Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Trials and the trike

Carefully place your right foot on the pedal.
Does your left foot still reach?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Honestly it's half empty

Don't give me any of that mumbo-jumbo about the sunny side of the street, the glass is half full, the grass is always greener (okay, maybe that one's true).

I read yesterday an AP story in which it's predicted that the economy will recover in the next nine months, indeed has begun recovering, but that consumers may not begin to act differently for decades.

No shirley Sherlock.

I think this predicted reluctance to return to our spending ways may be because consumers have recognized our greed and Westernized sense of uber-entitlement and sent those qualities (a-hem) to a good long time-out (if not the sweat box it belongs in). These "consumers" are overfed, overfull and overly exhausted of being defined by how much they do or do not purchase at Home Depot on any given weekend.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ready or not

We hit a season low at Farm Suite overnight. Thirty-six degrees.

I'm not ready!

This autumn I have reorganized (the "re" part maybe not so much... but hey, we've lived here only three years) my kitchen cupboards and pantry shelves. My husband defrosted our big freezer (whyohwhy do I still have a frosty freezer?) and I organized that too.

There's not much garden cleanup to do since most of the flowerbeds succumbed to the Big Drought already. The summer vegetables I nursed carefully with buckets of water are likely done now. It's still dark outside so I'll have to check later.

I'm sure the winter veggies are fine. Except for the chard that the deer grazed. I have a new attitude toward this: Share and share alike. Too bad the deer don't seem to "share" my thoughts on the matter.

I think my usual attitude about the changing of the season is positive. I think. After all, I love to spend rainy days inside folding laundry and reading. Not necessarily in that order. I love the way our Oregon landscape is orangy rain forest in the fall.

There are lots of things to be happy about with the passing of the summer. But change caught me unaware this year. Sort of like the grasshopper enjoying her sunbathing while the ants prepared for winter.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Idle minds

We've been outside a lot this weekend. The grapes are ripe on the vine and the leaves are starting to fall. My kids are happiest when they're outside and so am I (er, I'm happiest when I'm outside too. Because I wouldn't want you to think I was one of those moms. At least not today.)
Of course behind all this autumn fun in the sun there's the bittersweet knowledge that soon -- too soon -- the rain will begin and the paddock gate will be ankle-deep in mud. The grapevines will be bare and the garden will be deep under mulch.
This year I'm excited to grow more winter veggies. Spinach, more peas and carrots, cabbage and kale and chard. I'm not sure how or when we'll get our garden gates to keep those hungry deer out. The dog is useless as anything other than a doorstop. Okay, that was unkind. I did try to explain to him that a dog must have a job in order to be fulfilled. He shrugged and turned around on his carpet by the door. Maybe his job is supplying insulation for the air leak under the door.
Other than the disappointment of the watchdog conversation (it was so one-sided, you know?) I am just in love with this part of fall. I love the freshly sharpened pencils and the way I need a cardigan in the mornings. I love a new pair of Keds, maryjane style, and new socks to go with them. You have to wear socks with your Keds in the fall, you know. There'll be none of that summertime socklessness.
I love that my bed and breakfast neighbors have their place back on the market. It's so hopeful. So past-the-real-estate-crisis.
I love that I heard a widely spread rumor about myself that was so utterly untrue that I laughed out loud and shook my head in disbelief for 40 minutes and then felt like a celebrity on the cover of a gossip rag all day.
I love that after living in this little rural village for three years, I finally feel at home.
I think maybe I'll paint the kitchen to celebrate. But I'll wait until the rain starts. For now I think I'll go outside.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Messing around in the kitchen: A cry for help

An artist's rendering of my hardworking (read: cluttered) kitchen. Also please note that I am afflicted with that dread disease called "open shelving." So attractive in Country Living the magazine. Not so desirable in country-living-in-the-real-world.

Summer squash in my low-tech "food processor." That thing (called a Merry Go Round) is a bonafide triceps workout. I'm telling you, I will have earned all the pineapple zucchini bread I can eat.

Is there anything more cheerful than a zinnia?

That scented geranium taking over the landscape is called "Sweet Miriam." I didn't even make that up. Also apparent in that picture: Someone needs to wash my windows. But I'd rather have a cup of tea and scheme on how to get a master cabinetmaker on the cheap-to-free.

Beans: pinto, navy, lentil, split pea. Brown rice. Flax seed. Popcorn. Cornmeal and oatmeal. Place settings for 24. Hey, it happens.

I have a dream. I have a dream in which I have cupboard doors on my upper cabinets and my countertops are home to only a vase of zinnias. (Okay, and maybe the coffee pot.) In that fantasy life I have a walk-in pantry and a root cellar. AN APPLIANCE GARAGE. Holy Mother of all Organization, an appliance garage (with seventeen bays) would revolutionize my life. In reality, however, my countertops house the dehydrator (at the moment, two of them humming happily), a coffee pot and bean grinder, my iconic Kitchenaid stand mixer, a monster-size glass canister that holds 20 cups of homemade baking mix (too big for the shelves), a toaster. A breadbox. The blender still out from fruit leather prep. A mug full of paintbrushes from yesterday's (alright, it was three days ago) watercolor session. A radio playing oldies, mysteriously now of my high school era (when did that happen?).

So my husband told me he got all stressed out reading my last post. You know, the one about band and equitation and ballet and, oh, yeah, graduate freaking school. (Actually so named in my handbook. Well, in the handbook in my head. I have to amuse myself somehow, people.)
And while we're at it, I have to apologize for being stressful in this here blog about the beautiful life. Yar-hah-hah-harh. I promise I didn't mean it to be that way. Sometimes the stress just overflows a little. It's because, I believe, there's ever-present conflict between my love of simple living and my contradictory-I-know hectic life.
Did I mention I own and display two handpainted "simplify" signs? I might need another that says "Embrace the irony." And while I'm ordering signs, Heather, could you make one that says "Will work for cabinet doors"?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Not exactly a wagon train of thought

Autumn lettuces, kales and chards are all in. Except where the deer have discovered them already. It's just like In-N-Out (California burger chain. Anyone?). Only rural. And no burgers. Our garden is limping to its summer finish after severe water shortages. This is exciting, however, because it has my husband dreaming up lots of innovative (never say over-engineered in his presence) water solutions. My vast collection of homesteading books, newfangled and vintage alike, are helping with the planning process. Gray water recycling. Rainwater collection. Water, water everywhere. And still enough to do the laundry.

Ratatouille anyone? It's time for comfort food again chez Suite. Tonight for dinner: Homegrown corn on the cob with homemade butter and salt. Homemade biscuits. Who needs a main dish at this point? I have been experimenting with an iconic 1970s "make your own mix" cookbook and updating it for our family's organic bent. Substituting coconut oil for the hydrogenated fats specified in the recipes is working out pretty well. Madeleine's been having fun with our quick biscuit, cornbread and pancake "mix."

Grace and her friend Fidget (some names may be changed to protect the innocent) love to play Little House. Or, Little House Plus Plastic. Because I'm pretty sure Laura and Mary and the gang didn't have these wagons with the cup holders and seat belts. But if they did, they certainly would have played just like this fearsome duo plays... gathering sticks and rocks and fallen leaves... hauling them to the shadiest spot... stacking them just so for log dolls' houses and mossy bird nest offerings. Nevermind that the birds aren't building nests now. They're flying south, you say? Well, maybe they'll need some moss and horse hair on their way.

The weather here is that perfect fall of made-for-TV movies: crisp foggy mornings and clear sunshine in the afternoons, overnight rain and woodsmoke. My only complaint is that the days are indeed getting shorter (it's not just my to-do list getting longer?).
Indeed my list is getting longer as I start to plan (panic about) my return to graduate school. Homeschool for Madeleine, Sarah and Grace is going so very well this year. Their eagerness is contagious. But keeping up with all three of them -- kindergarten, fourth and fifth grades -- is a full-time job. Of course we can't forget Laura, who at 20 months appears to be following in the big girls' early reading footsteps. Today she was making good use of her crayons when she drew an "H" (accidentally? who knows) and named it. (I just couldn't resist the tiniest little moment of heart-bursting pride and accompanying blog brag. Please forgive me.)
Madeleine and Sarah will start "band" next Wednesday. Madeleine's leaning toward the clarinet and Sarah the violin. Ballet is also on our list but Sarah's been having some challenges with pain management. I'm having corresponding struggles with mommy anxiety. (Who me? Anxious? Never.) Madeleine's still busy with her twice-a-week horseback riding lessons. I have a few deals in escrow promising to close any moment and somehow needing a little attention as well.
And then we can't forget our everyday chores: chickens, horses, rabbits, laundry, dishes. Food preservation? Yes, that too. I "put up," as my grandmother would say, 30 quarts of tomatoes and 10 quarts of applesauce (just starting on the applesauce). We also grated and froze enough zucchini for nine months of zucchini bread. We have made pounds and pounds of fruit leather and dried cherries, pears (still two weeks of pears coming), apples and peppers. We froze corn on the cob and diced summer squash and onions for freezer bag saute kits. I still want to can salsa but I'm worried about flavor loss; I'm big on fresh salsa. Anyone have any good canned salsa recipes for me?
Oh. And while we're at it. I have guilt. I have guilt because Amy of the Hundred Acre Woods sent us a beautiful package that I haven't acknowledged yet. To tell the truth I haven't opened it. I told the girls we couldn't until I sent our package in return. It's on its way tomorrow, Amy! Thank you! We can't wait to see what's inside!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Random but farmy

Three cheers for our Araucana pullets! The aptly named Hot Dog was the first to graduate to laying hen. And I am so excited. It even (if you can believe it) brought out a little dorky in me. I had to call my husband at work, where he was engaged in VIEM (very important engineering meeting) and couldn't be disturbed. So I left a long, detailed message with one of the other guys.

Like this:

"You see, Hot Dog is just barely five months old. And we've been waiting for these blue-green eggs since she was two days old. And I can hardly contain myself. Please have him call me." All the while the rooster was literally crowing in the background since I called from the henhouse and it was messing with his morning routines. So it sounded like this: "Cock-a-dooodle-doo. She's a brown and red hen with hints of gray. Crock-a-doodle. She's so much bigger than the other pullets -- are you getting all this? -- and I'm sure she cock-a-doodle is a few weeks ahead of them. It's tiny and perfectly robin's-egg blue! So you'll have him call?"

The message he received read: "Call your wife. New egg laid. She's a proud mama hen."

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Madeleine's cat was watching over Flo the fish.
You don't keep a betta in a Mason jar? Oh. Well, we don't usually either, but someone-who-won't-cop-to-it added an actual seashell to our tank. The salt residue killed our two aquatic frogs but we saved Flo. Out of the frying pan into the fire, it would appear.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Where did I put that?

Now, if you look around my farmhouse of little to no storage, you will see that I have made many attempts at "everything in its place."

But some days I lose my coffee cup enough times to become a math lesson (probability and estimation) for the bigger girls. "Let's see, Mom lost it [the cup, the cup] three times before 8 a.m. She drinks coffee from 6 a.m. until, oh, 8 p.m. If she lost it that many times in two hours...."
And some days I just plain lose it over a lost item. Last week we were having spaghetti for dinner (sans pasta for the ever-carb-deprived mommy). Where-oh-where did the parmesan (stinky cheese in Suite talk) go?
We searched high and low. The refrigerator and the top of the microwave where odd things go to hide and the dark and depressingly crammed innards of the antique icebox I use as a pantry (remember: no storage here). Parmesanless we sat down to the dining table. Two bites into the meal my five-year-old gets a visible lightbulb above her little pigtailed head.
Beat, beat, beat while she pauses to consider whether she'll be rewarded or in big trouble.
"It might be in my play kitchen."
So upstairs she trots and downstairs she returns with the empty parmesan tub. Yes, she ate approximately a cup and a half of grated parmesan with a spoon in order to "clean it out" to use in her kitchen.

These weeks are busy with homebody homesteading and homeschooling. Say that five times fast. Today I am taking care of tomatoes and peaches. I am loving my dehydrator this year and hoping to buy my own pressure canner too. Tomatoes in a pressure canner take just one-quarter the time of a water bath, so for that I'd be willing to confront what essentially looks and sounds like a homemade b*mb on the stovetop. (I had to put in that asterisk after my good friend KL got a cybervisit from the Fibbies over her use of the word "b*mb-b-q." Homesteading blogger mommies by day, revolutionaries by night? I don't think so.)
The girls are flying through their formal studies in about two hours a day, which leaves the rest of the day for fun and, let's face it, chores. Yesterday the farrier was out to trim Two Spot and Dolly's hooves. He brought his lovely wife with him, which I had to take as a hint that my incessant jabbering slowed him and his usual (large, cowboy-rough, male) assistant. His wife, though, was a kick in the pants. She entertained us with stories of her adventures in raising meat birds (don't go there) and learning the loathe bloodthirsty neighborhood dogs (again, been there).
We pulled about 10 pounds of carrots out of the ground before I realized (duh) that I could have stored them in the ground.
The new hen, Talullah, is laying one perfect white egg per day. We are told by our chicken guru that she's a leghorn. No foghorn. The established girls are all brown-egg layers: two red hens of indeterminate heritage and a beautiful speckled girl. Our "baby" Ameracauna laid her first tiny blue-green egg yesterday. Now our egg cartons will be so colorful! There are four more Ameracauna pullets who will contribute soon too.
Against my better judgement I answered some questions this week from a school district representative about why we homeschool.
Our good friends moved to Kentucky last week. Kentucky.
I had a visit from another friend who moved away -- just 10 miles -- yesterday afternoon. Her baby, let's call him Johnny Danger, is nearly as big as Laura. He's four months of flirty and gorgeous. But he's not stealing the peanut butter lid. Yet. And of course I had Katie's kids to play for a while yesterday before the big Duck game brought their whole family here to cheer on our team.
That kept me up a little past my farmgirl bedtime. So if you'll excuse me, I have to go find my coffee cup.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Keep horses off grass

I don't know why this was so funny to me.

Maybe because it was at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. All the horses in the barns there were stumbling around, laughing at the most inane jokes, scarfing down their feed.

Only in Northern California do you have to keep the horses off grass.