Thursday, January 01, 2015

Welcome to 2015

My goodness, what a year 2014 turned out to be! I can't think of many things I'd change, though it certainly didn't go as I had planned.

Here are a few of the big events of 2014:

  • Moved to Olympia (Arrived January 6th-- coming up on my Olyversary!)
  • Nannied
  • Got rabbits and chickens, eventually moved but kept the rabbits
  • Started doing aerial
  • Went to Burning Man and, partly because of that, started to think of myself as an artist
  • Got a job as a real teacher (sort of)
  • Became single
  • Starred in a play
  • Made my debut as an aerial performer

Some things that I hope happen in 2015:

  • Keep on keepin' on with aerial
  • Get a job as a real teacher (for real)
  • Art, of many kinds
  • Community and relationships
  • Support, both giving and receiving
  • Laughter
  • Adventure
  • Financial stability
  • More of these things: biking, stretching, board games, guitar, French horn, massage, conversations that go late into the night, hiking, star gazing, knowing the plants 'round here, social confidence, sense of place, wool socks

Let's make it a good one, folks.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hello, blog! I was just telling someone about you the other day. How have you been? I realize I haven't really written a post for you since the summer, and that's no way to treat an old friend. We have, after all, known each other since 2008. We've had almost 400 posts together. What a history!

I won't bother you with the minute details of my life for the past few months. We can get into that later, if it comes up. Here's the quick run down of what I've been up to, organized as chronologically as I can manage:

I turned 26. One of my rabbit does had her first litter, of eight kits, and did a great job tending to them. I started applying to a ton of teaching jobs, having decided that I would rather be a teacher than a nanny/farmer/self-employed person.

I interview for a couple jobs. I went to Ashland, Oregon with Ryan and his family to see some Shakespeare, including a production of Two Gentlemen of Verona with an all-female cast. It was lovely to spend some time with the bard again. I went to Burning Man, where I painted a mural and led a few workshops and had many experiences. I accepted a job as a long-term substitute for a teacher going on maternity leave at one of the best schools in town.

I slaughtered and butchered that litter of eight kits, tanned their hides, and put most of the meat in the freezer. I decided to move out of the house where I had been living with Ryan, Em, Dee, and Mini. I began the surprisingly long, difficult process of finding a new place and moving.

I had my first substitute teaching gig, a week-long stint for a teacher on his honeymoon. I moved into the house where I currently live. (The rabbits moved with me.) Ryan and I broke up. I auditioned for a play at a community theatre, in which I was cast as the female lead. I performed in a group dance at my aerial studio's Halloween show.

I rehearsed a whole lot for this play, which opens on December 5th. I began my long-term subbing placement on November 10th. I decided to choreograph and rehearse a performance piece on the silks for the aerial show on New Year's Eve.

Other notes:
I have started playing guitar again. I read a lot for a while there and then got caught up in other things. I have had a CSA subscription for the past several weeks; I am swimming in squash, but luckily it stores well. A student told me that my voice sounds like butter. I cut my hair for the show, and I can't believe I had the patience to let it get long enough for a bob to be "short." All in all, I'm doing well enough.

I missed you, blog. You help keep me level.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Black Rock City silence

(I realize I haven't written anything in a while. Here's something.)

A friend of mine at Quaker meeting asked me to write out this story for our newsletter. I told it to her in person, knowing she would enjoy it, and she said that more people than her needed to hear it. I don't know if any of you, dear readers, "need" to hear it, but it's a good story anyway. Please ignore the Quaker-y moral if it makes you uncomfortable.


It was well after midnight in Black Rock City, home of the annual festival known as Burning Man. I was out adventuring with my boyfriend, Ryan, and two of our friends. Our friends were heading to bed at the end of their night, and we had all hopped on an art car to save ourselves some energy. The car was modeled after an island, complete with palm trees strung with Christmas lights, and moved at a brisk 5 mph across the open playa. Ryan and I were still full of energy, which he proved by hopping off the island to heckle a group of strangers standing by a giant, lit "INSANITY" sign. The island trundled off, with me on it.

I had lost Ryan. He was not going to get back on the island. The playa stretched between us, acres of darkness with a scattering of LED freckles. I faced a difficult choice: stay on the island and return to the camp to sleep along with our friends, or get off and search for Ryan. I stepped off the island and walked briskly back to INSANITY. He was gone.

I had lost Ryan. It was starting to sink in. I was alone on the open playa, in the dark, in the cold.

I had lost Ryan. I began to walk toward the Temple, hoping to gather my wits. As I approached, I turned off my blinky lights to show some respect. The Temple is a deeply spiritual place. It is a place of mourning and release and difficult discoveries. It is where people bring things they want to let go of, things that are burned on Saturday night along with the Temple itself. I was hoping to center down, to find some strength to get me back to camp, or back to Ryan, or something. I needed centering, and the Temple seemed like a decent place to find it.

Alas, the Temple was not what I needed that night. I walked in and found myself next to two European men giggling in front of a shrine to Robin Williams. It didn't feel right. I walked out.

I turned my blinky lights back on (to prevent being run over by a bike or art car), reoriented myself, and started walking back to camp. It's a long walk from the Temple to camp, maybe half an hour, and time moves slowly when you're alone in the dark. After about ten minutes, I started to cry.

I had not gotten to center down. I had not reached deep for strength or guidance or patience. I had simply started walking.

You know what I wanted? I wanted a Quaker meeting. But I was alone! Don't you need two people or more? It just wouldn't have felt right to do it by myself. I looked around in desperation, but no one was in shouting distance, and those who were close were zooming by on their bikes. I just needed someone, anyone, to share silence with me.

And then, there he was. The Man. Faceless effigy though he is, I locked eyes with the Man, gave him a little nod, and settled into silence.

I don't know if it came from him, from Him, or from me, but the message that I got was: Joanna, you know what you have to do. You have to walk back to camp. It's going to be hard, but you have to do it, and I can't save you from it. So get to it.

It was exactly what I needed.

Long story short, I got back to camp to find Ryan waiting for me after an adventure of his own. Reunited, we went back out into the city to have a wonderful time until we fell asleep near dawn. A few days later, when it was time to burn the Man, I again shared silence with him and passed back the message I'd received earlier: Man, you know what you have to do. You have to burn. It's going to be hard, but you have to do it, and I can't save you from it. So get to it.

Meeting, as it turns out, can happen in some unlikely places, with even more unlikely people. But then, silence can happen anywhere, if you know to make space for it.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Long days, bright sun

It's summer! The days are long, the sun is bright, and I'm wearing shorts. Yay!
When I moved here from Virginia, one of my biggest worries about adjusting to the climate was that I wouldn't be getting the oppressively hot summers I'd come to love. That's right, I worried that I would miss the sticky Virginia summers. The gray, wet Pacific Northwest winters, I decided, would probably be OK, but it wouldn't feel like home if I didn't have to kick the covers off in July. I haven't had to kick off the covers yet, but at least I don't need a jacket after dark any more.
I haven't been the only one enjoying the weather. Mini has always hated socks, jackets, and all things warm, so she is reveling in the freedom of shorts and sandals. Ryan has been plotting hiking and backpacking adventures for us, and then spending his weekends and evenings building things outside instead. He doesn't come in until after dark when I scold him, and it hasn't been getting dark until almost 10:00. Boys. The garden has been soaking up all these rays, and is overwhelmingly abundant. (And so are the weeds! Ah!)

Some new things around here: (Photos after the jump!)
-Mark and Deepti are working on re-vamping our pond, which had been swallowed by the blackberries and brush. One day we'll have a pump and some fish and everything.
-We got a couple new hens (1), a Cuckoo Maran and an Araucana. I just put them in with our other ladies last night, so they've been making a racket today to impress each other.
-Ryan built us a new side deck (2)! With stairs! It's lovely. Our house is looking less and less like a junk pile every day. He also built a lumber rack for the carport. Did I mention that he's been building until dark most days?
-I finally named the rabbits. I've been reading Dune aloud to Ryan, which inspired their names: Irulan (3) (the tricolor Rex) and Ms. Atreides (4) (the brown Rex/chinchilla mix). Irulan should be due to kindle (give birth) any second now. She is, in fact, overdue, and I'm starting to worry.
-We (but mostly Ryan) installed 90% of a drip irrigation system in the garden (5). We found out we're just a bit short on tubing, but it's already cut down on the time we spend standing in the garden with a hose.
-I've been applying for full-time jobs teaching elementary school. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
-Deepti is officially a third year resident now. Yay! Her schedule will look more like a normal person's and less like an indentured servant's from here on out.
-Ryan sold his car, and we replaced a non-working 1986 F-250 with a 2004 Dodge Dakota, which brings our fleet of vehicles to 2 working cars, 1 working truck, and 1 almost-working VW camper van.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

All together now

We are officially a community now! Forming an LLC together didn't count, and having a bunch of meetings didn't either-- it took all of us living together to make it real for me. Em, Dee, and Mini moved in about two weeks ago. I have been sleeping much better than I thought I would with a toddler upstairs, and it's been great to wake up and have Mini right here on the days when I watch her. We're all working on finding the balance for noise levels, sharing the kitchen, distributing chores, etc., but I think it's coming together nicely. The worst change so far is that I can't belt out with my funny voices during nighttime read-alouds to Ryan anymore, and that's really not so bad.

An update on the rabbits

Tragedy/inexpertise struck my little rabbitry the other day. I underestimated the wiliness of my Silver Fox doe; she escaped her pen one night, only to run to the road and be hit by a car. Major bummer. I cried about it. After I dried my tears, I improved and reinforced my cage system before buying another doe. This one is a tricolor Rex who's had two litters before, one with 8 kits and the other with a whopping 11! I made her a double-wide cage so that she and her huge litters will have lots of room for hopping. Both her cage and the cage of my junior doe (who is getting bigger by the day) are now suspended from the ceiling, which makes for a much more sanitary situation. Cleanup should be a breeze.
Ryan thinks the new tricolor doe is less cute than the Silver Fox was, which makes him more comfortable with the idea of eating her and/or her offspring.
Still. A bummer. I'll be keeping my eye out for a junior Silver Fox doe, just because I'm still excited about that particular breed.

The beginning of garden bounty

Even with a bunch of slugs doing their best to stop me, I brought in our first harvest from the garden last week. It was modest, but hey-- it was a harvest! Spinach, mustard, arugula, and beet greens. We've had about a half dozen strawberries a day off of our new strawberry plants, and several more from the plants of our neighbors who moved out. Dee discovered that we have a cherry tree near the road to the west of the house-- score! Our apple trees have bloomed and have teeny, tiny fruit coming in. We've been busy mowing the grass. Things are growing!

A super worthy cause

Some friends of mine started an organization that facilitates the escape of LGBTQ people from Uganda. Uganda passed a law in February that criminalized homosexuality, with sentences up to life imprisonment. As a result, LGBTQ people throughout the country have been arrested, harassed,  and attacked. This organization, the Friends New Underground Railroad, is helping LGBTQ people who wish to leave the country to do so. As of June 7th, they have helped 78 people make their way out of the country as refugees, and have 90 more on a waiting list for assistance-- that's huge! I know they are working with a very limited budget, and a little will go a long way if you have the money to make a donation. Please consider donating to them, even if it's just $5, and please help to spread the word. Check them out: Friends New Underground Railroad

Monday, May 26, 2014

Cages and Fences

Copy of DSCF0929
What makes a farm look like a farm? Is it a big red barn? Is it a flock of sheep, a herd of cows, a row of corn? In my opinion, it's the fences. Fences show that you mean business. We have fences now-- does that mean we're official?

Fence #1: The Garden Fence

Vegetables are delicious. I want to eat them. You want to eat them. The deer want to eat them. With all these vegetable seeds and seedlings in the ground, it was time to start keeping the deer out. See the fence in the photo at the top? It looks like it's just vertical pieces of wood, but there is super lightweight deer netting strung from post to post with a wire at the top for extra support.
Pounding eight foot tall wood poles into the ground sure is fun when you're just over five feet-- I'm sure I looked pretty funny on a ladder with a post pounder in the middle of a field. Dee and Ryan helped hang the netting, and Ryan rigged a gate that hopefully will do the trick. It doesn't look like much, but it's something for the deer to hit their noses against and think twice about jumping.

Fence #2: The Chicken Fence

After the deer, what were the second most pesky animals in our garden?
Chickens. Yes, our very own, beloved, egg-laying chickens.
Chickens like to scratch. They like to make dust baths. They poop everywhere. They eat tender young greens. In short, they are a menace to the vegetable garden and any low-lying landscaping. It was time to put an end to their reign of terror.
Here is a recipe for a chicken fence for the amateur fence builder:
6-ft T posts, enough for 10-ft spacing around your perimeter
One post pounder
4-ft welded wire fencing to the length of your perimeter
A whole bunch of UV-resistant zip ties
A gate that Em found on the side of the road
One 4x4 post that's a bit too long
First, measure our your perimeter and pound in posts at each corner and at approx. every ten feet between the corners. Then, begin to secure your welded wire fencing to the T posts using the zip ties, trying to get the tension tight enough for the wire to stand up fairly straight between the posts. A tensioner would be helpful here, if you have one. Stare at your second-hand gate until you figure out how you're going to use it, attach it, etc. Send Ryan to the store for supplies accordingly. Walk away and let Ryan install the 4x4 post and the gate. Tip: Carabiners can be very helpful for latching gates open/closed.
Run an extra wire around the top if you notice that the friskier hens are escaping, as ours did. Luckily, chickens don't jump as high as deer do, especially if you have the chunky "dual-purpose" hens that are so popular on homesteads these days.
To top it all off, they actually have two separate pastures in there, so we can do a bit of rotational grazing just like the books say you should.

Cages #1 and #2: The Rabbits

(Okay, they're not fences, but they are enclosures. I think it's close enough.)
Readers, I have a confession to make: I discovered that I like eating meat.
If you have known me for very long, this may come as a shock. For those of you who are new, let me just say that I've been vegan or vegetarian since 2006, with a few exceptions here and there for studying abroad and similar occasions.
My choice to be vegetarian/vegan was based mostly in environmental reasons. The meat industry is huge, environmentally irresponsible, and downright gross. The dairy and egg industries aren't much better. Although there are groovier options out there, the labeling is often misleading and the prices are high. And, honestly, buying shrink-wrapped flesh gives me the heebie jeebies.
And so I decided to raise our own. I decided to raise rabbits. I plan to write a post expounding on the virtues of rabbits as a meat animal, but for now, suffice it to say that rabbits make a lot of meat with little input. For this, you need rabbits bred to be meat producers-- none of those adorable dwarf varieties or perky, active pets. No, you need rabbits that were bred to be little bricks, rabbits that will eat their food and then hunker down and convert calories into pounds.
As of today, I have two rabbits. I am hesitant to name them, so for now I'll call them what Mini does: Brown Bunny and Black Bunny. I bet you can tell which is which. They're both females, or does. Brown Bunny is a Rex/Chinchilla mix, and she won't be ready to breed for another couple months. Black Bunny is an adult Silver Fox, a heritage meat breed that also has beautiful pelts. Black Bunny spent some time with a male rabbit yesterday, and I'm hoping for little black kits in about a month.
Ryan has promised to build a real shed for them, but for now their cages are housed in a hand-me-down greenhouse I got from a crazy woman on Craigslist. There's always something build around here. Fences, sheds, decks, community...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Under construction

Things are coming along according to plan. Ultimately, the plan is for Ryan and me to build our own house, and for Em and Dee and Mini to live in this one that currently exists. Until our house is built, Ryan and I will live together with Em and Dee and Mini in one house. For the past few months, Ryan and I have been living here-- just the two of us-- because the house has been under construction that makes it something of a death trap for Mini, who is almost two. By the end of this month, that construction will be complete(ish) and Em and Dee and Mini will move into the newly refinished upstairs.

Whoa! Times are a-changin'. Things that I'll be parting with:

-Sleeping in until 9 on weekends
-Sleeping through the night every night
-Being able to leave delicate things, pens, and important paperwork out on any surfaces below chest height
-Having a break from hearing/singing "The Wheels on the Bus"
-Being able to cuddle/straddle Ryan on the couch while eating breakfast
-Taking long baths while listening to audiobooks

But it's not all bad. Some of the things I can look forward to include...

-Sometimes eating other people's cooking
-Hearing peals of toddler laughter
-Sharing more
-Having closer friendships (or enemy-ships, dun dun dun) with Em and Dee
-Taking concrete steps toward living in community

In other news, it's starting to feel like summer. What happened to spring? I think we skipped it. Maybe that's just how the seasons go around here. Honestly, the whole winter here felt more like spring back in Virginia. This is going to take some adjusting.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The garden is in!

Well, the garden is in. At least, the soil is mostly where it belongs and I dug the paths out. Just in time, too-- the sky opened up a few hours after I put my shovel down. The rain is helping to settle the new garden beds into place. They initially looked craggy, and today they're just a little rugged. It's been raining on and off all day today, which put a damper on my plans to get some seeds in. With water below on the paths and water above from the sky, it was too much water for me to persevere beyond adding the amendments and a bit more topsoil. (I shoveled the paths down and the garden beds up to improve drainage for the beds and their soon-to-be plants, but that means that the walking paths are now walking moats.)

I did manage to add the amendments, though, so that's something. I added Calpril lime, feather meal, and bone meal, to be precise. The meals were to boost the nitrogen and phosphorous, respectively. The lime was to boost the pH, and to do all the other lovely things that lime does to your soil. (I found the website of the guy who gave the inspirational lime workshop I attended a couple weeks ago! Check it out; perhaps you, too, will be inspired.) The lime I used is a "pril" or pelletized lime, and it smells wonderful because they stick it together with molasses. Yummy.

Tomorrow's forecast is "chance of showers" rather than today's "showers," so I'm hoping I'll have a few dry hours to get some beds planted.

A couple short pieces of news:

-A have continued to experiment with eating Japanese Knotweed. I am so far still alive, so the internet must have been correct about its edibility. I made a pie with it, which has received mixed reviews. Perhaps I will add some strawberries next time, or at least some grated beets to make it a more appetizing color. Pie fillings are often slimy, but people don't seem excited about them when they're green and slimy.

-I am still taking aerial class, and it's awesome. I can feel myself getting stronger, and we're starting to learn tricks/moves that actually look cool. I have an intense notebook to keep track of what we've learned and what I've been working on; I guess I do miss academia sometimes.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Yards of soil

Friends, today I belatedly announce the arrival of ten square yards of soil in our driveway. Yes, indeed, ten yards of top-quality, deep black, compost-smelling soil found themselves in front of our carport on Monday afternoon.

Many of those yards were destined for our nascent garden. (About five of them, if you want to be exact about it.) Do you have a guess as to who volunteered to transport it to our garden plot? Little ol' me!

Little ol' me made a discovery: soil is heavy. It's heavy in the shovel, it's heavy in the cart, and it's especially heavy in the cart when you're pushing it through mud.

Nearly halfway through the pile!
If you live 'round these parts, you'll know that things have been getting less muddy for the past couple days. We have been blessed with a few days of sunshine, and can reasonably expect two or three more. In fact, we very reasonably can expect our soil to dry out enough to till it and form it into our garden beds! That's why I spent six hours shoveling, carting, dumping, and distributing soil yesterday, and about three more today. Tomorrow will see me rototilling that good stuff in. If I feel up to it after that, I'll start shoveling soil from the walking paths up onto the garden beds to raise them for improved drainage. If not, I'll do it Friday. And Saturday? If the garden beds are done, I'll be planting! Hallelujah, it's finally happening!

I'll also be starting some logs for mushroom cultivation (shiitakes! oysters!) on Saturday with our neighbor, who happens to be one of the best neighbors I've ever had. He's not just super friendly. He also is doing most of the things that I want to do. He has chickens, rabbits, sheep, and pigs. He has a garden. He grows mushrooms. He's probably coming to Burning Man with us. And he owns the house, so he'll be sticking around for a good long while. Hooray!

Here's a cute neighbor story: Awesome Neighbor (known as AN) came over to our house. Looking out our kitchen window, AN spied a particularly nasty exotic invasive weed known as Japanese Knotweed. He expressed his sympathy and wished us the best in our eradication efforts. I hadn't encountered it before, so I looked it up after he left. I confirmed his identification-- yup, definitely Japanese Knotweed. But what's that, Wikipedia? Did you say that it's edible? And that it's a lot like rhubarb and makes a pretty decent jam?

I harvested a laundry basket of Japanese Knotweed, tore the leaves off, peeled the stems, gave them a rinse, chopped them up, and treated them like tasty jam-makings. After more time in the kitchen than I'd like to admit (this was my first solo jam-making), I had seven jelly jars and a couple overflow containers of knotweed-and-orange jam. It's tangy (hopefully in a good way), and it didn't jell quite right (it was my first time!), but it's totally edible. I had it on a PBJ for lunch today. As the best ending of this story, I walked myself over to AN's house, presented him with a jar of knotweed jam, and thanked him for identifying the plant for me in the first place.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Digging, digging, in our garden

We had a patch of a few days without any rain, which meant that it was time to start tilling. You don't want to work the soil when it's too wet, especially when it has a lot of clay in it like ours, so hoping to till in the springtime is a nail-biting experience. I don't know if you've heard, but we get a lot of rain around wintertime here in the Pacific Northwest. If we take good care of the garden beds we're putting in this year, we won't have to till next spring-- I'm already looking forward to it.

The fellow who leases land from us to grow blueberries has a rototiller. Small motors tend to be finicky, and this one has its quirks. It likes to pop out of gear, but it otherwise runs pretty well. It did give me a huge blood blister when I tried to start it the first time, but I choose to think of that as an initiation ceremony. It weighs a ton. Not literally, but it sure seems like it when you're trying to push it around in mud the consistency of peanut butter. (OK, maybe we should have waited for a longer dry spell before tilling.) We marked out a 1600-ft area for our garden, and tilling it really drove home how big of a project gardening it is going to be. It's one thing to draw the layout on grid paper. It's one thing to poke tiny orange flags in between the dandelions. It's entirely another to shove spinning tines through every inch of it to hack the grass to pieces. We didn't even kill all the grass yet. When our next dry spell arrives (keep your fingers crossed), we're going to till the whole thing again, adding amendments to the soil while ringing the death knell of the sod.

In preparation for what I'm sure is going to be a glorious garden plot, once it's tilled and fenced, I've been starting seeds. You may have heard about the time I killed all of my tomato seedlings a few weeks ago. Well, folks, I am proud to announce that all of my new seedlings are alive and well. I've been diligently watering our tomato, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts starts. Yesterday, which was about three weeks away from our statistical last frost date, I started more tomatoes, basil, a whole bunch of squashes, and some melons. Yes, melons! This particular strain was developed in Minnesota, so hopefully we'll get some juicy melons out of our garden even with our short growing season.

Also in preparation for having a glorious garden, I've been brushing up on food preservation. This, of course, is in anticipation of having an overwhelming bounty of homegrown vittles. Specifically, I've been stopping at a farm stand on my way to aerial class twice a week to stock up on whatever they have that's cheapest. Lately, it's been pears for 59 cents a pound. Awesome. Once they're home, they are sliced, soaked in an apple cider vinegar solution to prevent browning, and tossed in the dehydrator, where they stay for about ten hours. (I have the dehydrator plugged into an outlet timer, and I now think I'm the smartest person since Richard Feynman.) Dried pear slices are irresistibly delicious. I fill a half gallon mason jar with them every week, and every week it manages to empty itself just as the next batch is ready.

That half gallon mason jar, by the way, is housed in a beautifully repainted kitchen. The kitchen used to be an atrocious lime green-- countertops, cabinet faces, and wallpaper-- paired with very dark wood paneling. We kept a bit of the dark wood, but mostly the kitchen is now cream and blue, with a stencil for fun. It's lovely. I'll take pictures some day when it's clean.

Oh, and I started aerial class. It's awesome. I am going to be so strong eventually. For now, I'm going to grunt and sweat and whimper. But at least I'm on a trapeze while I'm doing it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Spring fever

The flowers aren't the only things excited by the spring weather. I seem to have kicked into productivity hyper-drive, too.

A brief list of some of my major projects from the past week or two:

-Baking bread,  8-10 loaves
-Processing and dehydrating the last of the season's pears, available super cheap at the local farm stand
-Flagging out our garden plot, which will be tilled by a hired tractor today
-Starting (and subsequently not killing) tomato, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts seeds
-Planning fencing to contain our chickens' ranging, which will otherwise kill the flowers we plan to plant out front
-Did I mention that I redid our front walk a couple weeks ago? We have flagstones now.
-Taping off and priming the walls and ceiling of the kitchen and dining room, which I hope to finish painting by Saturday
-Baking brownies spontaneously to celebrate birthdays and significant occasions
-Hand washing most of our laundry
-Learning new recipes, including Thai curry, falafel, an awesome roasted veggies thing that Ryan wants every day
-Feeling much stronger in handstands and tumbling, doing pull-ups, and generally being pumped about what my body can do
-Attending the Small Acreage Expo and attending a lecture that made me excited about liming our soil
-Making friends with our neighbors, who are surprisingly young and cool


P.S. In case you were wondering, the yogurt treatment worked great for that case of nasty chicken butt!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Crazy chicken lady

I've been keeping a closer eye on my hens after our disappearing hen scare. (In case you missed the update, she's fine!) I noticed yesterday that one of our Ameraucanas was looking a little-- well-- gross.

I think the Ameraucanas are funny-looking birds anyway, mostly because of their fluffy bloomers. (At least, I think they're Ameraucanas. They look more like Americaunas than Araucanas, anyway.) Check out this photo to see what I mean. The Rhode Island Reds have almost sleek backsides in comparison-- see?

So yesterday I was staring at my chickens' butts. To my unpleasant surprise, I saw that one of the Ameraucanas had something weird going on with her bloomers. It looked like the feathers had stuck together and formed dreads. Yuck.

Of course, I flipped through my chicken keeping books, which are only so-so for in-the-moment information gathering. I then turned to the internet, which very helpfully told me that it might be a condition called "vent gleet, " sometimes known as "nasty chicken butt." It's basically a yeast infection of the digestive tract. (If you're really curious about this condition, I suggest you read this helpful article about it.) OK, cool, I might have a chicken with nasty chicken butt. Good to know.

The articles I read disagree about whether you need to isolate the affected chicken and how intensive the treatment needs to be. I'm hoping that, if it is indeed vent gleet, I noticed it early and I don't have to freak out. Honestly, I would rather not have to try to catch one of my hens and get her to stay put to soak her bottom in an epsom salt solution for 20 minutes. That sounds like torture for both of us. All sources agree that probiotics are a good idea, to restore the correct balance of good and bad beasties in the chicken's gut. I could buy acidophilus capsules and dissolve them in water that I hope the chickens drink in time. Or I could just feed them yogurt. In fact, yogurt is pretty good for chickens in general, so I'm even allowed to offer it to the unaffected hens. And it's high in protein, which they need during their molt anyway. And I have it already! Sounds like a plan.

I scooped some yogurt into an empty hummus container, sprinkled some chicken feed around it and on top of it, and watched my ladies take a few tentative pecks at it. Dude. They loved it. I expect them to finish off what I gave them by the end of the day.

Here's hoping that I can cure "nasty chicken butt" with a treatment that they think is a treat!

Monday, March 31, 2014

When things go wrong

Well, folks, it's finally happened: something has gone wrong. In fact, not only did something go wrong, two things went wrong-- all in one day! Don't panic, it's not the end of the world. It's just a bit of a bummer.

Yesterday was a busy day. As with most things that go wrong on a farm, that was the root of the trouble. I went straight from one meeting to another meeting to tumbling class, and I discovered two unfortunate things when I got home:

1. Only three of our four chickens came home at the end of the day.
2. My tomato seedlings dried out and died.


Let's start with the chickens. As you may know, we purchased four chickens a month or two ago, and they've been doing pretty well. They're going through their molt, so they're a bit weird looking and they're not laying much, but they're ours, they're funny, and one or two home-grown eggs a day is better than none. Now that the days are getting longer and drier, we've been letting them out of their run from time to time to roam around and forage. They love doing it and it cuts down on our feed costs, so it seems like a win-win situation.

Well, it's a win-win except for the fact that they have to fend for themselves for a few hours, and chickens are kind of dumb and defenseless. We keep them safely locked up until a few hours after dawn and we shut them in an hour or so before sunset, when they usually come back of their own accord to roost for the night. Last night, at chicken bedtime, I headed out to the coop. Three chickens. Both of our Araucanas were there, already roosting, and one of our Rhode Island Reds was just about to go up the ramp into the coop. But where was Red #2?

We left the coop open for as long as we felt we could, to give her a chance to find her way back and slip in, but eventually we had to close it to keep the other three safe from nocturnal predators. Maybe she just found a good-looking branch and decided to have a sleep-away, and she'll show up at the coop today, clucking to be let in. But, honestly, it's more likely that she was something's dinner last night.

So now what? Do we respond by keeping them in the run all the time? By fencing in a pasture for them? By only letting them out when I'm home to keep an eye on them? I don't know. Should we buy another hen to replace her? I'm still hoping she'll show up.


(UPDATE! Red #2 was outside the coop when I went out there to check this morning! What a hardy little lady!)

Right. Moving on to the tomato seedlings. This one is a less involved story. Basically, the seedlings dry out really quickly under their lights, and I just plain forgot to water them in the morning. By the time I got home in the evening, it was too late. Oh, well. I was going to start some broccoli and Brussels sprouts today anyway, so I'll just do some new tomatoes, too.

I can't just tell you bad news, though, so here's a few bright spots to round out this post:

-We found a great new place to buy our chicken feed. It's basically a bulk feed buying club, and it's based out of the home of some awesome people just a few streets away from us. When we showed up Saturday to pick up our first bag, we got the full tour of their farm, which got me all excited about what we can do with ours.

-I got back into baking bread, and my loaves have been turning out wonderfully. I like baking.

-We had a productive community meeting yesterday. We even broke into committees, a little unofficially, so that we could tackle financial agreements and garden planning at the same time. (No surprise-- I was in the garden planning group.) We have a garden plan! I know how many beds we'll have, how big they'll be, and where to put them.

-The flowers are coming out, which means we've been finding out about all the pretty things this property was keeping secret until now: the camellia blossoms, the banks of daffodils, the rhododendrons that are about to explode, the cherry tree, etc. It's the first time I've been pleasantly surprised by this property. Oh, and I finally spotted the koi in our pond!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Bath products, and how I don't use them

Today, dear reader, let's talk about my bath and beauty products, head to toe. More specifically, let's talk about how I don't use many.

Me, today. I look clean, right?

I stopped using shampoo and conditioner a few months ago. I still wash my hair in the shower every day or two. "Washing" just means "scrubbing with water" now. At the end of my shower, I douse my head with very diluted apple cider vinegar to combat the extremely hard water at our house. I think my hair looks and feels great-- it's not greasy at all, and it has a lot more body and volume than it did before. Post-shower, I towel dry it, run a comb through it, and muss it with my fingers so that it's not plastered to my head. Ta-da!

I haven't used anything but water on my face in about two years. (Every now and then, I'll think, "oh, yeah, maybe I should use soap," but it's always turned out the be a bad idea. In fact, it's usually after I use soap that I break out!) I give it a good rub-down under hot water during my shower. I towel dry it. I often put some coconut oil on it afterwards, especially during the winter, because my skin gets dry even just from the water scrub. I get a whitehead maybe once or twice a month.

I don't wear make up unless I'm costuming. During non-costume days, I use coconut oil to moisurize my face and lips, and sometimes a nice lip balm from Lush that is made from shea butter.

From the neck down:
I use a bar of soap in the shower, mostly on the parts that get really sweaty/smelly. I wear deodorant, not antiperspirant-- Tom's or something similar. If I have dry skin, I rub some coconut oil in. In the summers, I put on sun block when I'll be outside.

I think I look good. I think I smell good. (Well, the vinegar in my hair smells like vinegar when it's drying, but then it goes away.) I definitely feel good.

So how does it work? There are two main principles behind my bath and beauty routine:

1. It starts from the inside.
I generally shower in the evening. If you look at the day that passed before that evening, you'll see the real secrets behind my healthy skin and hair: I live an active life, and I eat well. I walk, I bike, I do yoga, I go to tumbling class, I garden, etc. I do stuff with my body throughout the day, every day. I eat good food made from real ingredients-- 99% of my meals come from ingredients in my kitchen. I know what I'm putting into my body, and I so I know that I can expect a healthy body.

2. Products were made for consumers to buy them, not to improve consumers' lives.
Someone invented shampoo. As a result, they invented a marketing scheme that convinced people that their hair needed shampoo. Before that, people washed their hair with water, with soap, with baking soda, with whatever their mothers told them to. The same is true of every bath and beauty product. Think before you buy. Those bottles make great claims, but ask yourself what people did before those products were available. Did people's lives improve? (Sun block is the biggest exception to the rule here-- if you can help prevent skin cancer by putting on a product, go for it. Just make sure that that's the only thing in that bottle.)

Bath and beauty product choices are just one facet of conscious consumption. If you've already made the leap with your shower routine, start looking at other areas of your life!

Has anyone else gone shampoo-free? Make up-free? Any stories to share?

Monday, March 17, 2014

(Once a month is better than never, right?)

The exciting event of the past week was Ryan's parents visiting. They're nice folks, and it was a pleasure to show them around town. I might mean "show them around" a little loosely, seeing as I was exploring Olympia right along with them. We found out that the Boston Harbor Marina is adorable and should be lots of fun this summer. (We saw a seal in the water!) We found a couple parks that we hadn't known were so wonderful. We spent a day in Seattle, exploring Chinatown and the arboretum, which gave us ideas for trees to plant here at home. (Including the beautiful Birch Bark Cherry-- just look at it!)

Notably, we had a birthday celebration dinner for Ryan on Friday at our house, and no less than 14 people attended. It was a very full table! We had tons of salads and breads (ah, potlucks), along with a delicious butternut squash soup, two pies, a cake, five vases of flowers, and a balloon animal extravaganza. It turns out that two of our guests-- one of whom is Ryan's dad-- were experienced balloon animal makers, and one of them brought balloons and a pump. The inflatable fun lasted late into the night. I made a giraffe and a fishing rod, both of my own design.

Ryan's actual birthday isn't until the 24th, so if you missed out on the party you're not too late to send a "happy birthday" his way. We just wanted to get the celebration in while his parents were in town.

Contrary to the warning I received before moving to the Pacific Northwest in the middle of winter, the weather has been surprisingly pleasant. The sun is shining right now, in fact. We usually have sunny moments here and there, even if the day as a whole is gray. I'd rather have spotty showers than the weather I evidently left behind in Virginia-- yet another snow day today, I hear! I can definitely feel spring around the corner: the camellias and forsythias are blooming, the daffodils are up, and the days are getting longer. I've been inspired to work on the garden and landscaping over the past couple weeks: flagstone pavers for our front walk, pruning back the overgrown shrubs in the front yard, and tackling the blackberry canes that took over portions of our yard during the years of neglect before we bought the property.

Another thing that has surprised me during this transition is how I'm turning out to be a decent cook. Who knew? Ryan's mom even asked me for a couple recipes from dinners at our place. As you might have heard, Ryan has an inner ear condition that he can regulate to a certain degree by keeping his sodium intake low. As a result, we can't eat out too much, or even use many prepared ingredients, which means that I've been getting lots of practice cooking from scratch. It seems to be paying off. I'm not master chef, but I can make a quiche from the ground up and can put together a dessert mid-dinner. I think these are good signs. I feel like I'm preparing for having an abundance our own home-grown ingredients-- I'd better know what to do with all that zucchini once it starts coming in!