put this?

I envy all my city farmchick friends who turn on the water and worry only for their utility bill.

But this morning my handsome and resourceful engineer-all-the-time husband found a likely contributor to our water crisis: A LEAK. It's underground. Right under the spot where everything stays inexplicably green. He dug for a minute and VOILA, water. Lots and lots of water.

Except now there's none because he had to leave for the weekend and we turned off the water supply at the well. And this leaves me with no recourse except to consider going to the garage sales.

After all, without water I can't garden. Or do laundry or dishes. (Let's not think about the bathing, mm-kay?)

Garage sales it is. It couldn't be helped. If he asks.